July 06, 2020
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Dialogue, Not Revenge

Kanti Bajpai, Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik suggest a peace plan

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Dialogue, Not Revenge
It's evident that the "proactive" or "offensive" strategy launched by the government on January 17 to contain insurgency in J&K is proving ineffectual, even counter-productive. It has aggravated the Kashmir situation, increased alienation, encouraged human rights violations and made a major, extended armed conflict with Pakistan likelier.

The complacency generated among Indian policy-makers and shapers by President Clinton's visit only heightens that danger. Many Indians felt encouraged by his blunt talk in Islamabad to the point of supporting a jingoistic, militarist anti-Pakistan policy. However one interprets Clinton's statements, this course is fraught with danger and must be firmly resisted.

Strangely, home minister L.K. Advani on his first visit to J&K after the Chitsinghpura massacre felt the strategy of militarily "neutralising" the insurgency and "isolating" Pakistan had "paid off well". In reality, this strategy has spurred a huge military build-up. Indeed, its very function was to establish a second "unified headquarters" of security forces north of Zojila, strengthen offensive "counter-insurgency operations", establish "area-domination during day and night", raise the level of training, intelligence and operations in the entire 49-sector grid, and give village defence committees "sophisticated arms and modern communication equipment." This has drawn a predictably hostile response from Pakistan, with more frequent clashes and shelling across the LoC.

Inside J&K, this "proactive" strategy has meant intensive cordon-and-search operations, harassment of civilians, disruption of economic activity, interrogation of "suspects", "collective punishment" of villages, and increased "disappearances". Far from controlling militancy, the strategy has caused serious hardship to a victimised civilian population. The militants and their activities have increased, as is borne out by the increasing, highly organised attacks on army units and government offices.

The people's suffering, already grave after a decade of militancy, state excesses and breakdown of public services, has worsened. This has made the Farooq regime even more unpopular. Hopes of a return to normalcy and stable democracy lie in tatters. There's no worthwhile political opposition and no democratic process in operation in J&K. Most aphc leaders, including moderates, are under prolonged detention under draconian laws. The resultant vacuum has also fuelled the insurgency. Pakistan, of course, is fishing in the state's troubled waters.

As the situation worsens, the ruling NC and the bjp have embarked on an utterly misconceived plan to divide J&K along religious-ethnic (i.e. communal) lines into eight regions under the guise of "internal autonomy". This will cause a "transfer of populations", reinforce communal biases in the administration and could lead to J&K's disintegration - an unmitigated tragedy.

The solution to this crisis doesn't lie in military measures against the civilian population or in punishing Pakistan. And yet, in the corridors of power one hears the advocacy of provocative firing, "hot pursuit" and covert economic and military destabilisation of Pakistan. Sangh elements openly demand the re-conquest of PoK. At the very least, India is urged to give a "fitting reply" to Islamabad's attempt to foment violence.

Distressingly, such talk emanates from the highest levels: witness the PM's warning (Jalandhar, February 5) to Pakistan that India's No First Use nuclear policy doesn't mean that "we'll wait and watch while Pakistan destroys us with its nuclear weapons"; or George Fernandes' advocacy of the reckless doctrine of "limited war". Such threat-mongering is not the mark of a responsible, secure self-confident state. It speaks of paranoia, bellicosity and gross irresponsibility. Its consequences will be unspeakably dangerous because India and Pakistan are armed with mass-destruction weapons against which there is no military, civil or medical defence. One painful lesson they must learn is that nuclearisation creates insecurity, not security. In South Asia, it's sharply raised chances of deliberate and accidental (or unauthorised) nuclear disasters. The Kargil conflict witnessed the exchange of nuclear threats not less than 13 times.

A conventional war will prove equally ruinous, especially for Pakistan, which is on the verge of economic collapse. It's not in India's interest to have a destabilised Pakistan on its borders. Pakistan's takeover by, or disintegration under, fundamentalist rule can help only fundamentalists in India. The importance of Pakistan's integrity to India's security was understood by our leaders long ago. The Shimla agreement reflected this. This lesson too, is sought to be erased.

This must not be allowed. Both sides must immediately disengage from the border and upgrade their very-nearly-collapsed diplomatic relations and restore multiple-level communication. They must expand people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges, increase bilateral trade, restore the saarc process and seriously prepare for a broad-ranging high-level dialogue. This must transcend symbolism and aim higher than the Lahore process which didn't go beyond a clouded notion of transparency, short even of arms control. India can and should seize the initiative:

  • Restore full diplomatic/political relations with Pakistan.
  • In contrast to conditions laid by both sides, India must offer unconditional talks to Pakistan on all issues, including Kashmir.
  • India must stop "proactive" strategy in J&K and announce that it’ll confine itself to border policing and normal vigilance.
  • India must put an end to all belligerent rhetoric, especially about "teaching Pakistan a lesson."
  • India must reconvene the saarc meet cancelled at its behest.
  • The Centre must open talks with all sections in J&K on their grievances and on autonomy under the Constitution.
  • India has nothing to lose and a lot to gain by doing something the Pakistani people see as eminently reasonable. The alternative to dialogue, conciliation is war, internal strife, erosion of democracy and economy - a future our people don't deserve.

    (Bajpai and Mitra Chenoy teach at the School of International Studies, JNU. Bidwai and Vanaik are journalists and authors. All are members of MIND - Movement in India for Nuclear Disarmament.)

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