Indian intelligence agencies have found evidence of a new form of information war over the Kashmir issue with energetic push in Islamic countries. The agencies believe Turkey has become the launch pad for Pakistani propaganda over Kashmir because it suits its larger ambitions against Saudi Arabia and Philia Forum countries.
It’s a well-known fact that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is actively supporting Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir across all forums. In its aspiration to challenge Saudi Arabia’s dominance in the Islamic world, Turkey has been aggressively trying to influence other Muslim nations, peddling many issues, including Kashmir.
The Turkish intelligence agency MIT and Pakistan’s ISI have teamed up to encourage Kashmir’s radical youth to shift base to Istanbul and Ankara instead of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, who have friendly ties with India.
A senior officer with the Jammu and Kashmir Police told me this week in Srinagar that pistols made in Turkey have been recovered from Pakistani terrorists. However, he said, “So far no terrorist from Turkey has been found here.”
Indian intelligence agencies have found the highest level of coordination between Pakistan and Turkey over Kashmir. India has blacklisted Turkish citizen Muhammet Nazim Tasci, who is associated with the Turkey Youth Foundation, headed by Bilal Erdogan, son of President Erdogan.
Turkey and Pakistan’s intelligence agencies’ joint venture is Kashmir Civitas and its many operators are on India’s radar. Indian agencies believe the Pakistan embassy in Ankara is hyperactive these days, helping create the support system for Kashmiri militants to operate.
When there is such focused attention of some Islamic countries inside J&K, there is bound to be a clash of many narratives.
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Kashmir since 2019
Because abrogation of Article 370 has cemented J&K’s ties with India, there is now renewed effort by the separatists to forcefully intervene in the next Assembly elections. A pro-Pakistan Kashmiri reporter told me, “It will be the ‘mother of all elections’ to ever happen in Kashmir.” In view of the dynamic situation on ground, however, elections are unlikely to be held in the near future.
Right now, security agencies are focusing on ensuring a peaceful Amarnath yatra.
In Kashmir valley, people are silent but they say emphatically that the current absence of street violence is not normal.
A senior journalist said it’s almost as if the masses have suspended voicing their thoughts aloud. “They are waiting for political leaders of all hues to speak before they speak. They are frankly afraid of the UP model of India. The news of what all is happening in UP affects discourse in the Valley, too,” said the journalist.
For now, businesses are quite bullish in the Valley. Tourism is at its best and most importantly, the lives of Muslim citizens are less at risk. The militants are targeting the Hindus and security forces, largely. More so, after the reorganisation of constituencies, which is perceived as anti-Kashmir valley.
A young Kashmiri leader running an NGO in Srinagar said, “When Article 370 was abrogated, Kashmiris felt a sense of defeat. And then fears crept in when J&K became a Union territory. Some thought more than a million Hindus would migrate to Kashmir. Nothing of that sort happened, which is very good, but the insecurity over the possibility of demographic changes in the coming decades in the Valley hasn’t gone.”
The central government and the local administration have been particularly active since Article 370 was scrapped. As a senior police officer told me, “We don’t believe in buying peace as earlier regimes did. We are in a long-drawn battle. We believe in establishing peace. We are telling the media in J&K and Kashmiri militants that they can’t play with India and Pakistan both. We are destroying the ecosystem in which the Jihadi network was nurtured and protected. We want J&K to be a normal state like say, Tamil Nadu or Odisha.”
He agreed that the Pakistan network has been hit hard but still operates at a lesser level. In 2022 alone, 32 foreign terrorists have been killed so far. The police claim some were from Bahawalpur and one from Lahore as well. These days, the ISI is building sleeper cells in J&K and giving small weapons to the militants, he said.
The police are working 24/7. Around 31 government officers have been suspended from their jobs for siding with separatists.
More than 500 terrorists have been killed in last three years. As soon as the office-bearers of LeT and Hizbul Mujahideen or Jaish-e-Mohammed are announced, the J&K police targets them, either arresting or killing them in encounters.
Around 1,400 supporters of Pakistan or radicalised Kashmiris have been arrested or sent to jail since 2019. The J&K police don’t allow funeral processions anymore. As a result of these harsh measures, stone-pelting has also stopped. There were no law-and-order disturbances when Hurriyat’s founder Syed Ali Shah Geelani died. When Yasin Malik got a life term, there was a negligible show of solidarity. Even on the issue of Nupur Sharma’s controversial remark, J&K didn’t see serious disturbances.
From New Delhi’s point of view, these are positive changes. However, such harsh measures extract a heavy price. They create a ripple effect in local areas. The recent killings in the valley are more due to pressure within the society.
Contrary to the impression in New Delhi, in 2022 one Kashmiri Pandit was killed, not more, and officially, none has migrated, said a senior police officer dealing with security of more than 4,000 Pandit colonies spread across the valley. However, some Pandits have left the valley temporarily, demanding transfer of their jobs to Jammu.
In fact, out of 19 civilian killings in 2022, 13 are of Kashmiri Muslims. But unfortunately, that’s not making headlines. While Kashmiri Pandit Rahul Bhat’s killing shook the media in New Delhi, local administration underplayed the killing of Rajni Bala, the teacher who was shot in head on 31 May at the government school in Gopalpora, Kulgam. She was appointed under the SC/ST inter-district recruitment scheme.
The police who investigated her killing believes she was targeted because she was a Dalit from Samba district of Jammu but serving in Kulgam in Kashmir valley.
Since 2019, around 106 central laws are in application all over J&K. In Kashmir, with help of central funds, hundreds of small and big development projects are underway. But the benefits of abrogation of Article 370 haven’t been taken to the next level in absence of political activities.
In absence of the MLAs in districts and an active state assembly, the local flavour of politics is missing. Corruption levels in administration have gone up extraordinarily, spreading discontent. If the Centre doesn’t act swiftly to address these issues, it will only further strengthen Pakistan and Turkey’s joint efforts.
Sheela Bhatt is a Delhi-based senior journalist. Views are personal.