After Pulwama, could 2019 see a hot summer?
The terror attack in Pulwama has sharply focused attention on the situation in Kashmir. For some time, it’s been widely believed it’s deteriorating. However it’s one thing to make that claim and another to appreciate how markedly that’s happened. Beyond that, are there also reasons for believing things could get worse over?
Let’s start by comparing the situation today, when the Modi government’s tenure is ending, with the situation in 2014, when it took over. As of December 2018, the number of terrorist incidents jumped nearly three-fold from 222 to 614 whilst the number of security personnel killed almost doubled from 47 to 91. During this period the number of bomb blasts a year has increased over 330% from 35 to 117.
In fact, last year was in many senses the worst. The number of people killed in encounters and clashes hit 586, the highest in the last decade. The number of local Kashmiris joining militancy touched 191, an increase of 50% over the year before. Whilst the number of policemen killed by militant firing was 45, a 125% increase over 2017.
So not only has the situation sharply deteriorated but it seems the speed is escalating. In other words, things are progressively getting worse.
Within this general picture there are two reasons for particular concern. First, young Kashmiris and, more worryingly, young girls have taken to fearlessly throwing stones at security forces to prevent them capturing militants. This young generation is deeply alienated. Now, the fact the Pulwama attack involved a suicide bomber, barely 20 years old, points towards their radicalisation. The hold of fundamentalist Islam has significantly grown.
The other concern is that Pulwama heralds the return of suicide bombers and vehicle-driven IEDs after a decade and more. So, as the situation deteriorates and the young get alienated, militants are using deadlier methods.
If this is not bad enough there are reasons to believe things could get worse. First, America is in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan whilst the Taliban seems to be returning. Many believe this changing dynamic will encourage and embolden militancy in Kashmir. The fact that the Pulwama bomber referred to the Taliban and the situation in Afghanistan in his suicide video seems to corroborate this concern.
A second worrying factor is Pakistan’s growing importance in facilitating a US withdrawal from Afghanistan and ensuring that Taliban co-operate in the talks. Could this encourage the ISI to be more adventurous and step up terror against India? Arguably, yes.
The weather is a third factor that could have an impact. At the moment it’s winter and the passes are snowbound. Usually at this time terrorist threats from across the border diminish. Spring and summer is when they’re at their peak. After Pulwama, could this year see a really hot summer?
Finally, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed know India will be holding elections in April and May. The question is how they will respond? Is it an opportunity to step up strikes, because it will embarrass the Modi government, or will it give them reason to reconsider, because they know Modi will hit back hard?
Frankly, I’m worried. Not only has the situation sharply deteriorated over the last five years, with 2018 considerably worse than 2017, but there are good reasons for believing it might slide further. And with elections in the offing does the government have either the time or the inclination to step in decisively? I’d say we have to keep our fingers crossed.
Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story
The views expressed are personal