Kashmir Back In The News
By Ali Ahmed
15 July, 2010
Much to the chagrin of Indian policy makers, Kashmir has reentered the headlines. The narrative had been that the Valley had been tamed through the military at long last getting the better of terrorists. Voters had exercised their democratic rights and it only remained for governance initiatives such as funds under the prime minister’s reconstruction program to mop up the remaining alienation. However, militancy has boiled over onto the streets once again in a replay of the preceding two years.
Whereas two years ago the spark was provided by transfer of some land for the purposes of the Amarnath pilgrimage, last year the emotive issue was the alleged rape and killings of two women in Shupiyan. This year stone throwing mobs have been on the streets of the towns since onset of summer. Their numbers and violence levels have been escalating with each death in police firing resorted to quell the violence. The Central Reserve Police Force and the state police have been under pressure not only on the streets but also from critics. Their predicament springs primarily from their being ill equipped for crowd control such as having a deficiency in riot police and riot control gear.
Finally, this week the state government has requisitioned the Army for support in ending the unrest. The Army, wary of encountering crowds with lethal force, has conducted flag marches and is on standby. The danger is in provocations being of such an order as to require the Army’s intervention. The home secretary - just back from firefighting in the Central India following close on the heels of a visit to the North East - has been air dashed to Srinagar to advise the state administration. Why has the situation come to such a pass?
It bears recall that the two prime minister’s had met in Thimpu on the sidelines of the SAARC summit. They had required their two foreign ministers to meet and bridge the ‘trust deficit’. Preparatory work for the meeting was done last month in a visit by India’s foreign secretary to Islamabad, accompanying its home minister who was attending the SAARC home minister’s meeting. The foreign minister is due to travel in mid July to Islamabad to explore the possibility of resumption of the composite dialogue that had been stalled by the Mumbai terror attack of 26/11.
Evidence of orchestration of the mobs by extremists has surfaced. The intent is to bring about a confrontation of an order as to rewind the clock to the turn of the nineties. This is predictable and is intended to influence the forthcoming talks. The gain for Pakistan, on whose behalf the mobs are being organized, is that Pakistan can raise the Kashmir issue as a live one to counter the Indian perspective that Kashmir is on the mend. Pakistan can then press for resumption of and progress in the composite dialogue in which the Kashmir issue is a prominent one.
That the problem would be fueled by Pakistan and appropriated for its own purposes, a realistic appraisal would indicate that the problem is larger than being one instigated and sponsored by Pakistan. The element of Kashmiri disaffection dating to at least two decades cannot be wished away. The generation that is agitating on the streets today has been witness to the brutalization of its society caused by the proxy war of Pakistan and India’s resolute counter insurgency operations. Its angst needs registering as a fresh and independent variable.
That it has chosen a route to express itself in a manner reminiscent of the ‘intifida’ is not altogether inappropriate in that at least it is not a military defiance of the state. Clearly, the insurgency has learned from the mistake of militarization made in the early nineties. The military challenge had been difficult to quell for the state, but the state was left with no option. This time round the state is considerably perplexed since even its policing action manifests as disproportionate. Therefore, stone throwing as a strategy of expression and challenge and placing the Kashmir issue center stage appears an alternative akin to non-cooperation, known in the subcontinent since the freedom struggle.
The clear message is that while the insurgency is under control, the ‘root causes’ remain. An acknowledgment of this is visible in both the chief minister Omar Abdullah and the Army Chief recently accepting the need for a ‘political’ solution. The Army Chief’s call is not the first time the military has made the point. This was made earlier by General VP Malik and his successor, Padmanabhan. The logic is that the military has succeeded in bringing down intensity of insurgency to levels manageable by the police. It is for the civil administration and the political authorities at the provincial and central level to deliver a political package that would help end the insurgency.
India therefore requires working along two directions. One is internally settling with Kashmiris. The second is externally with Pakistan. On both fronts India’s political prong of strategy has lagged behind considerably. Internally, the home minister having taken over the portfolio in wake of 26/11 had indicated that ‘quite diplomacy’ would be progressed with separatists. These were reportedly called off, when the interlocutor, Mirwaiz Omar Farouk of the Hurriyet, withdrew early this year. The state government has indicated that it will act as facilitator for yet another effort at reaching out.
Externally, India’s position is that borders cannot be redrawn but can be made irrelevant. Much progress has been made down this direction with the opening up of the borders to trade etc. The ‘back channel’ had made considerable progress till Musharraf had been waylaid by domestic troubles. As a start point, India wants Pakistan to acknowledge progress made under Musharraf to ascertain that the Pakistan Army, that is the ultimate arbiter of security issues there, is once again on board.
India has not been able to bring to a closure the initiatives on both fronts. This owes to political weakness, particularly in face of right wing forces threatening against a ‘sell out’. India’s strategic establishment and strategic community does not see the requirement of reaching out, given its view of the power balance turning in favour of India in light of Pakistan’s travails with home grown terror. Consequently, it can at best be expected that a decision to resume the composite dialogue would be taken at Islamabad. India would be unwilling to go further, so long as Pakistan uses Kashmir as a pressure point.
Clearly, India has the capacity to weather yet another storm in Kashmir. It is equally clear that this would be at the cost of a few more Kashmiri lives. Duty towards its own citizens demands that India take appropriate political initiatives internally. Even if this is the best argument, it would unlikely carry the day. Instead, an argument that could prove more convincing is that doing so would result in irrelevance of the external dimension.
Ali Ahmed is a Research Fellow, IDSA, New Delhi