India could face another violent civil unrest and massive protests in Jammu and Kashmir if China embarks on another territorial adventure in Ladakh with Pakistan supporting at the Line of Control, according to Abhinav Pandya, founder and CEO of Usanas Foundation, an India-based geopolitical and security affairs think-tank.
In an opinion piece, Pandya has said that there is a strong potential for India’s adversaries, i.e., Pakistan, Turkey, and China, to engineer a massive popular resistance movement in Kashmir the near future.
“The Kashmir valley has been in turmoil for the last three decades. During this time, it has witnessed a violent anti-India jihadist movement in a social-political milieu that is overwhelmingly radicalized on religious lines and has a strong Pakistani intelligence footprint. The region is also highly resentful towards India,” he said.
He further said that although there has been ample discussion on India having to face a two-front war and the paradigm shift in India’s strategic focus from its western borders to its northern frontiers, “India’s strategic experts are losing sight of India’s most vulnerable Achilles’ heel, which lies in the restive Kashmir region, where China is likely to experiment with its mixed strategies to constrain India’s options, morale, and abilities.”
“Imagine a situation in which India faces two-front aggression and China and Pakistan cooperate in orchestrating large-scale social unrest in the Kashmir valley. India’s adversaries could significantly slow and hinder the movement of Indian security forces as all the road routes to the Chinese and Pakistani borders pass through the Kashmir valley.
“In the recent stand-off with China, India could mobilize such a massive deployment because there was no local resistance hindering the movement of Indian Army convoys on newly-built road infrastructure. This rapid mirror deployment ultimately compelled China to reconsider its offensive strategy and agree to disengage,” explained Pandya.
However, he said, if the local population turns rebellious, staging a massive and violent popular revolt as it happened in 2016 as a result of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) strategy, then it will be a daunting challenge to move Indian forces to both frontiers, western and northern.
“It will create a major embarrassment for India on the human rights front as Indian forces would have to kill civilians to secure safe passage for its forces. Further, in such a situation, the enemy forces are likely to advance into Indian territory and call for international intervention, a scenario that Pakistan has always wanted,” he said.
In the past, Kashmir has seen violent civil unrest in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2016. In the 2016 unrest following the death of militant commander Burhan Wani, there were forty-six civilian casualties in police firing, in less than two weeks after the incident.
In particular, after abrogating Kashmir’s special status on August 5, 2019, one witnessed extraordinarily high levels of anti-India sentiments at the grassroots level.
“For decades, the special status prospered and nourished the Pakistani-sponsored militancy infrastructure, terror financing, separatism, corruption, and religious radicalization. India’s decision to abrogate it dealt a massive blow to Pakistan’s three decades of investment in terror. Further, constrained by India’s harsh actions against terrorism, banning religious extremist groups, and a crackdown on terror financing, Pakistan’s deep state failed to orchestrate terrorist attacks and civil unrest through its proxies after August 5, 2019,” Pandya, the author of ‘Radicalization in India: An Exploration’ said.
He further said that after the abrogation of the special status, Pakistan, realizing that Kashmir might slip out of its control, began a massive effort through its proxies and sophisticated influence operations to fuel resentment, anger, and hatred among the ordinary people against India.
“However, this time, Ankara, led by the caliph-in-the-making Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also joined Islamabad. Their anti-Indian efforts included stern diplomatic posturing, exaggerated accusations of human rights abuses, assertions that India’s Kashmir move was a manifestation of Hindu nationalism against the minority Muslim population, and aggressive information warfare operationalized by Pakistani (Inter-Services Public Relations) and Turkish (TRT World) state media arms,” Pandya explained.
“To woo young minds, Turkey and Pakistan made provoking music videos and rap videos which have become very popular in Kashmir. Turkish web-series “Ertugrul” has fired the popular imagination about the Ottoman Caliphate’s glories and strengthened their morale, which went downhill after the loss of special status. Though their previous autonomy under the special status had hardly brought anything to Kashmiris except for corruption and atrocious governance, Turkey and Pakistan’s propaganda war presented India’s decision as an attack on their religious and cultural identity,” he added.
Iran’s interference has radicalized the local Shias also, hitherto loyal to India because of Sunni extremists’ domination in the separatist movement. Pandya said that over the last three years, particularly after the special status was abrogated, Shia Muharram processions have witnessed massive anti-India sloganeering resulting in police firing and civilian deaths, adding further to the prevailing resentment.
“After 2019 abrogation, terrorism initially took a massive hit because of the communication lockdown and India’s massive crackdown. However, over time the terrorist groups devised innovative ways of end-to-end encrypted communication. Lately, terrorism has been on the rise. Reportedly, since 2019, massive cross-border infiltrations have happened with foreign Pakistani terrorists leading the operations,” he said.
Further, a year-and-a-half-long communication and security lockdown; political vacuum; bureaucratic arrogance; and apathy, corruption, and the absence of perceptible improvements in governance have intensified the population’s alienation and anger. The new land laws empowering the non-locals to buy property in Kashmir have further heightened these insecurities.
Acting on the inputs of its robust intelligence network, New Delhi has begun various measures to ameliorate popular resentment, such as a ceasefire on the Line of Control (its border with Pakistani Kashmir), district council elections, employment programs, and postponing controversial election constituencies’ delimitation exercise. However, he said, the alienation runs deep.