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Storm warnings: what the mystery killings in Kashmir point towards

Bharat Bhushan | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:15 IST

The flashpoint

  • Six people have been mysteriously killed in the last three weeks in Sopore in Kashmir.
  • A new militant group Lashkar-e-Islam claimed responsibility. But no one knows who controls it.
  • Since target killings aren\'t the modus operandi of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, it could be the Hizbul Mujahideens\'s work.
  • Indo-Pak relations are deteriorating. There has been no discussion on Kashmir.

The politics

  • Many leaders are deserting Mirwaiz Umar Farooq\'s faction of the Hurriyat to join Syed Ali Shah Geelani\'s faction.
  • This is supposedly at the behest of Pakistan, which wants the two factions to merge.
  • People are disappointed with PDP-BJP government. The coalition in some ways betrays the mandate in Kashmir as well as Jammu.

The next step

  • Young people have been joining insurgents in small numbers after the protests of 2010.
  • This might increase with the resentment in the Valley on the rise.
  • The only way the government can prevent this is to normalise ties with Pakistan and provide good governance in the state.

A series of recent events in Jammu and Kashmir suggest that the ground situation is getting worse by the day under the Mufti Mohammed Sayeed led alliance.

There is something mysterious about the targeted killings in Sopore. In the last three weeks, six people have been killed.

A new militant group the Lashkar-e-Islam, has announced itself, of which even the most-vocal Pakistan supporter, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has felt compelled to ask 'who controls it?'

Nearly 13 groups have left Mirwaiz Umar Farooq's All Party Hurriyat Conference and are queuing up to join Geelani's rival Hurriyat. Some elements have been waving the flag of the Islamic State and there is a fear of Shia-Sunni tensions escalating.

Betrayal of a mandate

Overall, an apprehension is growing that a new generation of youngsters may be readying to join the insurgency.

Voters, meanwhile, are still wondering about how their mandate was turned upside down with the unlikely coalition of the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The people of Kashmir Valley voted in large numbers to keep the BJP out while those in Jammu did not want either the PDP or the National Conference in power. Both have been surprised and disappointed by how their mandate was manipulated by politicians.

Who is behind the killings?

The killings in Sopore are widely believed to be the work of Hizbul Mujahideen. Perhaps those targeted were suspected to be police informers or those with differences with the leadership. Targeted individual killing is not the trademark of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.

Some in Kashmir are suggesting that the killings may be the handiwork of the Indian security agencies. Although not above such covert action, informed sources claim that this is unlikely in the present circumstances.

Hizbul Mujahideen is believed to be behind Sopore killings. Targeted killing is not Lashkar-e-Tayyeba's style

The counter-insurgency strategy in J&K of using one set of people to target others had been given up by the security forces for quite some time ago. In any case, with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed at the helm in the state, the security agencies would find it difficult to pursue such a course of action with impunity.

No one can explain the developments in Kashmir by examining only the factors internal to the state. The conflict in Kashmir is calibrated to and moves in concert with, the state of India-Pakistan relations.

Worsening Indo-Pak ties

As of now, the state of India-Pakistan ties is dismal. The relationship has taken a dip under the present government. There is not only a refusal to hold talks with Islamabad but gratuitous statements emanating from Delhi have been unnecessarily belligerent.

There is no discussion on Kashmir - either with the Kashmiri separatists in India or with Pakistan. There appears to be no back-channel diplomacy to explore a possible normalisation of ties.

On top of all this, Delhi is tightening the screws on the Hurriyat, for example, by making issuing a passport to Geelani unnecessarily controversial.

Why then would Pakistan give any quarter to India? Or, a state government in which the BJP is in coalition with the PDP - a marriage facilitated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh?

Islamabad's gameplan

Pakistan's fingerprints are all over the split taking place in Mirwaiz's Hurriyat. Pakistan would like Mirwaiz to merge with Geelani, the doughtiest pro-Pakistan ideologue in Kashmir.

It seems to believe that the Mirwaiz faction of the Hurriyat is far too influenced by elements like Bilal Lone, Maulvi Abbas Ansari and Prof. Abdul Ghani Butt who are considered to be soft towards India and are opposed to Geelani.

Pakistan needs the soft-spoken Mirwaiz. He is their only international poster-boy for Kashmir. Geelani has no international appeal despite his unmatched ability to confront India.

The desertions from the Mirwaiz Hurriyat, therefore, are aimed at breaking Mirwaiz's resistance to a merger of the Hurriyat factions.

ISIS in Kashmir? Not really

The Islamic State flags being waved in Kashmir may be more mischief than anything sinister. This only occurs around Shia areas. Most militant groups in Kashmir today are of Sunni persuasion.

They occasionally try to frighten the Shias who are suspected of harbouring pro-India sentiments. Otherwise, the Shia-Sunni tension in Kashmir is only at a subliminal level.

The Shias do not want the tension to escalate. As a tiny minority of the population, they have tended to keep a low profile.

Kashmir voted to keep BJP out. Those in Jammu didn't want PDP or NC. Both have been disappointed by a coalition

It also does not suit Pakistan if Shia-Sunni tensions in Kashmir escalate. Islamabad does not want the Kashmiri nationalist movement to appear divided along sectarian lines.

It is also possible that the sectarian tension in Kashmir reflects a global trend of aggressive Sunni' ism, though a knock-on effect of sectarian violence in Pakistan cannot be ruled out.

Growing radicalisation

As for another generation of youngsters readying to join the insurgency, young people have been joining insurgents in small numbers after the protests of 2010. More than a hundred Kashmiris were killed by the Indian security forces in the stone-pelting protests that year and no one has been punished for those deaths.

Corrupt police officials who took money for releasing the arrested stone-throwers have added to the disaffection as has the secretive hanging of Afzal Guru - no one before or after him on death-row has been hanged since.

Right or wrong, there is a feeling in the youth that they are being targeted both as Muslims and as Kashmiris. It is this deep sense of injustice which prompts desperate youngsters to pick up the gun.

The way out

The only way that India can counter this kind of radicalisation is by doing what a democracy can do best - provide an antidote of secularism, rule of law, fair-play and justice for all, transparency and accountable governance.

However, none of these finer qualities of democracy are evident in the governance of Jammu and Kashmir. Promises on these issues have never been implemented by successive government elected in the state.

Each regime quickly degenerates into the well-known pattern of dynastic politics, nepotism, favouritism, corruption and opacity in decision making. Such governments are typically sustained in the name of stability and all other issues are seen as law and order problems to be dealt with the police, paramilitary or the army.

For Jammu and Kashmir to stabilise in the interests of the local population, internal governance needs to see a paradigm shift and India needs to normalise ties with Pakistan. Otherwise, a conflict calibrated by an adversarial Pakistan will continue, aided and abetted by poor politics and bad governance within the state.

First published: 19 June 2015, 1:43 IST
Bharat Bhushan @Bharatitis

Editor of Catch News, Bharat has been a hack for 25 years. He has been the founding Editor of Mail Today, Executive Editor of the Hindustan Times, Editor of The Telegraph in Delhi, Editor of the Express News Service, Washington Correspondent of the Indian Express and an Assistant Editor with The Times of India.