The announcement by Home Minister Amit Shah in Parliament about the abolition of Article 370 of the Constitution, which takes away with it Article 35A as well, and splitting J&K into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir with an Assembly and Ladakh without one – is an assertion by India of its sovereign power to reorganize any state that was an integral part of the nation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in his tenure taken bold foreign policy decisions, including a firm line towards Pakistan by declaring "talks and terror could not go together.” It is the new Home Minister Amit Shah who has now demonstrated that the internal governance of India will be handled with the same decisiveness and strategic outlook.
Success of bold decisions depends on prior assessment of their repercussions and full preparations for seeing through their implementation.
Induction of over 250 additional companies of security forces in J&K over the last few days was meant to deal with the possibility that a graver situation might be created by Pakistan after these historical decisions of the Government of India. This was over and above the threat of a major attack by Pakistan-backed terrorists on the pilgrims of the now suspended Amarnath Yatra that was already on the radar of our intelligence agencies.
The Modi government does not make premature disclosures of its strategic moves. If the pro-separatist parties in the Valley did sense in the Center's way of clamping down on the state a possible move to alter the status of J&K, the governor of the state – representing the voice of the Center – did not rightly go beyond urging the people to stay calm and not get caught in rumors.
As a logical pre-emptive action, the government cancelled the Amarnath Yatra on Aug. 2, issued an advisory for all pilgrims and tourists to promptly wind up and leave the state and even announced the logistic arrangements made to facilitate the return of the pilgrims and tourists by buses and flights.
The politicians in the Valley, who had over the years become totally dependent on separatists and Pakistan agents for acquiring power, raised the chorus "valley was on the edge" after witnessing the Center's armed mobilization and desperately huddled together to warn of "explosive repercussions" if there was any infringement of the "sovereign rights" of the Kashmiris.
The Center had no problem with putting these leaders under house arrest on the eve of the home minister's announcement. They have been more pro-Pakistan than even the separatists in recent months and were lately becoming desperate as the law on corruption was beginning to catch up with them.
In an early joint press conference in Srinagar, Corps Commander Lt. General K.S. Dhillon, J&K DGP Dilbag Singh and Special DG, CRPF, Zulfiqar Hassan, revealed that searches carried out as a follow-up on the intelligence leads on both the routes of the Amarnath Yatra had led to the seizure of IEDs, caches of weapons and explosives of Pakistan ordnance factory origin.
Dhillon also showed an M 24 American sniper rifle recovered in the searches, which were still going on.
The new intelligence was viewed against the backdrop of a sharp increase in the number of ceasefire violations on the LOC and the repeated attempts by the Pakistan army to infiltrate terrorists as well as its Border Action Teams over the last few weeks.
Also, the Pakistan Military-ISI leadership having sensed its new importance for American policy makers on the Afghan front was evidently encouraged by the repeated affirmation of President Donald Trump that there should be peace talks between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. The U.S. president was pushing the issue of cross-border terrorism aside for his priority in Afghanistan.
It would be logical to believe that Pakistan – already tempted to step up cross-border violence in a bid to strengthen its case before President Trump on Kashmir – might take to a misadventure in the Valley with the help of its agents there, in reaction to the epoch making decision of India on J&K.
The role of the National Security Advisor in putting a pre-emptive framework of counter measures – through mobilization of security forces and sharpening of the intelligence vigil – is noteworthy.
It is surprising that apart from the politically motivated responses of the Valley parties and the separatists, many responsible experts spoke like security illiterates in criticizing the beefing up of the counter-insurgency grid in J&K done after the unraveling of the new threat from Pakistan-sponsored terror groups.
A former police chief familiar with Kashmir made an absurd point that if the attack on Amarnath Yatra in 2017 resulting in multiple deaths and casualties had not led to the suspension of the Yatra, how was the decision to cancel it taken this time?
He forgot that the learning from that event was that not a single pilgrim will be exposed to a terror act next time whatever be the scale of response needed to ensure that. He referred to the earlier terror attack in a casual way as if it had no importance for him.
Again, an ex-general with background of service in Kashmir was pitching on the point that the government should have made a full disclosure of intelligence about the threat to justify the deployment of additional forces.
He obviously does not understand the importance of confidentiality that had to be kept about the handling of sensitive intelligence – at least as long as action to neutralize the threat had not been completed.
If these analysts were indirectly talking against an anticipated decision of the Center to alter Kashmir's status, they were conveying a political opinion and not a security evaluation.
The security forces would engage themselves in intelligence-based counter terror operations and serve the cause of protection of the people though it cannot be denied that a certain degree of collateral pressure and hardship could be faced by the people at large.
The activities of the separatists and Pakistan agents supported by the political leaders of the Valley had assumed a proportion where there was talk of separate flag and separate prime minister for Kashmir. All of these forces were talking the language of Pakistan and even putting up with the display of ISIS flags in the Valley traceable to ISI-sponsored elements.
The Valley-based political parties had made a mockery of the democratic rule by paying no attention to the developments and by toeing the line of Pakistan that J&K was not a territorial dispute, but a Muslim issue.
The new Modi regime, in which all internal security matters are now being handled by a pro-active home minister, is going to come down with heavy hands against any misadventure of the Pakistan army from across the LOC in Kashmir.
It has already tightened the screws on the pro-Pakistan separatists who had had a free run of the state all these years because of the patronage they enjoyed from the governments run by the Valley-based parties.
BJP leaders in Kashmir have spoken of their intention of hoisting the national flag in all Panchayat headquarters on the forthcoming Independence Day. Display of the Tricolor had become a taboo in the Valley as ISIS flags made their appearance in recent times – thanks to the boldness of Pakistan agents operating there.
The new deployment of security forces will make it easy for the local police to put down any disturbance created by these elements on that occasion. Any effort of the Center to bring Kashmiris closer to the nation's mainstream for their development and protection against an external threat should be viewed without any political prejudice.
The entire country is open to the idea of Kashmiri youth – both men and women – pursuing both economic and socio-political opportunities in the rest of the country.
(The writer is a former director of the Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed are personal.)