‘‘With the elimination of Riyaz Naikoo, Kashmir’s most wanted terrorist and Hizbul chief, and his associate, the martyrdom of our Bravehearts, colonel Ashutosh Sharma, major Anuj Sood, Lance naik Dinesh Singh, naik Rakesh Kumar and sub-inspector Saqeer Khan has been avenged. But despite successes on the security front, we cannot be complacent. Pakistan is still sponsoring terrorism against India by sending in trained terrorists and providing arms, ammunition and funds to terror outfits and separatists. Pakistan is the source of all terrorism emanating against India. As long as Pakistan can carry on with the proxy war against India with the ease, which it has been doing since the last 3 decades, there is no reason for us to believe, that it will call it off. It is, therefore, imperative to inflict heavy costs on Pakistan for aiding and abetting terrorism,’’ said Kuldeep Khoda, who headed Jammu and Kashmir Police for a tenure of five years, 2007-2012, in an exclusive interview. During his tenure, security forces gunned down more than 1,500 terrorists. He also served as the first chief vigilance commissioner (CVC) of J&K for four years (2013 to 2017).

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q 1 - What do you think is the road ahead for Jammu & Kashmir post abrogation of Article 370 and 35A? Do you find the Centre’s decision a praiseworthy step in the right direction?

ANS - Before I comment on abrogation of Articles 370 & 35A of the Indian Constitution, let me first give a brief background of these two articles. The instrument of accession, signed by erstwhile maharaja of J&K, was no different from the one signed by the rulers of other 547 princely states. It was signed by Hari Singh unconditionally, as did the other states and accepted by Lord Mountbatten, then Governor General of India. It is only later that Mountbatten wrote to Maharaja a letter advising him, that the accession was temporary and that wishes of people should be ascertained. Mountbatten had no authority to write this letter as the accession was unconditional and this letter had no approval or recommendation of the Union Cabinet. The one offering accession could stipulate conditions for Accession. But that maharaja had not put any such condition.

Sardar Patel, the then Union home minister, while finalising accession dealt firmly with all princely states in ensuring integrity of India. However, strangely enough, Gopalaswami Ayyangar was inducted by Nehru into the Cabinet, as a minister without a portfolio and assigned to deal with all affairs of J&K. This move sidelined Patel from J&K and Ayyangar piloted Article 370 in the Constituent Assembly for incorporation in Indian Constitution just few days before the constituent assembly was to wind up its proceedings after finalising the draft of the Constitution. Dr BR Ambedkar, the then law minister and architect of our Constitution, opposed any move to grant any special status and this view was uniformly expressed by most of the constituent assembly members. However, Ayyangar took a position that Nehru (who was out of country at that time) wanted this article to be incorporated and managed to get it done.

Later, through a Presidential Order, in 1954, Article 35A was added, giving the powers of defining Permanent Residents of J&K to State Legislature. There is a strong argument that adding article 35A amounted to amending the Constitution and the Parliament alone could bring such an amendment. The Cabinet led by Pandit Nehru or the President had no powers to do it. However, the government defended its action citing Article 370 (1) (d) of the Constitution under which the President had these powers. Interestingly, the same provision was used by the government in August 2019 defining the constituent assembly of J&K as legislative assembly and since the state in August 2019 was under President’s rule, the powers for amending 370 and abrogating 35A were used by Indian Parliament.

In addition to the basic legal infirmities in introducing Articles 370 and 35A in the constitution, it was clearly spelt out that Article 370 is temporary and transient in nature. However, it lasted for nearly 70 years despite being included as a temporary provision in our Constitution. Its abrogation was, therefore, a matter of time and in conformity with the spirit of Constitution and legal framework of our country. Apart from that, this move will bring J&K firmly as a full participant in the progress and development of country. These provisions gave a false impression to many that J&K is different from rest of the country and this feeling was being fully exploited by inimical interests into sowing seeds of separatism. This step taken by the government, though late, will surely put J&K on the map of peace and progress working alongside other states on an equal footing. It has also sent a signal to rest of the world that India is a strong sovereign country and that sponsoring of terrorism by Pakistan against India will not deter us from taking steps for our security and integrity.

Q 2 - Terrorism was firmly entrenched for the last three decades in the Valley. Taking up of the gun by a large number of educated youths was not only a readily available option but an attractive and glamorous one as well. Dimensions and dynamics of terrorism were seen changing. Do you think Narendra Modi led BJP government’s firm decision has changed the scenario in the Valley?

ANS - J&K has been facing terrorism for last three decades. About 5 lakh Kashmiri Pandits who are the aboriginals of Kashmir were driven out from their homeland, by gun-wielding Islamist forces, sponsored by Pakistan. There cannot be a more humiliating let down for a community, which strongly believes in the idea of united India and are nationalists to the core but driven out to become refugees in their own country.

The terrorism in J&K has seen ups and downs. It started with mass protests in 1990 combined with rape and killings of Kashmiri Hindus. Trained Kashmiri terrorists from Pakistan flowed in through a virtually open border. Mayhem was unleashed and battles with security forces became a norm throughout Kashmir Valley. The number of terrorist incidents attained its peak in 2002. Gradual drop was seen thereafter, in the wake of global pressure on Pakistan and other terror sponsoring countries after the September 2001 twin tower attacks in New York. From 2007 onwards we saw a steep fall and 2012 witnessed the lowest ever militancy incidents and casualties of security forces. However, from 2013 the militancy started resurfacing initially at a slow pace and then rapidly. This change had more to do with increase in radicalisation attracting educated youth into terrorism. Consequently, recruitment of local youth in militancy increased.

However, in the wake of August 5, 2019 abrogation of 35A and 370 and clampdown in Kashmir, we are witnessing improvement in the situation. The coordination and synergy among security has increased, which is reflected in the successes achieved in neutralising many terrorist commanders.

Q 3 - In your opinion, what are the concrete and more effective steps to be taken to uproot the menace of terrorism once and for all from Jammu & Kashmir?

ANS - Despite, successes on the security front, we cannot be complacent. Pakistan is still sponsoring terrorism against India by sending in trained terrorists and providing arms, ammunition and funds to terror outfits and separatists.

With the onset of summer, the snow-clad passes will open up, to be exploited for infiltration from across the border. Already we are witnessing a spurt in militant activities in north Kashmir.

On May 2, five security force personnel including a colonel, a Major, a sub-inspector of police and two more made their supreme sacrifice in an encounter with terrorists in Handwara.

On May 4, in another terrorist attack in Handwara, barely 12 kms from encounter site, 3 CRPF men lost their lives. The attack was claimed by “The Resistance Front (TRF)”. This new terror outfit is nothing but old wine in a new bottle. With the US-Taliban deal, Pakistan has started diluting presence of its trained terrorists fighting Afghan and US forces alongside Talibans. These trained terrorists being readily available are now part of the already present huge terror base of LeT, Jaish, Al-Badr etc in Pakistan. Rechristening of name and birth of new outfit is ostensibly to hoodwink international observers and to present TRF as an outfit of local militants in J&K. Pakistan is on the edge and facing blacklisting by Financial Action Task Force, for aiding, abetting and funding terrorism and it can ill afford to be projected as increasing its involvement in terrorism, particularly with the collapsing Pakistan economy.

Earlier on April 5, five army personnel were killed in an encounter with infiltrating a terrorist group in Keran sector of Kupwara district with another 2 Army men sacrificing their lives in Pak shelling in Rampur sector of Uri. Three weeks ago, 3 CRPF personnel were martyred in Sopore and on May 5, a CISF patrol was attacked with a hand grenade in district Budgam of Kashmir. With the easing of Covid-19, restrictions in force at present, terrorists will find it safer to shift and intensify their activities to south Kashmir, where they have a bigger local support and better over-ground network.

Q 4 - Ceasefire violations, infiltration from across the border is on, the training camps for terrorists in PoK are still functional, and launching pads are on. How will terrorism end in Kashmir unless Pakistan stops arming, training and sending terrorists to the region?

ANS - Pakistan is the source of all terrorism emanating against India. As long as Pakistan can carry on with the proxy war against India with ease, which it has been doing since the last three decades, there is no reason for us to believe, that it will call it off. It is, therefore, imperative to inflict heavy costs on Pakistan for aiding and abetting terrorism. The Uri surgical strikes and Balakote air strike made a dent in their mechanisations against India. But, as we see now, it has not proved sufficient to incapacitate it in furthering terrorism. Indian action against them has to be demonstrative and effective enough to force it to give up its path of confrontation with India. Covert action against some globally declared terrorists based in Pakistan should be an essential part of our response. The terrorist training camps and launching pads for infiltration need to neutralised as was demonstrated by surgical strikes and Balakot air strike. India needs to use these options regularly if Pakistan is to be stopped from its nefarious designs. India can ill afford to keep this lingering problem on, if it aspires to be the global power and a developed country.

Q 5 - US President Donald Trump has recently signed a peace deal with Taliban in order to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. What are your views on the possible impact of US forces withdrawal from Afghanistan on Kashmir?

ANS - The deal signed by Trump administration with the Taliban seeks to protect American interests and American citizens against Taliban attacks, thereby facilitating withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. The deal is aimed at creating a win-win situation for America and the Taliban totally ignoring the need for ensuring lasting peace; for USA, withdrawal of its troops, as Trump is coming under increased pressure at home with presidential elections not far away and for the Taliban to gain strength and power to rule Afghanistan. Even the ruling establishment in Afghanistan was not involved in working out the modalities of the deal. The need for securing the interests of other countries at present involved in rebuilding and development of Afghanistan like India and others, has been ignored. With these built in contradictions in this deal, it is highly unlikely that this deal will work out to usher peace in the region. Already the Taliban is violating the terms of the deal. However, with the gradual thinning of American forces, Taliban is emboldened to increase terror activities. Recent attack in which Sikhs were targeted in a Gurudwara depicts the emerging scenario in Afghanistan. Pakistan, which has been supporting the Taliban with trained men, arms and funding, is now finding it safe to withdraw Pakistani Taliban members for infiltration into Kashmir, under the banner of “The Resistance Force (TRF)”.With its attention off from Afghanistan, Pakistan is sneaking in more of these trained men to Kashmir to give a fillip to the terrorism in Kashmir.

Q 6 - Displaced Kashmiri Pandits are eagerly waiting for the right time to return to their native places, their homeland. But there seems to be no roadmap ready for them? Who will take care of their sentiments?

ANS - I have already mentioned the unfortunate circumstances under which Kashmiri Pandits were forced out of Valley and the utter failure of the state to protect these nationalists belonging to the majority community in India against the onslaught from antinational Islamist terrorists trained and militarily equipped in Pakistan.

At the moment, the Government of India has indicated preparation of a roadmap for their return to homeland. However, nothing concrete has come out so far enabling us to assess its feasibility. Kashmiri Pandits have been forced, because of circumstances created from time to time, to move out of Kashmir.  The 1990 exodus is the seventh of its type, because of the atrocities by its rulers after the last Hindu queen Kota Rani was killed and overthrown in 1339. The atrocities particularly increased after the advent of Sikandar Shah Miri, better known as Sikandhar Butshikan, on Kashmir throne in 1389. His reign up to 1413, is criticised for his strenuous efforts to forcibly convert the Hindus of Kashmir to Islam. Almost entire Kashmir practised Hindu faith till the conversion and influx of Islamists into Kashmir from the Middle East after Kota Rani was killed.

Kashmir is therefore, the natural homeland to Kashmiri Pandits and it is the duty of the state to ensure their secure and honourable return. Whatever, roadmap is prepared for their return and rehabilitation, the inbuilt security against any repeat exodus in future has to be ingrained in the scheme. Various models are in discussion since last two decades, when the government at the Centre tried to give an impression of working on their return. The scheme has to ensure that there is no security threat to their stay and movement, no discrimination in jobs, working conditions and admission in professional institutes combined with ease of living without day to day harassment. Various models can be evolved to cater to these essentials for their return. An extension of Hill Council with greater governance powers in their region of habitation, can be one such model. The governance powers need to be precisely spelt out, to ensure they themselves are responsible and equipped to ensure the essentials enumerated above, for preventing any future forcible exodus.