J&K Narrative and Communications Strategy


The narrative on J&K in the international media since 6 August 2019 has been focused mainly on the impending social crisis that is predicted based on the curfew imposed by the State Government and restrictions on the use of mobile phones and internet. There was even one incident of rioting reported by the BBC which was promptly refuted. This kind of reportage has drawn attention away from the more important development which relates to the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, thus removing the special status granted to the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir and creating two new territories of the Indian Union, which will henceforth be ruled directly by the Central Government.
There is a need to understand Kashmir in its present context, not in the historical one. The reason for this is social upheaval that has occurred since 2014 and one that has to do with fast changing technological landscape. The other factor that remains a constant is Pakistan and its efforts to promote terrorism in J&K. This being the case, India can ill afford trouble in Kashmir and therefore, the clampdown in place should be seen as a consequence of the apprehension of violence more than anything else. This fact however, gets ignored when reporting from the ground in Kashmir.
Normalcy is obviously related to the regular movement of traffic, opening of markets and schools being operational. What is little realised is that of the 190 odd police stations in J&K, over 130 have no day-time curfew! This in itself speaks volumes of the maturity of the Kashmiri people and its police. That apart, the territory of J&K is not the Valley alone and too much media attention on ‘Kashmir’ makes the other constituents poor country cousins. Take Ladakh for instance, which by all counts has its own distinct identity. Thus it could well be said that the composite nature of the former State of J&K has now been taken apart to suit a new narrative.
The world often forgets that Pakistan sponsored terrorism in J&K has changed the nature of social cohesion. The exodus of Kashmiri pundits in the 1990s was a pure act of ethnic cleansing by Pakistan, nothing less. Terrorism is alive and kicking and its sponsors, the deep state in Pakistan is aware of the fact that they can do little today, except use its jihadi card against India. The calibrated response of the Indian State with an escalatory trajectory have precluded Pakistan from exercising military (read nuclear) and para-military options, but the terror card is still alive and is a potent threat to Indian security.
The security forces presence in Kashmir today, provides the cover against any Pakistani sponsored terrorist action. A clampdown on civilians is a necessary action that any state would take to keep the peace. What the State administration is doing is to restore aspects of communications in a phased manner so as to prevent the Pakistani state from encouraging dissent in a violent form. Look at the incendiary statements emanating from Pakistan about jihad in Kashmir and an armed struggle breaking out. These are part of the narrative promoted by Pakistan.
The administration in J&K is fully alive to the situation and has thus taken steps accordingly. The opening of primary schools some time ago has set the tone and it is hoped that further social transparency will be given effect to. The challenge for parents in J&K is the apprehension of violence on the streets including stone pelting which could impact the school going children. The opening of landline phones and subsequently mobile phones is going to be soon and hardship faced in this regard is natural, but the precautionary nature of this step also needs to be understood.
In the aftermath of the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, more than 260 episodes of stone-pelting were recorded. In these incidents, 1,382 CRPF personnel were injured. No significant stone pelting incident have been reported so far, but, the dangers are live and potent, as Pakistan is ready to infietrate militants across LoC to disrupt the peace, viewing this, the presence of extra security forces provides the buffer to ensure that law & order remains under control.
There is another aspect to this entire issue that is often overlooked and that is communications. Earlier, reference was made to communications in the Valley and its current non-availability. The state administration is undoubtedly holding daily briefings, but this is not sufficient. There is need for a whole of government approach to communications to show that normalcy in J&K is a reality. This should extend to print, TV and social media. The outreach by the administration to the people of Kashmir, has to be more dynamic and transparent.
The other aspect of communications is the ability to demonstrate that aspects of normalcy already exist in the state. For example, if there is a traffic jam in Srinagar, it needs to be highlighted. This is the basic precepts that any communications strategy must adopt for that it is the situation on the ground. Police stations with no day curfew, schools in operation, a focus on Jammu and Ladakh will go a far way to provide a sense of daily movement and normal life. The need for sobriety at this moment is understood, particularly so when reporting from Kashmir.