New Delhi's soft approach to the Jammu and Kashmir separatists can only serve to embolden extremist forces. The Modi government also needs to refrain from extending any goodwill gestures to the Taliban -- a junior partner of Qaeda that aims to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Indian subcontinent. Pictured: Srinagar, the largest city of Kashmir. (Image source: KennyOMG/Wikimedia Commons)
When the Narendra Modi-led government came to power in India with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in May 2014, the public hoped that a peaceful resolution would be reached over the strife-torn northern state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
A key element of the BJP's platform had been a policy of "zero tolerance towards terrorism." Yet, since Modi's election, the situation in J&K -- which has been the focus of a long-standing conflict between India and Pakistan, with minority Hindus fleeing Islamist violence in 1990 -- has worsened. No Hindu has returned to the Kashmir Valley during Modi's premiership, and the number of Indian civilians and security personnel killed in attacks by Pakistani militants has increased. In fact, during the four-year period between 2014 and 2018, 75 more Indian soldiers and other security personnel were killed in J&K than during the previous five years (219, compared to 144).
Disturbingly, New Delhi's response to these assaults seems to be appeasement -- reaching out to separatist leaders in India and to the Taliban in Pakistan.
Emerging from a meeting in September 2018 of the Central Zonal Council in Lucknow, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh told reporters:
"I think the [Kashmir] matter will be resolved. We are ready to talk to everyone. As far as terrorism is concerned, all security agencies are working in coordination."
Four months after that, in early January 2019 -- while addressing India's upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha -- Singh said that the government was prepared to engage in an "unconditional dialogue" with the leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC).
The problem is that the APHC was established in 1993 to further Kashmiri separatism and promote Pakistan's claim on J&K.
"A perception was being created that BJP doesn't want to talk to Hurriyat," Singh said. "And then we asked people to go there (Kashmir) and have talks with them (Hurriyat). And when the all party delegation went there to talk, the doors were shut for them."
Engaging in "dialogue" with the separatists and the Taliban makes little sense. Neither group has demonstrated any faith in the values of modern civilization and democracy. Contrary to claims on the part of J&K separatists and Pakistan -- that India never offered "unconditional dialogue," and has been rejecting Islamabad's peace overtures -- it is actually Pakistan's propaganda against Indian society that is responsible for the violence in Kashmir. In fact, according to a 2017 Indian Intelligence Bureau report, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) paid separatist leaders Rs 80,000,000 (approximately $1.2 million) to fuel unrest in Kashmir. These leaders include Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Asiya Andrabi, both of whom are reported to have links to Hizbul Mujahideen, a J&K separatist group that in August 2017 was designated by the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Hizbul Mujahideen has been at the forefront of jihad against Hindus in Kashmir.
Although Geelani and other separatist leaders recently warned supporters "not to get swayed by the Islamic State ideology" -- after youths entered J&K's largest mosque waving ISIS flags -- and to reject attempts to link the Kashmir struggle with global jihad, it would be naïve to trust them. Both the J&K separatists and ISIS have been associated with al Qaeda. In addition, when the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden, Geelani asked imams to pray for the "martyr" who fought against "U.S. oppression."
New Delhi's soft approach to the J&K separatists can only serve to embolden extremist forces. The Modi government also needs to refrain from extending any goodwill gestures to the Taliban -- a junior partner of al Qaeda that aims to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Indian subcontinent, including in J&K.
On January 8, Shivshankar Menon, former Indian National Security Advisor, told a gathering of the Indo-American Friendship Association that New Delhi should not be worried about a possible withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. "Have you ever seen an Afghan terrorist?" he said. "You see Pakistani terrorists. Our problem is Pakistan, not Afghanistan."
This is short-sighted when one considers the global connections between Iran and the Taliban, and that Kashmir and Kabul have been "closely knitted together through a tangled web of terrorist networks."
The current administration in Washington, like that in Jerusalem, grasps that all of the above radical groups have "common political targets -- the United States, India and Israel." Rather than risk being seduced by the false notion that it is possible to negotiate with terrorists, India would do well to reach out to its main democratic allies: the U.S. and Israel.
Jagdish N. Singh is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.