SOURCE: SUNDAY GUARDIAN LIVE
Elimination of Hizbul Mujahideen’s Riyaz Naikoo is not the only reason we should believe that this is going to be a hot summer. Another encounter where we lost five bravehearts—led bravely from the front by their Commanding Officer and Company Commander, who laid down their lives—brought out different emotions in people: grief, anger, even disbelief that Pakistan continues to support terrorism in these times when the world is coming together to fight the Covid-19 spread. These encounters and more only go to show that it is business as usual for Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan is reorganising, rejuvenating and rebranding its efforts to destabilise India.
Do we imagine that things would improve between India and Pakistan just because of the corona crisis? True, there was cooperation across the LoC at Uri, Poonch and elsewhere in 2005, when all these areas were hit by a massive earthquake. But then, there was a good political climate at the time, the equation between the Manmohan-Musharraf governments was on the upswing, ceasefire was in place on the LoC. In fact, the cooperative efforts in wake of the earthquake event led to the establishment of cross LoC trade and movement of J&K citizens across it. On the other hand, presently we are in a political and diplomatic lockdown between the two sides, even much before the corona enforced lockdown at the global level.
Recent events have shown that Pakistan has stepped up infiltration attempts and encounters have shown that a new terrorist organisation called The Resistance Front (TRF) has emerged in J&K. It comprises elements of existing terror tanzeems like Hizbul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Al-Badr. This new group has a strong online presence. The creation of this group also serves the purpose of circumventing FATF compliances, of cutting off funding to terrorist groups. It will be months, if not years before TRF can be introduced into that list of terror organisations. So it appears to be a smart move of killing several birds with one stone.
Allow me to recall a few such smart moves, of how Pakistan has been evolving new tactics and strategy to keep the Kashmir pot boiling for the past decade or so. From 2009 to 2011, each summer witnessed a well organised stone pelting campaign as a new form of agitation, in the Palestinian intifada style, which was successful in gaining attention worldwide. They realised that unarmed struggle found more acceptance in the western world, and the belief was not unfounded. Somewhere in 2015, they combined the stone pelting simultaneously with counter terrorist operations, and used it as a force multiplier. It was employed to distract the security forces during an encounter, by opening another front against them, where even women and children were employed. In the 1990s, when the security forces entered an area for operations, locals used to lock themselves indoors, totally avoiding contact with the armed troops. Now they were rushing to meet them, with stones—a complete tactical turnaround!
Over the last decade, the anti-infiltration grid proved to be rather effective, and the number of residual terrorists in the valley fell; those who were there, were also hardly trained, being unable to exfiltrate to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) for training. So they came up with another stratagem—a proactive use of social media as a force multiplier. Earlier, whenever we used to see young boys waving Pakistan flags and black flags in congregations or protests, their faces were invariably covered their with a mask or a veil. Burhan Wani changed all that. He and his friend caught everyone’s imagination by posting their pictures holding weapons on Facebook. Adroit use of media and social media was made to create a Robin Hood kind of image for him. Social media was also widely used to mobilise crowds for stone pelting before, during and after operations against terrorists. And last but not the least, social media became the primary means of radicalisation. The deep state has made good use of the technological enablers, in keeping with the times.
In 2020, the corona crisis is teaching the world to meet, congregate, buy, sell, shout, laugh, cry online. That’s what they are also doing—going online. They are also rebranding themselves yet again as a resistance movement, now that resistance and human rights find even better resonance in the western world. And in keeping with times, they are moving online. They also draw inspiration from successful use of internet by the ISIS.
We see that Pakistan’s deep state has constantly evolved with time and context, and has reinvented and rebranded their efforts at destabilising India and waging a proxy war in Kashmir through terror and other means. It is time that we used the opportunity of dilution of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories, and reinvented our responses, within Kashmir and without. Bold and transformational thinking is the need of the hour.
This is the first of a two-part article. Next Sunday I will venture to suggest some of the bold steps that could be considered, in keeping with the times, and how to reinventing our response in view of the corona crisis. Views are personal.