The Kashmir Question:Made in India

kashmir loc

It has been stated before that when there is no political will to resolve a long pending dispute then ‘all roads can lead to hell’. Loss of 49 CRPF soldier’s lives in a sucide attack augurs ill. Despite massive military and security apparatus deployed in Jammu and Kashmir, no one had any clue that a suicide bombing was in the making.Vappala Balachandran, a former special scertary Research and Analysis Wing wrote recently that “(h)uman intelligence has always been an issue in J&K” and that particularly since Modi sarkar took over in 2014 “alienation of the youth” has risen and Kashmir, he wrote, has become a “classic case of home-grown insurgency when the public started obstructing security forces during their operations..” [Intel inputs rarely specific but action a must”; The Tribune 20/02/19].

More importantly, the bomb was made locally, explosives used collected over some time to assemble load the Maruti van with 350 kgs of explosives. Lt General (retd) DS Hooda told New York Times that there is no way 350 kgs of explosives came from Pakistan. More likely explosives used for road construction, especially on Jammu-Srinagar highway widening, were gradually collected. In other words, it was a local operation. Jaish e Mohammaed provided expertise, most likely. It would have required weeks if not months of preparation.Piled up vehicles at Banihal tunnel provided the opportunity. Five intelligence agencies operating in J&K remained unaware. Point is that there should be greater focus on the local rather than external in this act. This is common-sense.

Under the disastrous governance model of Modi Sarkar militancy related incidents increased by 176% between 2014-2018, from 222 to 614 respectively. This as per the written reply submitted to Lok Sabha on February5th. Casualties sufered by security forces rose 93%. Out of a official total of 1315 deaths there were 138 killing of civilians, 838 militants and 339 security forces personnel. IF one adds the first two months of 2019 it is 56 which is more than half of 2018’s 91 deaths suffered by security forces. The death toll generally gets downplayed for civilians as many of the militans are civilians described as “overground workers” or stone pelters.

India, tragically, lost the plot when post -1992 annual report of the Ministry of Home Affairs began spinning a narrative of Pakistan-is-the-main-reason for everything going wrong in Jammu and Kashmir and thus came into being the refrain of ‘cross-border-terrorism’. This was meant to absolve successive Indian governments of any blame for causing the conflict in the first place by gradually eroding the constitutionally guarnteed autonomy, and then fanning discontent with every new mis-step, corrupt & coercive.It is all this which paved the way for Pakistan to ‘fish in troubled waters’. Indeed by ignoring fact on the ground, of popular disenchantment and refusing to address it politically, Indian government has no one but itself to blame for making fears true. Fifteen years after Jaish e Mohammed was forced to cease sucicide attacks, this time around it revived itself by attrracting a section of local militants to it who were willing to graduate to suicide bombers. Jaish i Mohammed, introduced sucide bombing to J&K in 1999. Recall that leader of JeM, Azhar Masood, one India seeks desperately, was arrested by Indian police in 1994. He was released in 1999, dropping all charges against him, by the BJP led NDA I government in exchange for Indian Airlines IC 814 passengers held hostage by JeM.

New Lease of Life

In a manner of speaking JeM which became dormant by 2003 got revived under BJP led NDA II in 2015 which, so to say, provided a new lease of life to JeM, particularly post July 8, 2016, the sad killing of Burhan Muzzafar Wani, and given a boost by Indian army’s reckless recourse to ‘Operation All Out’, which as the name suggests was meant to crush the movement for ‘Azaadi’. What we have instead is a rise in local militancy and even more remarkably, widespread support for it from the people, angered and defiant faced with Modi Sarkar’s refusal to take seriosuly their demand for peaceful resolution through respect for right of self determination and compelling them to wage armed resistance faced with military suppression and suspension of constitutional freedoms. Modi Sarkar remained indifferent to the need for political initiative.

Muscular approach was compounded with active support to mainstream Hindutva groups allowed a free run in “Disturbed” Jammu region, as well as in rest of the country. While many find their voice to speak of radicalisation of Kashmiri youth, criminal silence is maintained over officially sponsored Hindutva radicalisation taking place across India.Every institution of the State is afflicted by this, right before our eyes. The combination of lynchings, vigilante activities together with shrill demand for doing away with last vestige of J&K’s autonomy by doing away with “state subjecthood”,and vilifying Kashmiri Muslims (as they do with Indian Muslims in rest of the country), have helped obfuscate real issues. One fallout is visible in the organised attacks on Kashmiris living, working, studying in different parts of India. Compounded by open patronage offered by police and administration to rascals masquerading as patriots. In a manner of speaking all of them have force multiplied and help JeM realise its goal of showing that Indians have turned against Kashmiris.

True, after Parliament was attacked in 2001, Kashmiris came under attack and experienced hostility in their daily lives. But it didnot take a turn for organised mob attacks assisted by the state governments which is today apparent in several parts of north India, especially BJP ruled states, but even the Congress ruled Rajasthan and MP. Worth remembering that rarely in three decades of insurgency in Kashmir has there been in India much outpouring of grief at the massacres of civilians at ther hands of Indian security forces, at mass rape & torture, or against people killed for reward and promotion, youths blinded by pellets, tens of thousands arbitrarily detained, arrested under draconian laws.It is as though Indians only care for deaths of soldiers but not of civilians, who happen to be fellow citizens. How gullible are we not to accept that after such lack of solidarity, instead hurling abuse at them for turning Islamist, we can expect Kashmiris to feel safe being part of India? It would be hypocrisy to ponitificate over Islamist radicalisation when we have in power radicalised Hindu fanatic government. This validates Kashmiris drfit away from India which has been building up over several decades. It is a question of survival.

Not belittle loss of lives

Besides,if we really care and are concerned over loss of lives of CRPF personnel, who are sons of workers and peasants, then it would be worth our while to be concerned about the impact of prolonged military suppression in J&K, waging an ignoble war against our own people, on the morale of the personnel who cannot remain alert or vigilant day-after-day, month-after-month, year-after-year, as they can in short duration operations. They are told they are fighting Pakistan led cross border terrorism but are confronting people who have not ceased to resist, come to aid of militants, in face of “Operation All Out”. Moreover, if in three decades there has been no military solution to Kashmir dispute,and demand for “Azaadi” remains robust and popular then why persist with the very same approach? Perhaps now is the best time to ask if a problem that has defied military solution needs to be replaced by serious & sincere political initiative. Or else witness what is happening where soldiers became mere pawns for the Hindutva rabble rousers to carry out their incendiary politics. Consider what happened in Jammu post Pulwama attack.

J&K has been ruled since last eight months by New Delhi, first under Governor’s rule and now under President’s rule. Entire Jammu and Kashmir has been a “Disturbed area” since October 1990, with extra-ordinary laws and extraordinary legal immunity for security force personnel. Yet,for four days from February 14-18 Hindutva mob, despite curfew, could gather and move around freely attacking Kashmiri and Jammu Muslims, destroying properties, vehicles, shops. Even flag marches by Army did not deter these mobsters from going about their violent activities knowing fully well that no harm will come to them since the administration patronises such elements. Mobs usually wilt under threat of police or military action, unless they are sanctioned by political masters and therefore, they know they are protected specie. It is a known fact that police opens fire on protestors at drop of a hat. But rarely is this done against Hindutva mobsters, even when they are mounting murderous attacks. The stories coming out from Uttarakhand , a BJP ruled state where Kashmiri students were targetted, threatened and forced to leave Dehradoon, mid-way through their studies. Uttarakhand police showed its Hindutva proclivities, in violation of Constitution they were expected to uphold, when they selectively filed cases against Kashmiri Muslims for posting their views charging them with sedition and other penal provisions whereas blood curdling posters, leaflets, speeches by Hindutva mobsters and their leaders were allowed free run and publicity. It is as though criminal activities of Hindutva mobsters is the ‘new ‘idea of India being promoted assiduosly by the Modi Sarkar and their acolytes.

Long and short of it is that if there is no place for people of Kashmir in India, and this is the message being driven across, then its futile to blame Pakistan, when offcially sponsored mobs have bolstered Kashmiris desire to opt out of India.

Way out of this mess

So what can be done to reverse the process? Should not India work to teach Pakistan a lesson, because JeM is an asset of the deep state in Pakistan? Trouble is India’s options are limited. Lets take diplomacy for instance. A week before the sucide attack in Pulwama, India’s foreign minister told Lok Sabha that India had successfully isolated Pakistan. Around the same time 46 countries gathered in Pakistan to participate in five day naval exercise. Post Pulwama when notorious Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammaed bin Salman visited Pakistan, prior to his trip to India, not only did Saudi’s sign seven MoUs valued at $20 bn but in the joint statement the two criticised politicisation of “UN listing regime”, which was clear rebuff to Indian attempts to get Pakistan declared state sponsor of terrorism and get JeM listed by Financial Action Task Force. No more than three countries mentioned Pakistan by name in thjeir support for India after the suicide bombing. Infact India’s all party resolution itself failed to mention Pakistan or JeM. China’s Global Times reminded India that before rushing to criticise China and Pakistan “should’nt the Indian government make more self-introspection on its anti-terror policy and dwell more on how to better administer the Indian controlled part of Kashmir?” The UN Secrutiy Council resolution refused to blame Pakistan, only refered to JeM’s public ownership of the attack.

The point is that this escalation, sucide attack, is in step with ‘Operation All Out’. And each step which is taken begets a stepped up counter-response. In a text-book strategy of what passes for counter-insurgency warfare guerillas as ‘fish in water’ can harass the forces. The very nature of COIN operates on the principle ‘draning the water’ or forcing the people to withdraw support for militants. Tension between people and military ratchets up resulting in increased use of force and further consolidation of anger.

Now, with general elections round the corner and BJP desperate to cash in on jingoism and war hysteria, will certainly push for something that they can package as a resolute response. So while we wait to see what happens, there are certain imponderables,which have to be kept in mind. In September 2016 when the socalled ‘surgical strike’ was undertaken in which temporary launching pad of militants was destroyed and 39 persons killed, the DG Military Operations promply informed his counter-part in Pakistan that this was a one off attack. Why did they do so? Because India could not afford conflict escalating into combat between the two armies. It was true then and its true today as well. Especially against the back drop of the role Pakistan today is playing in the resolution of Afghan conflict to save the US from the ignomity of a pullout reminiscent of Saigon like debacle in 1973.

So, we need to take the right lesson from Pulwama. Suicide attacks will increase unless the Government changes tack in J&K. With Hizbul Mujahideen also coming out in favour of suicide attacks time ahead is fraught with danger. To carry on with a failed military approach, meant to crush popular support for militancy, is to be unwise. There is no crown attached to a policy which shows all signs of failure. And the point is to cut loose from such policies. It needs to be acknowledged that although Counter Insurgency is a military doctrine it is political initiative which brings it to an end, especially where our own people are concerned. Military solution for a scenario in which Army is fighting against people in its own backyard requires stationing a huge force for Area Dominance. For instance CRPF has 61 battalions, 70,000 personnel living in 600 camps in J&K. Size of army deployment is four times that. IN addition there are other para military forces both central and state resulting in J&K studded with military camps, living cheek-to-jowl with civilians, so to say. Army Chief claims that Army’s “rules of engagement are very people friendly and we conduct our operations in a very people friendly manner”.

Question is how “friendly” can they be with such overabundant presence of armed soldier everywhere. Beside how are Cordon and Search Operations being carried out in harsh winter months, where youths are chased, houses blown up, persons booked under PSA, detainees shifted to jails outside J&K, making visits by friends and relatives expensive and difficult. By keeping leaders under house arrest, curbing their space to connect with people and all this plus exposing Kashmiris living outside J&K to attacks by right wing rowdies of Hindutva, there’s nothing “friendly” in any of this.

True, Army can not be blamed for what happens outside the theatre of conflict. But one has yet to come across Army officers in J&K publicly chastise right wing Hindutva outfits for making their job onerous because of their incendinary and divisive activities and vituperative speech. Under their very nose when 8 year old Aasifa was raped, tortured and killed in Jammu region and Hindutva rabble rousers went on the rampage Army commanders kept quiet, “Disturbed” area and AFSPA notwithstanding. Army Hq can not shirk, therefore, its share of blame for engaging in selective concern over radicalisation by Islamists but never over Hindutva fanaticism. So what is India army’s undertsnading of Constitution and secularism that they swear by and claim to uphold?

Indeed how is it presence of local Kashmiris in civil and police administration is overwhelmingly Hindu. Some argue that presence of non-Muslims should not be a matter of concern. We are one country so whats wrong with it? IN a state where 67% of people are Muslims, its a “Disturbed” area, with AFSPA in tow, a highly militarised with constitutional freedoms curtailed, when people in authority are non-locals it makes all the difference. How else will Kashmiris perceive such regime which is alien and runs the militarised administration, if not living under alien rule.

What then?

However, there is little likelihood of BJP changing tack. Not only because of general elections round the corner. But also because BJP is ideologically ill-equipped to attach any premium on englihetened self-interest. Besides, the Prime Minister does not believe in taking advice from anyone on J&K; after all the ‘leader’ knows all. Moreover, given the proclivity of BJP to play hard and loose with scruples, its certain that they will go opt for a military response.However, unless these are stage managed, as the ‘surgical strike’ was between the DGMOs of India and Pakistan, there is no gain saying that such strike/s can go terribly wrong, But that is a risk a desperate BJP, fast losing popularity, will decidedly take. They can not but heed the voice of jingoist rabble rousers, and street mobsters.

With Indian’s political parties from left to centre shy about spelling out what they mean and how they will restore autonomy, choice is between assimilation espoused by BJP -RSS and the demand for right of slef-determination as the only peaceful political way to resolve the Kashmir Dispute. With neither side budging, the ground situation will deteriorate with militants taking to suicide attacks, Indian military becoming more ferocious in its counter insurgency operations and Indian public opinion swing between distress and despair. Because India’s government and civil society’s inability to rise above itself to resolve disputes, of its own making, politically will always bring it to an inflexion point where Kashmir Question is concerned. A perfect example of “Made in India” problem.

Gautam Navlakha is a political thinker

*A shorter version of the same appeared in Newsclick 22nd February, 2019.


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