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Modi govt working on new Kashmir strategy as civilian killings, Taliban stoke worries

The visit of Home Minister Amit Shah to Kashmir in October, the first since amendment of Article 370 and repeal of Article 35A in August 2019, is an indication of the recalibration. 

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government is recalibrating its Kashmir strategy to meet the new challenges that have manifested in the form of a spurt in civilian killings by terrorists, with migrant workers being targeted specifically during the last few weeks.

The visit of Union Home Minister Amit Shah to Kashmir in the last week of October, the first since the amendment of Article 370 and repeal of Article 35A in August 2019, is an indication of this recalibration. 

According to a senior official closely associated with developments in Jammu & Kashmir, one of the key objectives of this visit was to assess the ground-level situation in the Valley so that necessary changes can be made in the government’s present strategy to tackle the recent spurt in terror activities and boost the morale of the administration, the common people, and the security personnel in their fight against terrorism.

Sources in the central government said some changes are going to be visible in the days to come as far as the strategy on Kashmir is concerned. 

For one, they stated, the Modi government intends to focus more on direct engagement with the people of Kashmir while relegating the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference, the two prominent Valley-based parties, to the margins.   

There would be no engagement with any of the pro-Pakistan and separatist political outfits in Kashmir — rather a severe crackdown is in the offing, with greater coordination between various central government agencies and the security apparatus, according to government sources. 

A senior government functionary in J&K said one of the key elements on which the Modi government is working is a change in the pattern of terrorist attacks. Over the last couple of years, because of a strong security grid where the security personnel were able to pinpoint the presence of terrorists after any major attack and neutralise them, the terrorists have shifted to using small arms and targeting individuals from a close range.

Also, a large number of targets chosen have been migrant workers and from socioeconomically marginalised sections of society. The fallout of this violence against outsiders, especially workers from Bihar, is being felt strongly.  

Although there are no official figures, unofficial estimates suggest there are around 2.5 lakh workers from Bihar in the Valley and they constitute the most prominent part of the labour force. If there is an exodus of these workers, many private enterprises would come to a halt, dealing a severe blow to the local economy.

To contain this problem and ensure there is no further exodus, the strategy of swift counter-offensive is being adhered to, said sources in the J&K administration.

This was displayed when, within days of the attacks on civilians, including non-local residents, the security forces killed many terrorists, including two Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commanders who were responsible for these attacks. This is expected to send a positive signal to migrants and act as a deterrent to further attacks on similar lines.

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A 360-degree crackdown

Another challenge that the Modi government has been facing is “cleaning up of the administrative apparatus”. 

There is an increasing realisation at the top that there are major challenges in the delivery of benefits of government schemes and various welfare measures to deserving beneficiaries as a significant part of the administrative apparatus, especially at the lower- and mid-level, hasn’t cooperated much, said a senior government functionary in the Jammu & Kashmir administration. 

The Jammu & Kashmir administration has been stalked by allegations of corruption but now a major stumbling block staring at the Centre is that significant parts of the administration seem to have been infested with pro-Pakistan and separatist elements who have links with terrorists. 

In September 2021, the General Administration Department (GAD) of Jammu & Kashmir issued a notification saying it was mandatorily required for employees to maintain absolute integrity, honesty and allegiance to the Union of India and its Constitution, and do nothing that would be unbecoming of a government servant.  

Following this, around half a dozen employees, including two police personnel, were dismissed from government service. A similar order was issued in July last year too, but the implementation this time is going to be more prolonged, severe and persistent, said another senior government functionary.

This is part of the larger plan to go for a 360-degree crackdown on the terror network in the Valley. 

On the one hand, the administration is being pruned, and, on the other, there is a massive crackdown on the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) in Kashmir, which is considered to be the fountainhead of terrorism in the Valley, said sources in the central government.

In a renewed crackdown, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) carried out raids at 17 locations of the JeI in seven districts of Jammu & Kashmir on 27 October, immediately after Shah’s visit ended.  

Earlier, on 8 and 9 August, similar raids were conducted at 61 locations. The JeI was banned in February 2019 for unlawful activities. The central government’s agencies believe that it continues to play a major role in terror-funding and providing ideological as well as logistical support to terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir.  

Meanwhile, according to the government sources, the Centre is also gauging closely the impact of developments in Afghanistan, where Islamic radicals have taken over the reins of the country in the name of the Taliban. 

So far, there hasn’t been any direct impact of this development on Kashmir but one of the immediate consequences has been a boost in morale of the Islamic radicals and terrorists who are expecting the Taliban to send their fighters to Kashmir. While none has been sent yet, the possibility can’t be ruled out.  

The Modi government is factoring this new variable into its Kashmir strategy too, said a senior government official.

(The writer is a research director at RSS-linked think-tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra. Views expressed are personal)

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