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Corona Virus mars the Summer 2020 of Kashmir
3/25/2020 11:12:27 PM

Brig Anil Gupta

Every year the nation waits with bated breath the onset of summer in Kashmir. This summer is going to be different from the past summers in many ways. It would be the first summer after the epoch making decision of the Modi government on 05 August, 2019 to abrogate Articles 370 and 35A and subsequent reorganisation of the state. It will be the first summer without Ladakh since the state had been split into two Union Territories namely JK and Ladakh as mandated by the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019. With the separate constitution gone, this summer only the National Flag (Tri colour) will be flown throughout the state with no state flag alongside. It will be the first summer san man made barriers that kept Jammu & Kashmir isolated from the rest of the nation denying and depriving the benefits to its citizens of major legislations and welfare schemes enjoyed by rest of the countrymen. Summer 2020 de-facto will be the first when one can proudly say that India is one nation from Kanya Kumari to Kashmir in true sense.
Other unique features of summer 2020 are; relatively peaceful winters with security forces enjoying an upper hand over the terrorists, a prolonged period of no bandh calls or forced closures, peaceful festival season, majority of the political leaders under preventive detention leading to very little political activities, preceded by tense LoC with increased ceasefire violations by Pakistan and almost extinct Hurriyat. It wasn’t all that rosy as well. The snapping of mobile internet and other communication restrictions hit hard the local economy and many internet based start- ups and businesses. There has also been increase in radicalised population in Kashmir preceding the coming summer.
Kashmir starts humming with activity soon after the end of the traditional winter cycle of Chillai Kalan (extreme cold)-Chillai Khurd (small cold) and Chillai Bachha (baby cold) which usually ends during first week of March. The annual Tulip Festival marks the beginning of the tourist season. However, this year the onset of deadly pandemic Corona Virus has dampened and delayed the same. In fact for the Kashmiris who were hoping to come out of a long period of isolation after the events unfolded on 05 August 2019 and the subsequent measures taken by the government to ensure peace and tranquillity and avoid loss of valuable human lives have been hit by the deadly virus at a time when the thaw was taking place and the restrictions were easing including release of the political detainees. The changed environment the Kashmiris were expecting to enjoy prior to the hustle and bustle of summer has been denied because of Kashmir emerging as a ‘danger zone’ due to expected return home of thousands of Kashmiris who were either studying/working or had gone for pilgrimage to the affected countries. Though Corona Virus is a man-made disaster, ultimately one has to succumb to the will of the Almighty who must be wanting the isolation to prolong a bit.
The usual buzz begins with the move of the civil secretariat in first week of May for its summer sojourn in Kashmir. Normally, a bandh call on the opening day of the secretariat has become a routine practice, but in all probability this summer is going to be different in the sense that no such call is expected unless Abdullahs have a plan to the contrary.
As far as the security scenario is concerned this summer is different in the sense that all important commanders to include the Army Chief, Northern Army Commander and the Chinar Corps Commander have recently assumed their commands implying fresh thinking and new innovative ideas. The Army has already announced its Summer Strategy 2020. The Unified Headquarters is likely to have a tighter scrutiny due to the changed organisational environment with close monitoring by the union Home Ministry which has a very senior ex-IPS officer, who incidentally also served as Advisor to the last Governor, appointed as senior security advisor. While the security forces would have carried out in-depth threat analysis, it is going to hover around Pak sponsored cross-border terrorism. Apart from renewed and increased ceasefire violations, Pakistan would attempt to exploit the latent anger and increased radicalisation among the section of Kashmiri society to fuel home grown insurgency. Unlike, the past it would not be as easy as in the past because of the reluctance of majority of the local ‘awam’ (populace) to fall prey to the Pakis and their agents because they want an end to the dreaded cycle of bloodbath and random killings. The youth is also looking for better pastures and brighter future. The civil administration has an equally important role to play to complement the efforts of security forces in negating the Pak designs. The ongoing assault on the terror support network by the agencies and the security forces would need to be intensified to completely break the backbone of terrorism and militancy. The Army would need to enhance its capability of looking over the hill not only to counter the terror threat but also to put in practice its “Dynamic Response Strategy.” With India maintaining its claim on Pakistan Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (POJK), the Army would need to project a “threat in being capability” to keep the adversary guessing.
Another factor that would affect the security environment in Kashmir is the threat from global jihadi terror organisations and the emerging situation in Afghanistan. The arrest of a Kashmiri couple owing allegiance to Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) cannot be brushed aside as an isolated incident. It has to be viewed with continuing anti-India activities by ISKP within Afghanistan post the signing of US-Taliban Agreement in Doha. The agreement appears to be heading towards a failure. Apart from ISKP, the threat from Taliban in case they succeed to form government in Kabul would also have to be vectored in. However, it would depend to a large extent on India’s Afghan policy and how it unfolds her strategy to meet the challenge of changed strategic environment in Afghanistan post the US-Taliban Treaty. In international relations there are no permanent foes and it is expected that India may open dialogue with the Taliban in order to safe guard her interests in Afghanistan which would also have an impact on situation in Kashmir.
On the political front, much activity is being envisaged during the summer of 2020 which is hoped to be dominated by politics instead of militancy after a long gap. The prior release of light weight political detainees followed by the heavyweights like Abdullahs and the emergence of a new political amalgamation in the form of Jammu & Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) and the appointment of the Delimitation Commission triggered hopes of a politically hot summer this year. Farooq, much like the seasoned politician he is, kept his cards very close to the chest except for a few politically non-significant statements and meetings with his detained son Omar Abdullah (who is now released) and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, both former Chief Ministers of the State. Omar has also declined to show his hand till the treat from coronavirus is taken care of. The role of Congress party in the emerging political scenario would remain ambivalent because of a vertical split between its Jammu based and Kashmiri leadership on the issue of revocation of Article 370. The hasty visit of Ghulam Nabi Azad to meet Farooq immediately after his release and subsequent press conference addressed by him only added to the confusion. Full spectrum political activity is likely to commence only after the release of Omar and Mehbooba. Will the Gupkar Gang unite to question the revocation of 370 and reorganisation of the state or they would also join the realists to accept the new arrangement as a fait-accompli would determine the new political agenda this summer? In all likelihood Omar and Mehbooba would stick to their old stand to begin with and test the waters through public response. This may also trigger some violence due to the eruption of pent up emotions. The security establishment is anticipating it and would have plans ready to counter the challenge and prevent it from falling into the hands of dormant anti-national forces. New political equations would continue to emerge, old foes may become friends again and many may desert their old loyalties with PDP likely to be washed out and pushing Mehbooba into the separatist camp. In all this political quagmire, Dr Farooq Abdullah may choose to spend his summers in London. The fight for political space in Kashmir this summer will likely be between BJP, NC and JKAP or between the realists led by BJP and the idealists with remnants of Gupkar Gang led by NC.
Economically, the UT is set to take off as far as the holistic development is concerned generating jobs and employment. The recently passed budget of the UT with more than 34 thousand crore earmarked for development apart from hundred percent funding of centrally sponsored projects and creation of 50000 jobs with financial outlay for the same, focus on infrastructure, tourism, horticulture, rural development sports and health augur well towards that end. Much needed revival of tourism would depend on the duration of Corona threat and it’s after effects, if any. Meanwhile, the government would have to restore 4g internet and broadband services to boost the service industry and e-commerce. All eyes are set on the proposed Investors’ Meet and the response it generates. A very significant summer as far as the revival of economy is concerned which affects not only Kashmir but Jammu as much.
All in all not only the nation but entire world is looking forward to Kashmir Summer 2020. The attempt at crystal gazing in this article signals towards a relatively peaceful and politically significant summer but marred by the deadly Corona Virus.
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