(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)
Some strategic experts known for their slant against the security policies of the Modi government have declared that the constitution of the State Investigation Agency in J&K to probe into terror-related cases, demonstrated the "failure" of NIA in dealing with the problem of terrorism in Kashmir even after the governance of the border state had been taken over by the Centre by turning it into a Union Territory in August 2019. This off-the-cuff 'verdict' is as illogical as it is ill-informed and typically illustrates how tinted writings run down the government on every policy issue. They seek to provide an 'intellectual' route to politics by proxy. The critics would not say that the government did not make a serious effort to handle a national security issue but would raise the question as to why was the threat not eradicated totally in one go? Kashmir apart, this is what seemed to be the content of the critique on the handling of the Corona pandemic or the policy of working for economic recovery bottom-up through the calls of 'vocal for local' and 'make in India'. Any advance of the secular policy of 'development for all or a tough approach on national security matters, became problematic for the opposition if it did not fit in with its Minority politics, the handle often used by it against the Modi government. The Kashmir scenario can be examined in its broad spectrum in this context.
Kashmiris like common citizens anywhere desired to have development and security and lead a life of peace and prosperity without getting entangled in politics too much. In historical terms, the problem in J&K has been one of mis-governance over decades after Independence, by the valley-based political parties whose leaders ran a corrupt regime that marred development and patronized separatist forces for deriving political advantage. For this, they injected Pakistan into the equation between the people of the state as a whole and the Centre. The governments preceding the advent of Prime Minister Modi on the scene followed a policy that implicitly supported the 'Muslim' character of the composite state which, somewhere, encouraged Pakistan to play the communal card in Kashmir. The valley parties remained passive even when the Pak-instigated plan of the Islamic militants to drive Pandits out of the valley at the beginning of the Nineties, was being executed. That significantly was the time when Pakistan-flush from the success of the anti-Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan was tinkering with the idea of replicating the Afghan jihad in Kashmir. Pakistan got the most credit for the victory in Afghanistan, from the US and Robin Raphael, the then Under Secretary of State for South Asia, old-timers recall, almost threatened to intervene in Kashmir in favour of Pakistan. The leaders of the Kashmir parties were utterly silent over these developments. What is amazing is their blatant opposition to the well-considered policy of the Centre that 'talks and terror don't go together, they have all along refused to take cognizance of the Pak-sponsored cross-border terrorism in their desperation to preserve their shrinking base.
Regardless of the lobby sought to be built by Pakistan internationally against the decision of the Indian Parliament to scrap Article 370 of the Constitution that conferred special status to J&K and the narrative framed by the opponents of the Modi government that the Kashmiris had felt diminished, the fact is that the common people of the border state have- because of the temporary step of J&K having been converted into a Union Territory, the advantage of both Central and State governments serving them from Srinagar to provide a corruption, free rule, an equitable regime and a well-monitored development process. Results are showing and common citizens primarily concerned with livelihood issues are seeing better opportunities. The concerted propaganda of the political leaders with vested interests and the separatists about the population becoming 'totally alienated' against the Centre, is sounding empty. Of course, in the sphere of development, there are no limits and in a situation of a backlog of unfulfilled promises, there is always some scope for speeding up things. But the fact that there is visible economic progress under the rule of the Centre cannot be denied.
It is not surprising that anti-Modi voices in the state as also at the Centre have played up the 'security vs suppression' argument to find fault with the handling of Kashmir since August 2019. No doubt the abolition of Article 370 did create the prospect of increased militancy and disruption in a state where separatists and pro-Pak elements had ruled the roost in the regimes of the valley-based parties. The enhanced presence of armed forces and stricter controls on public communications was necessarily required for a period. A well-monitored system of Intelligence based counter-terror operations continuing as before guaranteed minimal collateral damage and took care not to cause any avoidable harassment of the civilians. This has produced good results. Pakistan expectantly stepped up infiltration of terrorists and mobilization of its agents and acolytes and consequently, the encounters against terrorists also became more frequent. Pro-Pak lobbies and separatists highlighted the accelerated counter-terror drive to raise the bogey of 'suppression'. Pakistan clearly aimed at disrupting Kashmir's economic growth development requires peace and tried to activate 'lone wolves. It had the wherewithal to deploy a few indoctrinated youth supplied with small firearms, for targeting an innocent non-Muslim worker, a Pandit trader or even a serving Kashmiri policeman to destabilize the environment.
J&K administration was known to be heavily infiltrated by pro-Pak elements and the UT government was required to give much closer attention to the vital task of weeding them out taking recourse to Article 311 of the Constitution in appropriate cases. This was as important as expediting development. Moreover, it would be advisable for the UT government to get all Deputy Commissioners to hold weekly meetings with citizens at different locales and in a secure setting, to give comfort to law-abiding citizens and ascertain the requirement of financial help for young entrepreneurs and assistance to boys and girls through a scholarship for higher studies within the state and outside. This practice must come into play it is a key indicator of normalcy. It should be presumed that the common Kashmiris are a peace-loving lot and that the Pak agents and mischief-makers were in a small minority. This distinction should never be lost sight of. If the new spate of violence against innocent civilians compelled a further deployment of armed force in the vulnerable regions of the valley, the administration should be able to give out the message that this was not at the cost of the common Kashmiris but was directed against the anti-national elements.
Coming back to the issue of the creation of SIA by the UT administration at Srinagar, it needs to be mentioned that the state Police everywhere is in any case free to take cognizance of any crime including an act of terror or an offence pertaining to money. Section 7 of the NIA Act authorizes the central agency to hand over a case to the concerned state government wherever it considered it necessary. State Police and Intelligence fully cooperate with the central agencies in handling national security-related cases because in our federal scheme of things the state is the lead player in the sphere of law & order whereas the Union Government is charged with the responsibility of safeguarding national security with a complementary role being played by the state governments. In J&K emphasis is being put on the responsibility of state Police for countering the threat of terrorism and the establishment of SIA under the state Intelligence chief is a further acknowledgement of the fast-developing capabilities of the state machinery for probing into various dimensions of terror activity including funding, underground network and sources of radicalization. SIA enhances the Centre's outreach in a state where the enemy had made ground level penetration necessitating greater involvement of the local Police and Intelligence in the task of unearthing it. As a matter of fact, the state needs more Policemen in plain clothes to do Intelligence work uniformed men are already quite visible. SIA can also help families in getting any wayward youth back into the mainstream. On the whole therefore SIA takes the agenda of NIA forward with the reassuring message that state administration was now quite on top in handling the security threats facing J&K.
In India, parties in the opposition are not yet putting national security issues above politics so much so that even the constitutional mandate for all citizens to respect the national flag and anthem is being put into question. As India is governed by an elected political executive that came upon the basis of 'one man one vote' and carried no denominational stamp, scares of 'majoritarianism', it seems was being raised apparently to justify minority politics. Constitution is preserved by the people, by the concept of equality before the law and above all by Supreme Court the country's highest constitutional court. Politics of caste and creed must end if India has to rise to the position of global power. The end of this divisiveness regrettably is not in sight. In the context of J&K, this is allowing Pakistan to tinker with our domestic scene by projecting Kashmir as a Muslim issue and questioning the electoral steps of the Centre in the state as also the measures aimed at giving equitable treatment to all citizens there. Kashmir will be best served by a head who realized that the challenge there was not merely of development but of handling development security interface and got the best out of the administration and the Intelligence machinery. The Sino-Pak axis is a source of aggravated threat in Kashmir because it is founded on CPEC that was built on the territory of POK ceded by Pakistan to China against India's objections. The return of the pro-Pak Emirate at Kabul provides a further cause of concern for India because of the likelihood of Pak ISI inducting Taliban militants into the proxy war against India. Both Kashmir and Punjab need special attention from the Modi government from the point of view of national security. (IANS)