Whole thing started with Pulwama in Kashmir in Indian Kashmir where a suicide bomber attacked an Indian army convoy and killed 40 soldiers.
The incident has happened in the wake of upcoming general election in India which also coincides with Modi’s plummeting popularity that have made some people looking at this sad incident beyond the obvious.
There is nothing more potent or attractive than surging feelings of bellicose nationalism, a proven mobiliser for politicians and Modi is fully aware of this. Sad as it is, Modi’s post Pulwama rabble-rousing without proper investigation of the incident, has raised few eye-brows.
Jaish e Mohammed (JeM), a Pakistan based terrorist group (to Kashmiris, they are Mujahedeen) has claimed the responsibility and Modi quickly capitalised on the claim and blamed Pakistan for complicity. Imran Khan promptly rejected the claim and asked for ‘’actionable evidence’’ and invited Modi for dialogue. Modi showed no interest.
Several Indian experts including a former Indian General who served in Kashmir also doubted government’s claim that the suicide bombing was planned and executed by Pakistan, arguing that the huge of amount explosives that were used in the suicide bombing that would have been impossible to smuggle from across the border, ought to have been procured from inside and therefore, further proper investigation is needed to reveal the source/s of the attack.Regardless, whateveris the source and whoever is responsible, one thing is clear that Pulwama incident is also a case of massive security failure that the Indian army and the government in general must account for but curiously, they remained ambivalent.
Instead, Modi chose to capitalize on the tragedy and whip up nationalism with a war cry, some argue, to rescue his plummeting popularity on the eve of the April election. Instead of further investigation and ignoring Imran Khan’s appeal for dialogue Modi responded with air attacks inside Pakistan in Balakot, hoping reprisal and the chain repercussions of bellicose nationalism and a resurgent popular Modi and BJP, his party. To beef up his cause Modi claimed destruction of JeM training centre and killing of 300 JeM “terrorists” inside Pakistan though reports from international media that took few days to investigate, revealed that the bombing destroyed few trees and bruised few rocks in the mountain and the only human casualty is a peasant, injured by splinters.
Balakot was followed with several Indian Air Force (IAF) sorties inside the Line of Control, in Pakistan held Kashmir that resulted in Pakistan downing two Indian fighter planes and arresting Wing commander Avinandan who parachuted and fell in Pakistan territory.
Imran Khan, the Pakistani Prime Minister came on the TV and appealed for dialogue and peace and in a rare gesture of good will, announced release of the captured Indian Wing Commander without any conditions. The Wing Commander by now is back in India and with his family.
So, what do we make of all these?
Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of Bengal (former, West Bengal) believes that starting with Pulwama entire episode is nothing but a charade to reap electoral benefit and berated Modi saying, “We don’t want politics over the blood of jawans”.
Arundhuti Roy has, however, viewed these latest incidents on and around Kashmir more holistically, and argued that almost all Indian governments since 1947 have addressed the issue with disdain and violence and not empathy which has spiralled it to a situation where it has brought the two nuclear armed nations to war not once but on several occasions in the past and this is dangerous. She argues that while most Indian government lacked sincerity in addressing the complains of the Kashmiris, things got much worse since 1990s – “more than seventy thousand people have been killed in the conflict, thousands have “disappeared”, tens of thousands have been tortured and hundreds of young people maimed and blinded by pellet guns. The death toll over the last twelve months has been the highest since 2009.” Thus Kashmiris are angry and desperate and to them those who challenge the Indian state are neither “terrorists” nor “militants” but ‘’mujahids’’ (freedom fighters) and thus “….when they are killed, hundreds of thousands of people—whether they agree with their methods or not—turn out for their funerals, to mourn for them and bid them farewell.”
From the latest Kashmir events and the India/Pakistan spat,several important lessons emerge: (i) firstly, Modi’s war cry for political dividends has fallen flat on its face which also revealed that him and BJP are capable of doing whatever it takes to rouse people for their narrow selfish ends at India’s cost; (ii) their failure to do so in the face of a scrutinizing Indian populace also proves that in politics wishful thinking is a bad thinking and that it leads to little wish fulfilment and more importantly, speaks of the strength of India’s democracy where scrutinizing publics exercise their democratic rights and scrutinizing minds and question government; (iii) thirdly, Imran Khan’s persistence with peace dialogues and more importantly, as a show of good will his release of Wing Commander Avinandan in the face of Modi’s relentless invitations to violence has revealed a situation where political maturity has triumphed over reckless jingoism; and (iv) fourthly, to India’s peril and to the joy of the Kashmiris, Modi’s short-sighted and politically motivated attacks inside Pakistan that almost broughtthe two nuclear-armed nations to the brink of war and thanks to Imran Khan’s mature handling of the situation, it did not eventuate such,has ended up internationalising once morethe Kashmir issue, as an unsolved dangerous hotspot of the world, requiring immediate attention.
Another less talked about and least understood milestone of the conflict that relatesto Imran Khan’s mature and sensible handling of the situation and also his government’s decision to release and return captured IAF Officer Wing Commander Avinandanunconditionally, is a testimony that for the first time in Pakistan, it is the politicians and not the Generals who are not known for making mature and sensible judgements, are making decisions in that country and this is a good news for Pakistan and Pakistan’s democracy.The opposite may be happening in India.
Several years ago, when Tariq Ali, the Pakistani British social activist interviewed Indira Gandhi and lamented that Pakistan’s debacle is because, “the Generals make decisions”, Mrs. Gandhi told Mr. Ali that during the 1971 war when Pakistan lost East Pakistan and it was also doing badly in the Western wing, the then Indian Army Chief, General Manekshaw walked up to her office and said, “Madam Prime Minister, if you wish we can take over Pakistan [meaning the then West Pakistan] in 24 hours.” Mrs. Gandhi asked the General to give her 24 hours and consulted the Cabinet in -between and they said, “No”. Indira Gandhi told Tariq Ali, “You see when it comes to Generals, ours are no less reckless than yours but the only difference between Pakistan and India is that in our country, generals do not decide”. Looks like this equation has reversed and in India’s case it may not be the Generals as such but BJP’s militants, Siv Sena and more pronouncedly, India’s highly politicised Intelligence Agency RAW that be calling the shots, literally, these days!
The author is a retired senior policy manager of the UN