The grenade attack on a Nirankari congregation in an Amritsar village revives memories of the worst days of terrorism in Punjab, which took over a decade to contain. It is obvious that the ISI is desperate to lessen the pressure on its jihadi proxies in Kashmir by opening a new front elsewhere. It has been sponsoring ‘Khalistanis’ in various western countries in the effort to revive the movement enough to create divisions in India. Part of this is the ‘Referendum 2020’ call, which is an attempt to gather the various freebooters to focus their efforts under a seemingly legitimate cause.
Now that the civilian government under Prime Minister Imran Khan has no qualms about surrendering strategic decision making to the Army, the ISI has a completely free hand to undertake its activities. It is replicating the tactics used by ISIS and the Taliban to intimidate the civilian population in Kashmir, and the recent murders of youths in grotesque fashion is indicative of that. Despite all the talk in third countries about good relations with India, Imran Khan has already made clear that he is awaiting the results of the 2019 General Elections and the emergence of a regime more ‘amenable’ to Pakistani double-speak. Going by the thought-processes of the likes of Navjot Singh Sidhu and Mani Shankar Aiyer, he has potential collaborators on this side of the border.
The incident in Amritsar should serve as a warning to Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh that the cult of Bhindranwale is not dead and there is need for careful handling. In fact, the memory of that troublesome Dera Chief has been romanticised by certain groups to obtain recruits from among the new generation. Newbie parties like AAP, in their desperate ambition, are not above rushing where angels fear to tread.
However, just as at the time of the Punjab troubles, such developments also serve to awaken mainstream politicians to the threat. That the terrorists in Kashmir are having to kill young people to enforce their diktats indicates the growing disillusionment at the grassroots. It is becoming apparent to ordinary people on both sides of the border that they are being used merely as pawns for purposes much beyond Kashmir’s political future. The recent video clip of Cricketer Shahid Afridi on the hollowness of Pakistan’s claim to Kashmir reveals this truth. As Imran Khan extends the begging bowl to Pakistan’s few remaining allies, the ISI in desperation is seeking to up the ante and recover its fast fading strategic relevance. The people affected, however, are no longer willing to be fooled.