Bilateral security talks between India and Pakistan have always walked a tightrope, forever oscillating between breakthrough and collapse in the blink of an eye. It thus behoves us to understand what transpired between India and Pakistan on the diplomatic stage and how the leaders of both nations have played their parts with regard to the Kashmir dispute.

The Simla Accord

A good point to start would be July 2, 1972 and the Simla Accord, signed between Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Bhutto to negotiate the withdrawal of Indian troops from Pakistani territory at the end of the third war between these nations and the release of 93,000 Pakistani soldiers that India had as prisoners. The war had bifurcated Pakistan into two nations, Pakistan and Bangladesh. India played a significant part in the training of Bangladeshi forces and in providing support, a fact that Pakistan has reiterated on multiple platforms when questioned about its role in Kashmir. Indira Gandhi had invited Bhutto and his team to visit Shimla to negotiate, among other issues, their stance on Kashmir.

If one reads the relatively brief document of the accord, there is absolutely nothing that Pakistan had to do except to adhere to some ethical guidelines.[1] The most significant take away from this agreement was that India and Pakistan would resolve their disputes bilaterally as opposed to having the United Nations mediate between them. This is a stance that India has stuck to, not reporting border violations and the conflict in Kashmir to the UN. Pakistan though has not adhered to this clause.

At one point the talks were looking as if they were reaching a stalemate. Inder Malhotra in the article “Collapse of the Shimla Accord” (The Indian Express, June 9, 2014) writes that after arduous and endless negotiations between the two leaders, Gandhi finally told P.N. Haksar (Gandhi’s leading foreign policy advisor) and P.N. Dhar (one of her closest advisors) that Bhutto had given her his word that he would “gradually’ ensure that the LoC became a permanent border, but he “just could not put it in writing.” The agreement stated that the two sides would respect the LoC “without prejudice to the recognised position of either side.” Bhutto, of course, as history shows, reneged on his promise to Gandhi. Pakistan has gone on to maintain that no promise was ever made to India by Bhutto. 

Inder Malhotra goes on to state that P.N. Dhar’s articles written in 2005 shed much light as to what exactly transpired at Shimla.He quoted Bhutto’s exact words to Gandhi: ‘Aap mujh par bharosa keejiye (please trust me)’ and so on. Immediately, there was an avalanche of disdainful denials from across the border. One Pakistani writer, after praising Bhutto’s “diplomatic artistry”, wrote: ‘Face it Mr. Dhar, even if we accept what you say, Mr. Bhutto fooled your prime minister’.[2]

If the LOC was seen as the international border, things may have played out differently for both the countries because till date Pakistan considers Kashmir a part of its territory and almost all the border skirmishes between India and Pakistan continue to happen in Kashmir.

The Siachen Conflict

The 1980s was a period when Pakistan was occupied with Afghanistan. The significant event during this time was the battle over Siachen glacier in the Ladakh region of J&K.

The Siachen glacier acts as a demarker: it defines the boundaries between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, delinks Pakistan from China, while the Saltoro Ridge situated within it separates PoK and China. The strategic importance of Siachen cannot be overstated; “whoever controls the glacier can monitor troops deployment and movement on the other two countries.” It has allowed India to keep a close watch on Gilgit and Baltistan. If Pakistan were to capture Siachen, it would present India with a security threat from two fronts: one from the west in Ladakh and the other from Aksai Chin (the area administered by China) in the east. Siachen also allows India to closely monitor China’s activities in the region following Beijing’s heavy investment in road and rail infrastructure in the Shaksgam area.

The Economic Times estimated the cost of maintaining the approximately 5,000 soldiers posted there on the glacier at Rs 5 crore per day in November 2019.

The 1972 Simla Agreement had delineated India-Pakistan’s border as the Line of Control. However, the boundary line was “specified” to only a point called NJ 9842. Beyond this point it would proceed “north to the glaciers.” There was no controversy over the region for a while (even though nothing was specifically mentioned who owned what) but then in the 1970s and 1980s several mountaineering expeditions, armed with permits from the Government of Pakistan, began scaling high peaks in the Siachen area from the Pakistani side. Alarmed at the increasing number of expeditions, Indian Army Col Narinder Bull Kumar, in early 1981, voiced his concerns to his superiors upon which the Indian Army asked him to “map the entire region.” Back in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, India’s military expeditions to Siachen prompted the Pakistan government to promptly hatch a plan to claim Siachen and occupy it before India did. It launched Operation Ababeel but made a tactical error; Pakistan ordered its Arctic-mountaineering gear from the same London-based supplier who also happened to supply India. When India received intelligence inputs about Pakistan’s UK shopping extravaganza, it hurriedly sent its men to Siachen under the covert Operation Meghdoot in April 1984. “Indian troops reached the glacier a week earlier than Pakistan. By the time Pakistan soldiers reached the region, India had already got control of the glacier and the adjacent Saltoro ridge, using Col Kumar’s maps.[3]

There were constant tussles in that region, with Pakistan not being able to come to terms with India’s occupation of the glacier. The costs, as mentioned before, were high and this was on General Zia-ul-Haq’s mind, who was already feeling the heat from Europe and US over Pakistan’s nuclear tests in 1986. He approached the Crown Prince of Jordan to speak to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi immediately agreed. Backchannel talks ensued where reduction of troops in Siachen was agreed upon. The talks between the Foreign Secretaries of both nations were to continue and India was to broach the issue of Kashmir and establish the Line of Control as the final borders, settling the dispute between both countries. The day the issue was to be discussed, Zia-ul-Haq was killed in a plane crash. A civilian government, headed by Benazir Bhutto, took over soon after.

“‘When the Indian authorities made efforts to pick up the threads of the covert operations, they were told that no such operation was ever carried out and there was not a single paper on Pakistan records which would testify to its existence,’ Verma concluded.”[4](Verma was head of the Indian Intelligence Agency, RAW).

The 1990s

Two young Prime Ministers were at the helm in both these countries in the late 1980s and much was expected of them. Things began with good intentions being expressed.

On June 17, 1989, the Indian and Pakistani Defence Secretaries issued a joint statement that declared that both nations would strive towards “a comprehensive settlement, based on redeployment of forces to reduce the chance of conflict, avoidance of the use of force and the determination of future positions on the ground so as to conform with the Shimla Agreement and to ensure durable peace in the Siachen area.”[5]

Nothing much came of this as Benazir Bhutto’s government was soon dismissed. This was to be the trend of talks between the two countries. Both suffered from weak governments and constant changes in leaders. Backchannel talks continued with the Narasimha Rao government that next came to power in 1991. Then the 1993 Bombay blasts happened and changed many things.

The series of 13 explosions on March 12, 1993 was planned by Dawood Ibrahim, the Pakistan-based underworld boss and India’s “most wanted” fugitive who also had his name prominently featured on the most wanted lists of the US and Interpol. Dawood was aided by Tiger Memon, a trusted associate. The bombings were financed by Indian smugglers settled in the UAE with the active involvement of Pakistan’s ISI agency. Many terrorists trained in ammunition and explosives handling in Pakistan, with the bulk of them being recruited from Dubai.

Following the December 6, 1992, destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya by right wing Hindu fanatics, widespread riots gripped Mumbai. There were allegations of the police colluding with rioters in which certain minority-inhabited areas were targeted. The planners thus managed to rope in disgruntled Muslim youths who would travel to Dubai, then to Pakistan to receive training, and then come back to India to actually execute the attacks.

Later that year when Rao and then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met in Dhaka, Sharif promised to extradite Dawood to India, a promise that never materialized.

Benazir Bhutto, who was once again Prime Minister of Pakistan after the ouster of the Nawaz Sharif government in 1993, announced that Pakistan now did not “’favour a plebiscite as they could lose if the option of independence was given to the people of Kashmir’.”[6]This confirmed “what the people suspected all along – that Pakistan was using them and may not, when the crunch comes, support the azadi movement.”[7]

By now, Pakistani aid to the militants was estimated at $3 million per month and the ISI was spending to the tune of Rs 50,000 to Rs 100,000 per agent in J&K.

In 1994, Narasimha Rao visited the United States and met the American President, Bill Clinton. He convinced Clinton to support bilateral talks between India and Pakistan under the Simla Agreement, though Clinton had been sympathetic to Pakistan. This was viewed as a diplomatic coup by Rao, though the turnaround had been effected by India opening its borders to US industry through Rao’s liberalisation programme.

Talks continued under the brief reigns of Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral, setting the stage for what was to follow next.

The Vajpayee Era

Some scholars are of the opinion that Nehru was the last Prime Minister to understand Kashmiri sentiments until Vajpayee took charge in the late 1990s. Despite his sympathy for the people of Kashmir and a great desire to resolve the situation, Vajpayee could not fulfill his policy.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee became India’s PM after the BJP formed a coalition government in 1998. From the start, Vajpayee wanted peace between India and Pakistan and in Kashmir, a goal that he would actively work towards. His slogan of “Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat,” (inclusivity, humanity and democracy) changed the pitch of Delhi’s narrative regarding Kashmir.

The Vajpayee government’s first act was to conduct a nuclear test. Pakistan soon followed suit. The USA slapped sanctions on both India and Pakistan. Despite this inauspicious start, during the 2000s both countries came closest to a solution regarding the Kashmir problem. What came to the fore was that the dual government system in Pakistan, where the people’s elected government and that of the Army (that held most of the power in the country), would not allow any such agreement or intention, expressed by either side, to stand. The Pakistan Army carves its existence out of hatred and hostility towards India, without which it would be redundant.

Then on February 19, 1999, history was written. Upon Nawaz Sharif’s invitation, Vajpayee crossed the Attari–Wagah border in Punjab by taking a bus from Delhi to Lahore, Pakistan. The Delhi-Lahore bus service was begun to smoothen ties between the two nations and its people.

Vajpayee’s discussions with Nawaz Sharif, led to the Lahore Declaration of 1999, where both countries pledged to a peaceful resolution of bilateral disputes. This included Kashmir, as well as promises that the two sides would engage in bilateral consultations on security concepts, nuclear doctrines, and avoidance of conflicts, the report adds.[8]

It is notable that the three generals of Pakistan, of which Musharraf was one, did not greet Vajpayee at the border and did not salute him.

However, just months after Vajpayee’s visit, the Pakistan Army in a secret operation sent its troops to invade Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir. It led to the Kargil War which Pakistan lost.

Between Kargil & Bloody Tuesday

General Pervez Musharaff had already been working on plans to infiltrate India when Vajpayee was crossing the border over to Pakistan. India managed to quell the Kargil incursion and Sharif was ousted in a military coup, putting Musharaff in charge.

Later on December 24, 1999, IC-814, an Indian Airlines flight was hijacked from Kathmandu. The plane was taken to Islamabad and then to Kabul. Three terrorists were released in exchange for the safety of the passengers on the plane. One of the terrorists released was Maulana Masood Azhar, who would go on to form the Jaish-e-Mohammed in 2000, the organization that would attack the Indian Parliament in 2001, and to whom Pakistan continues to offer shelter.

There were also talks with the Hurriyat in 1999 for holding elections. The Hurriyat wanted the elections to be held under the watch of the UN, to ensure a free and fair process.

On July 24, 2000, Abdul Majid Dar, a leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen, called for a ceasefire in Kashmir. He was keen on talks with Delhi as he wanted militancy to end; a path that he felt had thrown ordinary Kashmiris in the face of guns and violence. Vajpayee reached out immediately and talks began. The Hurriyat, however, took offence on not being part of the process. On the other side of the border, Pakistani media lashed out at the ceasefire, despite it being seconded by the Azad Kashmir-based commander Sayeed Salahudeen. Sayeed later withdrew his consent. In the process, Dar was later accused of having ties with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) of India. This accusation divided the Hizbul group. In 2003, Dar was assassinated by the ISI, according to A.S. Dulat, former head of RAW. (A.S. Dulat, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years)

On August 1, 2000, the Lashkar-e-Taiba killed 30 pilgrims in Pahalgam who were on their way to Amarnath. On August 2, seven residents and 19 migrant labourers from Bihar and Madhya Pradesh were massacred in Anantnag. In Kupwara, five people of an informer family were killed. In Jammu’s Doda district 22 people were killed and in Kishtwar eight people from a village were massacred. Over 80 people were killed in what came to be called ‘Bloody Tuesday’, shattering the ceasefire that had been called by Majid Dar.

The above described events inform us about the fractious nature of the militants. The different militant groups were and are at odds with each other and it is very difficult to carry forward talks with one without offending the others. Then there is Pakistan throwing a spanner in the wheel of any peace process initiated.

Musharraf’s 4-Point Formula

Despite Vajpayee’s disappointment and sense of betrayal over Kargil, he was willing to give peace another chance. Two years after the Kargil War, he invited Musharaff, now President of Pakistan, to the famous Agra Summit in July 2001. The most significant outcome was the presentation of the ‘4 Point Formula’ by Musharraf, who facing increasing global isolation, was also keen on dialogue. The ‘formula’ was as follows:

  1. Demilitarization or phased withdrawal of troops.
  2. There would be no change of borders of Kashmir. However, people of Jammu & Kashmir would  be allowed to move freely across the Line of Control.
  3. Self-governance without independence.
  4. A joint supervision mechanism in Jammu and Kashmir involving India, Pakistan and Kashmir.

Despite best intentions, Delhi and Islamabad failed to agree on a solution. Years later, Musharraf commented that India “backtracked” at the last moment even though a draft resolution was ready to be signed. “I was told that the Indian Cabinet had refused to give its nod,” Musharraf had said at an event in 2004.

But according to Former Pakistan Foreign Minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, the one man who stood in the way of the summit becoming a success was Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the separatist leader. Kasuri wrote in his book, “He (Geelani) described President Musharraf’s four-point agenda as vague, and criticised the President’s statement on UNSC resolutions’ relevance to Kashmir.”

However, according to former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) Chief, A.S. Dulat it was the Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani who posed as the main roadblock. According to Dulat, Advani was both the architect and destroyer of the summit. “The Advani of Delhi and the Advani of Agra were different,” Dulat said in an interview to Rediff, “He raked up the issue of Dawood Ibrahim at a dinner hosted for visiting Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on the eve of the Agra Summit. Musharraf was taken aback and told Advani, ‘Let us at least go to Agra’.”[9]

The Agra Summit was the closest the two nations had ever come to a resolution on Kashmir. Had the summit been a success, the destinies of both the nations would have played out very differently.

On January 11, 2001, Musharraf had made a historic address to his nation, declaring that Pakistan would no longer allow its soil to be used for terrorism, after which he arrested some 2,000 Islamic militia members and closed 300 of their offices. But in the long run, one realises that this was just optics and nothing really changed. Following that declaration, 9/11 happened and then later in December that year there was an attack by five terrorists on the Indian Parliament. Pakistan became a key ally of USA in the war against terrorism.

Kashmir: 2002-2004

May 21, 2002, saw the murder of Abdul Ghani Lone by Pakistan-backed militants. Lone was a Hurriyat leader who wanted foreign jihadis out of Kashmir and peace in the Valley. He had been a politician most of his life, who believed that the movement in Kashmir was not a religious but a political movement. At this point, the foreign jihadis who did not belong to India or Kashmir, far outnumbered the jihadis that actually belonged to Kashmir.

A.S. Dulat writes in Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years that Lone was tired of Kashmiris getting killed. This came across during a tea party held by Musharraf for Hurriyat leaders in New Delhi, just before his Agra Summit with Prime Minister Vajpayee in July 2001. At the party, Lone had voiced his concerns and is supposed to have said: ‘We’re tired, we’re exhausted, we can’t carry on like this. You’re only getting Kashmiris killed.’ To which Geelani objected. ‘We’re not tired, we will never be tired,’ he said. Everyone stared at Geelani, and what he was implying: that Kashmiris should continue to get killed.[10]

Vajpayee approached Pakistan for a final time in 2003 to make some tangible progress on peace between the two nations. Considerable progress was made. An attempt was made on Musharraf’s life by Islamic guerrillas in December 2003. In 2004, a ceasefire was called on the border of India and Pakistan. Musharraf made a statement that no territory in Pakistan and under its control would be used for terrorist activities against India. There were talks of improving trade between the two nations.

This was the ground laid by the Vajpayee government that lost the elections in 2004. A lot of effort was made from India’s end (despite several betrayals) to ensure that the two nations could find a solution. Dialogues had been opened in Kashmir with militant groups to try and find a solution and to end the insurgency. Now it remained for the following UPA government to make something out of the foundation laid out for them.

The UPA Years

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Musharraf met on the sidelines of the 2004 UN General Council after which they reiterated their commitment to working towards peace. Singh visited Kashmir and appealed for Kashmiri support and advice in a peace process.

In February, 2005, a bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar was started as a symbol of this peace process. Hurriyat, JKLF and other dissident leaders were invited to the inauguration of the bus service but they refused on not having been involved in this initiative. Within 10 days of the launch, Musharraf visited Delhi to watch a cricket match. There were talks of improving trade between India and Pakistan.

In June 2005, a Hurriyat delegation along with JKLF’s Yasin Malik visited Pakistan-administered Kashmir to appeal for an end to violence. There were mixed reactions on both sides, with sharp rebuke from the BJP for Singh, for allowing the Hurriyat to cross the border.

Late 2005, after a couple of rounds of talks with the Hurriyat, Singh withdrew 40,000 troops from civilian areas in the Valley and for the first time violence fell below pre-1990 levels; from a high of 4,011 in 2001 to a low of 121 by 2012. The trend showed violence continued to steadily decline.

Then on October 29, 2005, the Delhi bombings occurred in India, killing 62 people and injuring at least 210 others in three explosions. The bombings came only two days before the important festival of Diwali, which is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains.

On July 11, 2006, six serial bomb blasts happened on local trains in Mumbai killing some 209 people and injuring over 700.

Despite this, the peace process continued between India, Pakistan, and the dissident groups in Kashmir over 2004-07. Musharraf continued his rhetoric of peace while there were terrorist attacks in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Coimbatore and finally on the Samjhauta Express. Following these, Musharraf was faced with terrorist attacks within Pakistan and he put the peace process on the backburner.

In the summer of 2008 a dispute arose over the handover of a parcel of land to a Hindu trust to manage the Amarnath yatra. Local residents feared that the handover would usurp their livelihood. Six people were killed and 100 injured when police fired into a crowd in Srinagar protesting the transfer of land. When the government decided to reverse the transfer of land, riots erupted among the people of Jammu and the unrest lasted for some 61 days.

On November 26, 2008, terrorists of the LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba), trained in Pakistan, attacked Mumbai, targeting the iconic Taj Mahal hotel at the Gateway, among others. The Pakistan Minister of Information, Sherry Rehman, admitted publicly that Kasab, one of the terrorists, was a Pakistani and soon lost her job under pressure from the Pakistani Army.

Pakistan did very little to condemn the perpetrators. This wasn’t unexpected since the terrorists had been inspired and briefed by Hafiz Saeed himself, the head of LeT (it later renamed itself as Jamaat-ud-Dawa), and had received training from the best of the Pakistani Army.  What it did do, in the face of international and Indian pressure, was to shutdown Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s offices and place Hafiz Saeed under house arrest briefly. Saeed was released in June 2009 and he continues to be a revered social and political figure in Pakistan. (Shivshankar Menon, Choices: Inside The Making of Indian Foreign Policy)

Meanwhile in Kashmir, Wahhabi mosques and madrassas had mushroomed across the Valley; from less than two dozen in 1990 to over 700 in 2009.

2010: Annus Horribilis

At the end of April 2010, Rashtriya Rifle troops stationed at Machil, Kashmir, announced that it had killed three Pakistani infiltrators. Further investigation revealed that these men were not infiltrators but belonged to the nearby Nadihal village and had been killed in a fake encounter. The three were a part of a plot to claim money from the Indian Government that was handing out rewards for intercepting militants. The young men, who were daily wage earners, had been lured with the offer of jobs by a counter-insurgent and former special police officer of Baramulla district, Bashir Ahmad Lone.

This incident unleashed hell in Kashmir. Everything fell apart, including the channels with the dissident groups. There were strikes and protests. The strike led to clashes in Srinagar, in which a seventeen year old passerby, Tufail Mattoo, was killed on 11 June. He was hit by an unexploded tear gas shell. In the meantime, the Chief Minister could not make up his mind about whether the police or the CRPF should handle the protests. A lot of ensuing chaos was engineered by the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat. Masrat Alam was the face of this organisation, issuing protest calendars for the public to follow.

Sensing the chaos, the State and Central Governments imposed a curfew in Srinagar and across a few towns in the Valley in August, which the locals defied. As the curfew stretched from one and then to two months, Kashmiris began to face shortages of essential commodities; from milk to vegetables to baby food, everything was running scarce. Then in the same month, protests by locals transitioned into a cry that Islam and Muslims were in danger when on the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers in the US, an American cleric burnt a copy of the Quran. Angry protesters went on the rampage, attacking Christian schools and churches, and destroying government buildings. In Poonch, when police tried to stop the burning down of a missionary school, protesters set ablaze police vehicles and the offices of the sub-divisional magistrate, the Forest Department, and the Block Development. [11]

Though stone pelting had occurred before, this was the first time the stone thrower became a symbol of resistance to the Indian rule and the stone became the symbol of the Kashmiri plight. The CRPF and the police, who had been involved in a blame game amongst themselves, were not prepared for this new onslaught. As per government figures, 110 Kashmiris were killed, 537 civilians were injured along with 1,274 CRPF troops and 2,747 state police personnel in 2010.

The three personnel of the Rajputana Rifles who had been court martialed for their involvement in the incident and had been convicted to life imprisonment by the civilian court, had their sentences suspended by the Armed Forces Tribunal on July 28, 2017. It should be noted that over 100 courts martial of troops have happened in the last 20 years or so.

Attempts at defusing the situation continued under the Home Minister, Chidambaram. The local support for guerillas had been declining. By the end of 2010 and early 2011, some 3,000 stone-pelters were released from custody and the number of police bunkers were reduced.

Radha Kumar, who was appointed as one of the three interlocutors in Kashmir, studied the situation and concluded that the people were looking for: release of young stone-throwers, easing restrictions on movement, addressing the aspirations of the youth, and putting in place a responsive and effective public grievance redressal machinery.

But challenges continued to remain. Any kind of activity in the Valley was impossible. A proposal for a literary festival was shot down by people expressing their disapproval through the Internet. “Holding such a festival would dovetail with the state’s concerted attempt to portray that all is normal in Kashmir,” a group of Kashmiri intelligentsia wrote in an open letter, whose signatories included acclaimed Kashmiri novelists Basharat Peer and Mirza Waheed, filmmaker Sanjay Kak and journalist Muzamil Jaleel.

Sports was a casualty too. A football academy set up by Argentinian coach Juan Marcos Troia in Srinagar in 2007 with a grant from the Brazilian government, had to be shut down as he was forced to leave after receiving a series of anonymous death threats and his dogs being killed. He had trained former stone-throwers and sons of former guerrillas. Bishan Singh Bedi, one of Indian cricket’s most famous bowlers, had a similar experience—this time at the hands of the famously corrupt State Cricket Administration.

Kashmir Under the BJP

Things started off well when Narendra Modi invited the Pakistan Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, for his swearing-in in 2014. There was great hope for change with the BJP coming to power with a sweeping majority. But the BJP’s “Hindutva agenda” brought many issues with it.

In September 2014, the region of Jammu and Kashmir suffered catastrophic floods across several of its districts caused by torrential rainfall. Termed a natural disaster, it left 450 dead and over 300,000 displaced, compounding the problems that the Kashmiris faced and bringing down spirits.

Next, the issue of cow slaughter that was banned by the BJP brought problems in many states, including J&K. In September 2015, Jammu and Kashmir legislators came to blows over the issue. The Islamist campaigner, Asiya Andrabi, slaughtered a cow as an act of defiance and MLA Rashid similarly hosted a “beef dinner.” This happened in states like Kerala too that were in open defiance of the law.

Burhan Wani

The Kashmir conflict escalated further after 2015. The PDP formed a government with the BJP in J&K after the 2015 elections, to the chagrin of the Kashmiri people. Then came the death of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who had the pulse of the people more than Omar Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah’s son. There was no dialogue between the government and the separatists. Then came the killing of Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016.

Burhan Wani was born to an educated and well-to-do Kashmiri family in Tral. A class topper who loved cricket, he was supposedly “driven to take up arms” at the age of 15, after he, his brother and a friend were stopped and beaten up by army personnel “for no reason.” Promising to avenge the incident, Wani ran away from home and joined the Hizbul Mujahideen. Quickly rising in rank to become a Hizbul commander, Wani bloomed to become the poster boy of militancy. His viral social media messages and videos acquired cult status and urged the youth of Kashmir to fight against Indian oppression by picking up the gun. Suddenly militancy in Kashmir had a name and a face. India saw Wani as a terrorist and a security threat, but to the radicalized youth of Kashmir, he was the legitimate voice of change.

For the first time, local dissidents outnumbered foreign fighters. And for the first time in the history of the Kashmir conflict, civilians attacked security forces from the rear when they conducted cordon and search operations, allowing guerrillas to escape. The people had taken sides.

The very next day, 11 protesters were killed and over 120 persons, including 96 security personnel, were injured, as violent street protests erupted across the Kashmir Valley. On July 17, the Centre rushed 2,000 additional troops to Kashmir. The final death toll went up to 30 in various incidents around the country.

Kashmir: 2015-2020

Following Wani’s killing during an anti-insurgency operation, the Valley erupted. Local militancy received a fillip with the Multi-Agency Centre (responsible for sharing intelligence outputs) outlining a disturbing trend: the number of local militant recruits in the Valley had risen from 63 in 2014 to 128 in 2017. What followed was a face-off: as more youths joined militant groups, the government increased its anti-insurgency operations.

What is more, civilians were now increasingly starting to intervene during gunfights between militants and security forces, escalating casualties (civilian death toll was 51 and 50 in 2017 and 2018, respectively). Army Chief Bipin Rawat’s response was sharp. He said civilians who came to the aid of militants during gunfights would face “harsh action” and be deemed “anti-nationals” and “overground workers of militants.” The period continued to be marked by protests, strikes, cries for azadi, and increasing ceasefire violations. Then on September 28, 2016, in a sharp message to Pakistan and with the domestic (Kashmir) audience in mind, the Modi government conducted “surgical strikes” against militant launchpads across the LoC in PoK. Despite this show of strength and intention, in Kashmir, ceasefire violations continued to soar; from 583 in 2014 to 1,432 in 2018.

In 2017, Modi softened his stance when during his Independence Day speech he offered to solve the conflict in Kashmir not through bullets but with love and by “embracing” Kashmiris. He also appealed to terrorists to engage in mainstream dialogue with the Centre. “You have every right to make your voices heard in the Indian democracy,” he said.

Accordingly, in October 2017, Dineshwar Sharma (former Director of the Intelligence Bureau) was appointed the Centre’s interlocutor to hold dialogue with “all stakeholders” in Kashmir. But “..the scope of Sharma’s engagement was circumscribed. The Centre announced that he was to hold dialogue to understand the “legitimate aspirations” of the people. It soon became clear that these aspirations did not extend even to demands for greater autonomy, let alone “azadi.” [12]

In May 2018, a ceasefire was announced on the occasion of the holy month of Ramzan. When militant attacks on security forces continued unabated, the ceasefire was called off. The conflict worsened when in January 2018 an eight-year-old Muslim Bakerwal (Bakerwals are a nomadic tribe) girl was allegedly kidnapped, raped and then murdered by seven Hindu men in Jammu’s Kathua district. What was worse, several BJP leaders participated in rallies defending the accused, drawing justified protests across the country.

After the ceasefire ended things took a different turn in the state. The BJP left the coalition and J&K was put under Governor’s rule. Following the collapse of the State government, rival regional parties scrambled together to prop up make-shift alliances in a bid to form government. In November, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party joined hands with the Congress, upon which the BJP backed the People’s Conference party. Against this backdrop of horse trading and the possibility of unstable governments coming to power, Governor Satya Pal Malik suddenly dissolved the Assembly.

Biting the Bullet: Abrogation of Article 370

The early days of August 2019 foreshadowed change. Schools and colleges were hurriedly shut, communication networks such as telephone and internet connections were disabled, the Amarnath yatra was cancelled citing a terror plot against pilgrims, local political and separatist leaders were put under preventive custody, and 50,000 additional Indian troops were urgently deployed in the state. J&K was put under lockdown. What followed was a historical correction.

At the time of writing this article, June 2020, Jammu and Kashmir is a Union Territory, with Ladakh no longer a part of the State but a separate Union Territory all together. All the major politicians who were placed under house arrest for many months have only recently started being released. Phone and communication services have been limited and data services negligible. National and international media have condemned this blackout and curbing of fundamental rights in Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir has lost its autonomy that it enjoyed for many years. On August 5, 2019, the Government of India issued a constitutional order superseding the 1954 order, and making all the provisions of the Indian Constitution applicable to Jammu and Kashmir based on the resolution passed in both houses of India’s Parliament with 2/3rd majority. Amit Shah, the Home Minister, promised that the Union Territory will return to having an elected government soon. The BJP has always viewed J&K as a part of India and its abrogation was a part of its election manifesto. Even the talks the Home Ministry tried to initiate with separatist groups in Kashmir since 2015 were to be ‘under the aegis of the Indian Constitution’, which is a part of the reason why dialogue has stalled.

As Amit Shah told the Parliament  “..’only a few families had gained from Article 370 and not the people of Jammu and Kashmir.’ He also blamed the Article for the deaths in the State due to militancy—more than 45,000 since 1989—and said it was creating doubts over the State’s relations with India. ‘We are rectifying a historical blunder.”[13]

The correction of a blunder, however, goes back to the time when the BJP and the People’s Democratic Party formed a coalition government in J&K in 2015. It was the coming together of two parties with two very different ideologies; one was far right while the other had “soft separatist leanings”. Given their differences, certain BJP leaders had misgivings over the alliance. But Shah and his core team in J&K crafted the alliance as it felt the time was ripe for the BJP to be directly involved in the politics of the state. It also felt a coalition would help to “discredit” the Hurriyat and highlight the “mal-governance of mainstream political parties” which had indulged in disruptive dynastic politics for years to the detriment of the people. When on June 19, 2018 the alliance came to an end (the decision followed a meeting chaired by then BJP president Amit Shah), the BJP was criticized for having failed in its objective with regard to J&K. However, BJP insiders reveal that this was the first instance when Shah’s policy on Kashmir “had tasted success.”

The Economic Times wrote, “The credibility of J&K’s ‘mainstream’ political parties in the state has hit rock bottom. While the separatist leadership has long been exposed for what it is — venal, self-serving puppets of Pakistan — it is the ‘mainstream’ political actors in the erstwhile State, whose ineffective and corrupt mal-governance has hollowed J&K out of any positive aspirations.”[14]

Legal Implications

The legality of the abrogation is also under question, with many journalists, legal experts crying ‘foul’. Article 370 itself has been diluted over the years. The original Article gave the State of J&K near absolute autonomy, with Kashmir having its own constitution, flag, and allowing people dual citizenship, among other things. But over the years, the Article has been diluted, with at least 45 amendments being made. This has allowed India increasing say in the administration of the state to which the Kashmiri people protest on several occasions. So it may be argued that not much of the original Article remains anyways.

That said, the withdrawal of 370 is questionable for a number of reasons and the reader will find “Kashmir Article 370: Will revoking special status be good for Kashmir, India?” in The Economic Times explaining the same.

Needless to say, the matter is complex and has many legal dimensions to it that need to be analyzed. It is being processed in the Supreme Court as the abrogation of Article 370 has been challenged by many organisations.

[1] Ministry of External Affairs

[2] Indian Express Inder Malhotra 9 June, 2014

[3] “Siachen: All you should know about the world’s costliest battlefield” by The Economic Times

[4] Radha Kumar “Paradise At War”

[5] Why Siachen must be demilitarised from The Hindu

[6] A calculated gamble – Special Report News – Issue Date: Jun 15, 1994

[7] A calculated gamble – Special Report News – Issue Date: Jun 15, 1994

[8]Vajpayee Sahab Can Win Elections in Pakistan: Nawaz Sharif in 1999” in The Quint

[9]When Vajpayee and Musharraf ‘Almost Resolved’ the Kashmir Dispute” by Uday Singh Rana in News 18

[10] Book Excerpt: “Would you also like to take us over and occupy our lands?’: A Kashmiri who questioned both sides”, The, May 21, 2017 Abdul Ghani Lone dreamt up the idea of Hurriyat – but paid the price for defying Pakistan’s ISI

[11] Radha Kumar, Paradise at War: A Political History of Kashmir

[12] article  Modi government’s Kashmir policy: Militancy and mass protests saw a huge jump

[13] The Week articleby Namrata Biji Ahuja And Pratul SharmaArticle 370: Path to abrogation

[14]Kashmir Article 370: Will revoking special status be good for Kashmir, India?” in The Economic Times


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