Kashmir uprising: stone pelting, proxy actors and China
Stone throwing in the Kashmir Valley is not a new phenomenon, but the recent twofold rise in the number of stone throwing incidents by youths to disrupt security force operations, widespread clashes with police and the boycott of the Srinagar Lok Sabha election suggest that these are not just normal protests. It seems likely that this unrest is planned, paid and organised through social media by cross-border actors that have a vested interest in re-igniting the Kashmir insurgency. These proxies appear to be one step ahead of Indian security and law enforcement agencies. Plausibly, evidence suggests that the intensification in violent incidents are not just part of a pan-Islamic movement but also a part of a greater dominance of Gilgit-Baltistan in the Northern Area other than Kashmir.
Although stone throwing appears to be non-violent given the disparity of power between security forces and those throwing stones, it is still potentially lethal. In 2016, the Kashmir Valley has seen 2690 cases of stone throwing that were registered after Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani was killed in a standoff with security forces and over 76 people, including security forces were killed in some of these incidents. Over 1284 incidents of stone throwing were witnessed mainly in North Kashmir and one of the main contributing factors that has played a part in the increase in incidents of stone throwing and was a Hizbul Mujahedeen video on social media inciting violence.
Image taken from Hindustan Times
Analysing one of the recent video of Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Zakir Musa, a militant commander of Hizbul Mujahideen on social media, he openly incites Kashmiri youth to throw stones at security forces; not in the name of nationalism but in the name of Islam. This supports the above analysis that the Kashmir issue is being pushed towards a pan-Islamic intifada fundamentalist movement. In the video, which is widely circulating on social media, he preaches violence in the name of Islam and for youths to throw stones to help and protect Islam and claims that one day Islamâs flag will be hoisted in Kashmir where more than 72% of the population is Muslim. In an area with high unemployment, this incitement using religious language, provokes youths to channel their anger and frustration through violence against security forces in the Valley.
Zakir Musa video inciting stone throwers in the name of Islam.
News report regarding Zakir Musa video.
From the period since the insurgency started in the Kashmir Valley up to March 2017, recorded data shows that 5,055 soldiers, 21,965 militants and 13,941 civilians have died. Although some insurgencies lose momentum either as a political solution is achieved or insurgents are effectively targeted after decades of fighting. In the case of Kashmir, neither has occurred as the insurgency is regularly facilitated and re-invented from cross-border actors and one of such proxy actor is Hizbul Mujahideen, a designated terrorist organisation that holds a pro-Pakistan ideology. The state actor behind such a terrorist organisation has a vested interest to spin Kashmir into Palestine and this is achieved through various means. One method is with the use of highly effective social media to incite local youths to pelt stones in the name of Islam and boycott parliamentary elections in Kashmir as 'nationalism and democracy are haram in Islam' according to Zakir Musa. This indicates that as the Kashmir issue is re-invented, driven with an Islamic-centric view that makes security forces âkafirâ allowing locals to support militants, terrorists and gives jihadists cause to fight in Kashmir against Indian infidels, in the name of Islam that gives momentum to the uprising.
Officials state that 300 WhatsApp groups were used to mobilise stone-throwers in order to disrupt security force operations in Kashmir and each of these 300 groups had around 250 members. Prior to this, the quantity of people throwing stones was nowhere near this figure. In order to counter the large quantities of people gathering to throw stones, internet services in Kashmir were suspended but that was viewed as New Delhi suppressing the voice of Kashmir. The previous use of non-lethal ammunition by security forces to quell protests caused serious injuries to protesters and several lost their eyesight. Whilst, the Supreme Court of India observed that non lethal rounds should not be used indiscriminately for controlling protests, this was used as an example of Indiaâs atrocities in Kashmir by proxy actors.
The Ministry of Home Affairs directly accused Pakistan of promoting militancy via social media and Hurriyat leaders are believed to have taken part in fomenting trouble and organising protests to close Kashmiri shops. The Director General of Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) Police alleged that Pakistan is responsible for instigating the youth to throw stones and Deputy Chief Minister of J-K specifically said that groups operating from Pakistan are organising and inciting protesters through social media channels. Although it is in India's interests to deescalate the situation, National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval has a hard-line approach towards the Kashmir situation and this risks an overreaction from India which could further heighten tensions. Doval Doctrine sees the Kashmir problem as the product of the dysfunctional mindset of three parties â India, Pakistan and Kashmiri separatists. However, Pakistan is driven by a desire to destroy and hate India by making Kashmiri separatists as complicit.
Pakistan also would like to restrict the growing influence of India in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and lately in Iran, where India is developing Chabahar Port that borders Pakistan. Strategically, that ties India with Tehran and Kabul and that will reduce landlocked Afghanistanâs dependence on Pakistan's ports considerably. However, gradual reduction of the US role in Afghanistan and the presence of India in Chabahar port closer to Balochistan, worries Pakistan and ISI as Baloch leaders are leaning towards India.
Image taken from the Hindustan Times.
At the same time, another game-changing development is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) plan that passes though the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan territories. This is one of the ways to counter Indiaâs growing influence and to get support for Kashmir by dragging China into the Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan territorial dispute. Furthermore, the development of Gwadar Port in Pakistan by China which is 72km from Chabahar Port will increase the Islamabad-Beijing influence on the Makran coast. giving Beijing an increased footprint from the Arabian Sea to the South China Sea and further up to the Persian Gulf.
The recent declaration of the disputed and strategic region of Gilgit-Baltistan in Northern Area by Pakistan as its fifth province is a concern for India, as this move could signal a historic shift for wider Kashmir and the Himalayan region. Therefore, internationalising the Kashmir issue through proxies serves a strategic purpose to counter India with the patronage of China. Such backing can be observed in the case of Indiaâs request to declare Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Masood Azhar a terrorist in the United Nations and was repeatedly blocked by China, to favour Pakistan.
Nonetheless, a significant part of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) in which China has nearly invested $50 billion, runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, that India has claimed its integral part. It will be interesting to see whether China will meddle in the Kashmir issue or become a mediator between India and Pakistan. However, in the eastern Himalayan region, China has increased Indiaâs difficulties by refusing to recognise the legality of the Simla Accord and claims territory in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh to be part of South Tibet and recently China has re-named six places in the region to assert sovereignty to step up its claim. Further, Chinese President Xi Jinpingâs ambitious plan of OBOR to build a new Silk Road linking Asia, Africa and Europe by investing billions of dollars gives China economic and diplomatic supremacy in the Himalayan region and it has recently mediated between Myanmar and Bangladesh in the Rohingya refugee crisis. However, India has always insisted that Kashmir is a bilateral issue and stopped other western countries interfering in Kashmir but that is where China will flex its muscle and swing towards Pakistan as a big brother, as observed earlier. However, China expects that others do not interfere in Tibet or their crackdown on Islamic terrorism in Xinjiang autonomous region where there is discord between ethnic Uighur Muslim and Han Chinese population.
Just before the recent by poll election boycott, posters appeared in the name of Lashker-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahedeen directing people to boycott polls or face consequences. Despite the presence of an unprecedented level of security arranged by the Election Commission of India for the by-polls only 7% of voting was observed.
This suggests that Kashmiri separatists are complicit in the proxy war so New Delhiâs counter-insurgency strategy fails. Here, India has to focus on winning hearts and minds to counter these proxy actors who want Srinagar to drift away from New Delhi. However, in a recent cordon of 20 villages in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir during a crackdown on militants, involving over 3,000 soldiers, paramilitary troopers and police personnel makes it challenging to win hearts and minds. It also creates the scenes witnessed during Operation Motorman by the British Army to counter republican paramilitaries and to reclaim âno go areasâ in Northern Ireland.
Image taken from Hindustan Times.
India has focused enough to secure its borders but has overlooked the impact of social media through which proxy actors are stirring the insurgency. Restriction on the Internet and a ban on social media in Kashmir is not helping, as Kashmir's youth are defying the cyber ban using virtual private networks to access blocked sites and this should ring alarm bells in New Delhi. It is also too late for Union Information and Broadcasting Minster M Venkaiah Naidu directing J-K government that no Pakistani channels are to be aired in the Valley, which broadcast anti-Indian propaganda amongst. However, almost 50,000 private cable connections in Srinagar broadcast Pakistani and Saudi TV channels âlegallyâ with anti-India propaganda programmes and fundamentalist interpretations of Islam and Sharia. These countermeasures should have been considered beforehand and security agencies should be aware of this. Moreover, social media has no frontiers; it is a powerful propaganda tool and is misused in the Valley to mislead civilians. Simply relying on the restriction of the internet, banning social media and free to air foreign propaganda television channels will only work for a limited period. If J-K Chief Minster Mehbooba Muftiâs leadership and state constitutional machinery are going to fail in curbing the quagmire of violence and unrest, then it is more likely that once again the central government will impose Governorâs rule in Jammu and Kashmir.
This raises the question mark on Indiaâs strategy for controlling the uprising in Kashmir. If New Delhi believes that it has the experience of successfully dealing with the Punjab insurgency and defeating the Khalistan movement in 1970, then it has to remember that the actor who has tried to revive Sikh militancy still exists and the same actor has now joined hands with China. It is time for India to re-think and re-tune its strategy.
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