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Wednesday, Dec 01, 2021
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Beyond A Smoking Barrel

Earnest political efforts, and not coercion, can save the situation in the Valley for India and also bring Pakistan around.

Beyond A Smoking Barrel
Beyond A Smoking Barrel
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

It has resulted in a deep sense of betrayal, leading to renewed efforts to strengthen India’s intelligence and security apparatus dealing with Pakistan and Kashmir. Both reactions are quite understandable and even appropriate. Pakistan’s feckless disregard for the sanctity of the LoC, the principles of the Simla Agreement and the expectations of the Lahore Declaration were bound to create misgivings in New Delhi. Nevertheless, the reactions are partial and self-defeating.

A Flawed Security Prism: Strengthening border outposts, acquiring more sophisticated surveillance capabilities and stationing well-armed troops along the LoC may well reduce the infiltration of Pakistani-aided insurgents into the Kashmir Valley. Simultaneously, stepping up counter-insurgency operations within Jammu and Kashmir may also put greater pressure on the militants. But conceptualising the Kashmir problem solely through the parochial focus of the national security prism will generate an acutely distorted vision. Such a strategy alone would fail to address the underlying sources of the conflict.

The Roots of Discord: Governmental propaganda suggests that the roots of Kashmir insurgency can be traced to Pakistani machinations alone. Knowledgeable observers of the uprising, however, would contend that its origins can be traced to New Delhi’s reckless disregard for the basic rights and privileges of its Kashmiri citizens. Lacking an alternative model of civil disobedience, large numbers of Kashmiris picked up the gun to express their grievances against the Indian state’s many malfeasances. It is also true that Pakistan’s blatant intervention has widened the duration and scope of the rebellion.

Just prior to the Kargil incursion, a combination of two factors had reduced the intensity of the insurgency. At one level, India’s well-worn, mailed-fist counter-insurgency strategy had put militants on the run, especially in the Kashmir Valley. At another level, many Kashmiris, who had initially welcomed the uprising, are now appalled by the indiscriminate cruelties and indignities imposed on them by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Lashkar-i-Toiba.

The Price of Complacency: Unfortunately, neither the coalition government in New Delhi nor the shaky Farooq Abdullah regime in Srinagar had moved with dexterity or dispatch to consolidate the hard-won counter-insurgency gains. Worse still, some complacency had crept into the intelligence agencies and the defence ministry in the aftermath of India’s nuclear tests of 1998. Many had come to believe that the mutual possession of nuclear weapons and India’s clear-cut conventional superiority would dampen Pakistan’s willingness to provoke a conventional conflict through a breach of the LoC. At a political level, the "spirit of Lahore" had also contributed to a lowering of the guard. Sadly, few, if any, individuals in the government seemed aware of the workings of the concept of a "stability/instability paradox" developed by eminent American strategist, Glenn Snyder, in the 1950s.Stated simply, the principle holds that while nuclear weapons can provide stability at strategic levels, they can also create more permissive conditions for low-level conventional conflict. Consequently, as long as Pakistani decision-makers saw the risks of crossing the LoC as both controllable and calculable, they would be tempted to carry out such an incursion.

Intent on exploiting India’s lowered attentiveness and fearing a fizzling of the insurgency, the Sharif-Musharraf team sought to stoke the embers of rebellion.

The key factor, however, that tempted the Sharif-Musharraf combine, still remains in place - the regimes in New Delhi and Srinagar remain seemingly oblivious to the need of formulating a medium- to long-term strategy to drain the Kashmir Valley of disaffection. Instead, they have made piecemeal and faint-hearted efforts to restore normal politics in the state. Besides, the Abdullah regime, contrary to official claims, remains isolated, incompetent and ineffectual. Therefore, despite its notional electoral success, the regime lacks widespread legitimacy.

Forging a New Strategy: Dissipating the well-springs of distrust in the Valley will require both imagination and effort. At the outset, both New Delhi and Srinagar must eschew their solely coercive approach. Instead, they must couple military strategies with political and institutional inducements. Such an operation does not mean dispensing with key elements of a military programme. Indeed, continued vigilance along the LoC, improved electronic and human intelligence-gathering and assessment and unrelenting pressure on the insurgent groups operating in J&K will help.

However, these strategies must be coupled with a series of other political measures. Thus far, the government in New Delhi has failed to embark on any such initiative, preferring to bolster the tottering Farooq Abdullah regime in Srinagar. Without formally abandoning the Farooq regime, the Centre needs to start a dialogue with other political elements in the state. A promising first step would be to engage the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (aphc). Many Kashmiris continue to see this organisation as one of the only legitimate political entities in the state despite its unwillingness to participate in state-level elections. The offer of open-ended negotiations with the aphc could well induce the organisation to approach the bargaining table. One vital inducement that could be offered is the promise, under appropriate conditions, to restore Kashmir’s constitutional status to the autonomist provisions embodied in the 1952 Nehru-Sheikh Abdullah agreement.

Once negotiations with the aphc are under way the Central government, and especially the home ministry, should fundamentally alter its wrong-headed attempts to woo insurgents into the political fold. In the past, the government had armed erstwhile rebels and had then turned them against their fellow insurgents. This strategy remains fraught with many pitfalls. Most importantly, when peace eventually returns to the state, these well-armed condotierri will pose a serious threat to civil order. Instead, New Delhi’s interests would be better served if they could be lured to foreswear violence through offers of gainful employment and physical relocation.

Denuding the base of insurgency will also require the adoption of other innovative policies. Large numbers of Kashmiris, especially the Muslims of the Valley, harbour profound grievances against the Indian security forces for loss of family members and arbitrary acts of arrest, detention and even torture. The release of many who have been arbitrarily detained, the condign punishment of members of the security forces involved in wanton human rights violations and a full accounting of the many "disappeared" Kashmiri youth would significantly assuage the bitterness.

Progress towards an eventual resolution of the Kashmir conundrum must also include an external, diplomatic strategy. For far too long India has defensively argued in multilateral fora that the Simla Agreement of 1972 superseded the 1948 and 1949 United Nations Security Council resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir. This posture is pusillanimous because it evades India’s commitment to hold a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the Kashmiris about joining either India or Pakistan. It is also counter-productive because it allows Pakistan to seize the seemingly high moral ground. Pakistani diplomacy deftly focuses the attention of the amnesiac international community on the second part of the resolutions - calling for a plebiscite. However, they remain stunningly silent on the first part which enjoins Pakistan to vacate its aggression in Jammu and Kashmir. A more adroit Indian strategy would highlight Pakistan’s continuing and flagrant occupation of a third of the original state of Jammu and Kashmir in defiance of the United Nations resolutions.

Besides, a more robust approach would require selective intelligence sharing with governments of the US, the UK, France and Japan. It would also call for greater transparency in dealing with international human rights organisations on the status of incarcerated insurgents and the conditions in detention centers.

Finally, without fanfare or deception, the government should start consultations with its coalition partners, the Opposition, the home, defence and external affairs ministries and its attentive public, on how to eventually settle the dispute along the LoC. For Pakistan too, this would be beneficial because after 50-odd years of war, periodic incursions and diplomatic posturing, it’s no closer to its goal of obtaining control over all of Kashmir.

Domestically, this obsession with Kashmir has only served to strengthen its military establishment at the cost of marginalising civil institutions. The time is now at hand too for Pakistan to abandon its quixotic fixation with Kashmir and direct its scarce resources to the amelioration of its myriad domestic problems.

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