December 15, 2019
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No Proxy Warriors

Hoping for the US to fight India's fight over Kashmir is asking for a bit too much

No Proxy Warriors
No Proxy Warriors
Soon after the cataclysm of September 11, senior Indian government officials discerned their moment had come. Washington had been delivered a stunning blow. Wasn’t the moment opportune to reduce to ashes the political firewall Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had erected between ‘freedom fighters’ and ‘terrorists’? Wasn’t it conceivable now to persuade Washington to recognise the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) for what they were: terrorist outfits?

Sure enough, within two months, the State Department named the LeT and JeM as foreign terrorist organisations. In Afghanistan, Pakistan lost what is referred to as "strategic depth" for launching anti-India operations. Officials in Delhi rejoiced at Musharraf’s discomfort: he was sweating on TV in his address to the nation, his voice quivering. He just wasn’t the Musharraf who’d strutted in Agra in the manner of a Mughal monarch.

There was good news from Washington, too. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca, under hostile questioning by India-baiter Republican Dana Rohrabacher, hinted that the US no longer considered the UN resolutions relevant to solving Kashmir. The icing on the cake was the grudging acceptance by Secretary of State Colin Powell, blowing what was clearly the referee’s whistle, that election could be one method of ascertaining Kashmiris’ wishes. Obviously, you could look at Powell’s statement another way—that there were other methods of eliciting the opinion of people if the elections were to provide a fuzzy picture. Never mind, officials argued, the international mood over Kashmir was changing.

But just when you thought the global fight against terrorism would induce a lull in the Valley, the Jammu and Kashmir assembly complex was attacked on October 1; 38 people were killed. Those leading the war against terrorism clarified that this attack was precisely the kind of violence the world stood against. Things were now going to turn, you thought. Then, on December 13, it was Parliament’s turn to be targeted. These two attacks, the government’s investigations found, were the JeM’s handiwork. Indian troops were sent to the border; New Delhi’s battle against terrorism was now on the verge of unfolding.

But the attacks continued apace through this year. There was, to begin with, Raghunath Mandir (March 30; 7 dead), then Kaluchak (May 14; 34 dead), Qasim Nagar (July 13; 29 dead), Pahalgam (August 6; 32 dead). For these attacks, the government investigators held the LeT responsible. The banned terrorist groups weren’t willing to accept the ‘vrs’ announced by Musharraf in his January 12 speech. Indeed, government officials now seize upon every opportunity to point to Musharraf’s evident inability to give up the political, diplomatic and militancy-led battle for the hearts and minds of Kashmir this side of the LoC. As late as last fortnight, Musharraf told the bbc he had given no time-frame for ending the infiltration into Kashmir. But the commitment to end infiltration "permanently" was what Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had allegedly extracted in the interregnum between Kaluchak and Qasim Nagar.

Officials privately admit that infiltration has dipped, varying from 30 to 50 per cent, depending on which wing of the government is asked for figures. The figures for June, July and August (roughly the period during which Musharraf claimed nothing was happening across the LoC) is as follows: 35 instances of infiltration in June; 100 in July; and till August 29, 130. Contrast this to the figures for the corresponding period last year: June, 260; July, 240; and August, 280. Something positive was happening across the LoC, though not enough in the context of zero tolerance for political violence. But for a brief interlude, the infiltration graph is once again rising and a year after 9/11, security officials are bracing for a near-normal level of infiltration this September.

So, how successful has India been in conducting its war against terrorism? Obviously, a year is too brief for an authoritative stock-taking. Officials say that even the US, by its own admission, has arrested only 20 per cent of Al Qaeda/Taliban militants and killed another 20 per cent. This leaves a sizeable 60 per cent still at large. Washington’s record has tremendous impact on India, dependent as it is on the US to nudge Musharraf to deliver on terrorism. But the conundrum is that the US itself is at Musharraf’s mercy to achieve its elusive war objectives. This explains New Delhi’s inability to tackle Musharraf, despite the costly deployment of troops on the border. Let alone the parity in the military strength, India can’t attack Pakistan because it would upset the US and reintroduce a moral equivalence between New Delhi and Islamabad.

There’s a substantial group in the government—its most important luminary is Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani—which blames the US for India’s inability to squeeze maximum advantage out of September 11. But Kashmir has two aspects. One is linked to the terrorism Pakistan foments in the Valley: that the issue of Kashmir has to be settled with Islamabad, in accordance with the Shimla Agreement. The other aspect is internal to India: it’s a domestic problem and any solution must address the alienation of the people there, which is in many ways the core issue.

Here India has been laggardly. In his now-famous musings of January 2001 from Kumarakom, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had remarked: "Each new generation has to give a worthy account of itself in its own lifetime…. In our search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, both in its external and internal dimensions, we shall not traverse solely on the beaten track of the past. Rather, we shall be bold and innovative designers of a future architecture of peace and prosperity."

It is now beyond contest that Kumarakom was a glaring instance of a speech-writer getting ahead of what the prime minister is actually capable of. Senior officials privately admit that with a "non-functioning PM, a divisive cabinet and a complete absence of a Kashmir policy", all that the government has done is to use September 11 as an excuse not to take "bold and innovative steps" to at least seek to settle the problem internally. What the nation has been witness to are modest backroom efforts to coax about two dozen lesser former militants to participate in elections.

You hear this complaint in conversations with members of the Ram Jethmalani-led Kashmir Committee. One of them unhesitatingly declared, "You can blame the government if we fail." Officials, though, point out that there is no official nor written brief for this committee and consequently the question of success or failure doesn’t arise. This kind of cynicism has opened a door to American and other interlocutors to lecture openly on the Kashmir election, something on which they had so far held their counsel.

All of which has only served to internationalise the Kashmir issue as never before, a trend that looks well set to continue. India believed that all New Delhi had to do was to sit this one out and wait for the US to deliver. As one senior official remarks acerbically, "In any other country, diplomacy is used as an adjunct to policy and not as policy itself. But not here."

A year after September 11, and nine months after an unprecedented troop deployment, senior cabinet ministers privately admit that a denouement isn’t in sight, that the soldiers will remain at the border for the foreseeable future. India is obviously bleeding and there have been significant casualties without war.

Worse, the India-Pakistan standoff has effectively put the Indo-US bilateral relationship on the back-burner. Also, during these past months and innumerable visits of dignitaries from the US and UK, India has given assurances of undertaking specific de-escalatory measures in response to matching steps from Pakistan. This has shrunk autonomy for manoeuvre and independent judgement, a price New Delhi is paying for inviting the superpower to fight its battle.

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