On May 30, Lt General B.S. Raju, the general officer commanding of 15 Corps, and Dilbag Singh, director general of police, Jammu and Kashmir, chaired a high-level meeting in which top officials of the civil administration, intelligence agencies and security forces participated. Held at the 15 Corps headquarters in Badami Bagh, Srinagar, the meeting had an urgent agenda: to “review the security situation and ensure readiness to meet anticipated security challenges”.
The trigger was the tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. Sharing intelligence inputs, officials claimed the situation can lead to a rise in insurgency in the Kashmir Valley, with Pakistan trying to take advantage by keeping the Line of Control (LoC) simmering and cross-border militancy active. While reviewing the J&K security situation earlier on May 9 in New Delhi, National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval had warned the forces to be prepared for a “hot summer”. This was soon after the CRPF lost six personnel in encounters in Handwara and Sopore.
Infiltration goes up every year as the snow begins to melt in early April, but army officials at the May 30 meeting expressed concern that the Ladakh stand-off has enhanced the challenge. “Intelligence inputs indicate that Pakistan has intensified its efforts at increasing infiltration and ceasefire violations across the LoC. There is also an effort to calibrate an increase in militant actions in the hinterland,” reveal army sources.
However, recent successes, including the killing of top Hizbul Mujahideen operational commander Riyaz Naikoo and prevention of large-scale IED attacks, have blunted such efforts, sources claim. The security forces recently foiled a Pulwama-like attack when they recovered a car laden with 40-45 kg of explosives. The forces also foiled an infiltration attempt at Naushera along the LoC by killing three militants and seizing a huge cache of arms.
Apart from a rise in violations along the LoC, the army and other security agencies are clear that they have to be prepared for full-blown insurgency in the Valley. But security experts tell Outlook that there is no need to panic. While the forces have to be prepared for the worst, the situation in J&K is not extraordinary and very much under control, they say. Counter-terrorism expert Ajai Sahni says the data does not suggest any increase in insurgency, ceasefire violations or fatalities among security forces.
According to him, the security forces have suffered casualties in targeted operations initiated by them and not by militants. “The security forces are working in a well-coordinated manner with pinpointed intelligence-based operations, instead of the general cordon-and-search operations previously undertaken by them,” he says.
However, observers based in Kashmir see a link between what is happening along the LAC and the rising insurgency in the Valley. They believe rising tension with the Chinese army in Ladakh, Pakistan government’s consistent statements on Kashmir, and the anger and disillusionment in the Valley have their roots in the August 5, 2019, decision of revoking Article 370 of the Constitution.
They believe China has become a third party to the “Kashmir dispute” after the status quo was broken in J&K. They recall that soon after the revocation of Article 370, the Chinese mission’s spokesperson at the United Nations had called it a “unilateral action”, and said that “Kashmir is a dispute left from history” whose resolution should be based on the UN Security Council resolutions.
Later, in an extremely rare case, for the first time since 1971, the Security Council held “informal consultations” on Kashmir behind closed doors at the behest of China. Even though no statements were issued at the end of the meeting, China had made its position clear.
“I think the government of India ignored China’s aggressive diplomatic position post-August 5,” says a senior mainstream political leader based in Kashmir who doesn’t wish to be identified. “No one denies there is an understanding at the strategic level between China and Pakistan, but it is more obvious now at the level of tactical operations.
It seems Ladakh is now appropriated by China and Kashmir is left to Pakistan to handle. In a way, China is now the third party to Kashmir issue. Besides, why is everyone not considering the almost daily firing along the LoC? If the two are seen together, then the picture of a complete, synergistic encirclement of India is not hard to see.”
However, experts and army officials dismiss any suggestion of a coordinated attempt by China and Pakistan to foment trouble in J&K and Ladakh, but they do not rule out the high potential of both exploiting the situation and achieving a collaboration in the future. Lt General (retd) D.S. Hooda, who oversaw the 2016 surgical strikes as the Northern Army Commander, does not see “a big pincer move” by Pakistan and China as of now, but does not rule out the possibility that it “may well happen later”. He says Pakistan will definitely try to take advantage of the situation in Ladakh, but insists there is no need to fear that the troop deployment may spread thin because of the army’s expanding commitment along the China border.
“From what I know, there is no change in deployment,” he says. “There may have been some movement of reserve troops and personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police to 14 Corps (the army division that looks after Ladakh), but definitely not from 15 Corps (division looking after Kashmir). There is no major change on the other fronts. There is nothing new in firing along the LoC, and it has been increasing regularly. The Ladakh standoff is a serious issue, but a standalone one as of now. There is nothing to link it with what is happening in J&K, but this can change.”
Mainstream Kashmiri politicians believe that abrogation of Article 370—cited as one of the biggest achievements of Narendra Modi government 2.0 in its first year—has thrown the Valley into political uncertainty that may engender militancy. The fear of demographic change in J&K with the new domicile laws has caused anger and disillusionment among Kashmiris.
Senior PDP leader Waheed Parra says the day the BJP removed Articles 370 and 35A, it promised integration and development. “August 5 has deleted 70 years of relationship of Kashmir’s political parties with the Union of India,” he says. “Such is the situation that politicians have been kept in custody on the charge that people voted for them.
I was detained on the charge that I have the potential to get people to vote. Post-August 5, everything has become securitised. There is continuous lockdown in the region. If everything in Kashmir is done through the barrel of gun, it means you haven’t achieved anything.”
Another mainstream politician says the situation may look normal as of now because of the presence of security forces and the COVID-19 lockdown, but anger is building up. “As Kashmiris feel more enslaved, disempowered and assaulted by changing demographics, which is now actually a work in progress, it will make Pakistan’s job easier,” he adds.
China has hiked its defence budget from US$ 177.6 billion in 2019 to US$ 179 billion in 2020, nearlythree times that of India. China has the world’s largest military of two million troops and the second-largest military spender after the US. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China’s defence spending in 2019 amounted to US$ 232 billion. The US defence budget was $732 billion. India’s budget for 2020 amounted to US$ 66.9 billion (Rs 471,378 crore), an article by the Indian Institute for Defence and Analysis (IDSA) says.