Pakistan appears to have adopted a carefully planned new strategy of continuing to sponsor militancy in Kashmir through its institutions while overtly claiming to undertake steps to rein in terrorist/jihadi outfits operating from its territory. Pakistan's new strategy involves an endorsement of the ongoing political processes, particularly the Roundtable Conference, as relevant means of resolving the Kashmir issue. At the same time, the strategy also seeks to maintain the violence levels in Kashmir and target tourists in particular as recent reports have indicated that the economy of Kashmir is on the upswing owing largely to the huge influx of tourists.
Targeting Kashmir's Economic Revival
There have been five attacks on tourists in Kashmir including one in Pahalgam on 24 April 2006 and four attacks in Srinagar in end May 2006. The attacks have particularly targeted tourists from West Bengal and Gujarat and have left 7 tourists dead and over 30 injured. Militant outfits have also sought to undermine the Amarnath pilgrimage by undertaking three grenade attacks on a bus stand in Jammu. The attacks clearly indicate a pattern and strategy on the part of militant outfits. Local support for militant outfits has fallen considerably over the years as Kashmiris have suffered immensely due to terror attacks and violence perpetrated by militant outfits. Since the beginning of the composite dialogue process with Pakistan and the endorsement of Kashmir-specific confidence building measures by India and Pakistan, the economy of Kashmir has witnessed growth mainly due to influx of tourists from rest of India and the world. However, the attacks against tourists appear to have had its desired effect as tourist influx, which witnessed a healthy increase of over 18 per cent till May this year compared to 2005, has declined by 17 per cent in the first week of June 2006 compared to the corresponding period last year.
People and organisations associated with Kashmir's tourism industry including the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Hotel and Restaurant Industry etc, have appealed to the tourists not to cancel their bookings. Though these organisations have also assured traditional Kashmiri hospitality and the government has pledged to boost security, attacks on tourists and statements issued by terror outfits are likely to impact the inflow of tourists in the months to come. Some of the recent attacks including the killing of minorities in Doda and Udhampur on 30 April -1 May 2006 and massacre of non-Kashmiri Hindu labourers in Anantnag on 12 June 2006 and the repeated targeting of tourists, are likely to lead to an adverse impact on the influx of tourists thereby significantly affecting the growth of Kashmir's economy.
Change in Strategy
The escalation in the profile of violence indicates a perceptible shift in Pakistan's Kashmir strategy. Pakistan-based outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) orchestrated the attacks on Hindus in Doda and Udhampur districts apart from carrying out grenade attacks on tourists. Significantly, militant violence increased perceptibly before and after the Roundtable Conference held in Srinagar on the initiative of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. State authorities reported an increase of over 40 per cent in violence over the levels reported for the corresponding period in 2005. Intelligence inputs indicate that Pakistan based outfits such as the LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) have been instructed to undertake attacks on tourists and minorities in Kashmir. The objective of this new strategy is clearly to force a dampner on the buoyant tourist season. At the same time, by continuing to emphasise its support to the ongoing political processes, the strategy allows Pakistan complete deniability with regard to the violence in Kashmir.
The fact that outfits such as LeT and JeM have significantly expanded their capabilities to undertake attacks in the hinterland as well was established by the arrest of 11 LeT terrorists from Aurangabad in Maharashtra on 9 May 2006. Moreover, three LeT terrorists, planning to target the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, were neutralised by security agencies. The elimination of Hafiz Mohd Irfan on 30 May 2006 in an encounter in Pulwama reportedly thwarted several attacks planned by militant outfits. Besides the spurt in violence, intelligence inputs also indicated that Pakistan had effected a gradual shift in its Kashmir strategy by easing some restrictions on terrorist outfits and at the same time, calibrating the secessionist agenda to supplement its objectives in the ongoing Kashmir peace process. Reliable intelligence had indicated that militant outfits are feeling rejuvenated as Islamabad has reportedly promised resumption of funding and easing of restrictions enforced by Pakistani intelligence agencies. Reports also indicate that leaders of various militant outfits based in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) have conveyed to their associates in Indian Kashmir that Islamabad has assured them on easing of restrictions. Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has also reportedly assured militant commanders that it would facilitate the crossing over their cadres across the Line of Control (LoC) to undertake attacks in Kashmir. Several inputs about the LeT planning to target Hindu labourers, particularly those from Bihar, have been received by Indian agencies. Some militant outfits have also issued statements asking non-Kashmiri people to leave the state.
All the above mentioned incidents clearly indicate that Pakistan has adopted a new Kashmir strategy which serves two objectives. First, by assuring militant outfits of resuming funding and easing restrictions, Islamabad has managed to remove whatever differences had emerged due to Pakistani restrictions imposed on militant outfits over the last two-three years. Attacks on tourists and Hindus (residents and migrants) in Kashmir are clearly aimed at derailing the economy as Pakistan fears that an economic revival would undercut all remaining local support to militancy as Kashmiris are clearly fed up with violence. Second, Pakistan's new strategy also involves an endorsement of the ongoing peace measure to resolve the Kashmir issue in order to allow it deniability of involvement in the escalation of violence. Pakistan's new Kashmir strategy clearly indicates that it is not keen on resolving the Kashmir issue. Rather, Islamabad is seeking to continue with the policy of promoting violence in Kashmir as it perceives that it could be the best bargaining chip to get concessions from the Indian leadership.