Thursday, 31 May 2012

Kashmir: Whither Strategy?


It is often said that India does not have a strategic culture, implying that it is unable to think strategically. In other words, it cannot match ‘means’ with ‘ends’, or perhaps it is incapable of arriving at aims in the first place. The counter-argument usually heard is that if that were the case, then India would by now have been—as Churchill once famously but mistakenly put it—merely a ‘geographical expression’. The controversy surrounding the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir suggests that the truth lies somewhere in between.
Omar Abdullah’s journey to Delhi to manufacture a consensus on tweaking the AFSPA operational in J&K has yielded an answer from the Centre: ‘All in good time.’ It can be inferred that there is indeed a strategy for Kashmir that gets round to the AFSPA factor sometime in the future. Alternatively, as the Defence Minister and Home Minister have let on, this was reckoned as the juncture for review alright, but the Centre was not satisfied with the indicators.
The bad news is that Abdullah’s campaign is therefore somewhat premature. The good news is that a strategy exists. Even then, two impli-cations catch the eye. If the case was the former, that the AFSPA factor is to be tackled sometime later, then the strategy is not a flexible one. The second, in case the extant indicators do not satisfy the yardstick, is that the standards set for getting an exit strategy in place are trifle unrealistic.
In the event, Abdullah was not on board. This means either that the strategy was not shared with Abdullah or that Abdullah knew of the strategy and yet exerted. The latter implies that his exertions were either a charade, as the Opposition contends, or that the strategy is unresponsive to the position of no less than the elected Chief Minister of the affected province. Clearly, neither of these alternatives suggests that the strategy is in healthy shape, even if, for the purpose of argument, it does indeed exist.
From the contretemps, it has emerged that the Defence Ministry was against the move. The Army Chief had clarified that the view of the Army was with the government. This implies that the Army’s version carried the day. The Home Ministry, responsible for internal security, did not question the Defence Ministry’s championing of the Army’s version. Either it agreed, or it took the adage ‘a good workman does not quarrel with his tools’ to heart. What this implies for the State Government, a major if not the most consequential ‘tool’, is obvious.
Cynics will have it that the Army has applied a veto. Cynics are entitled to their opinion. But what are the facts? The fact is well known that in India’s democratic traditions, the Army does not command a veto. Through its inaction as action in the case, the Home Ministry has indicated that it was not persuaded by the State Government’s case. This is easy to reconcile to; after all, the responsible Ministry has arrived at a decision. It has a strategy and the move to revoke the disturbed area status of areas recommended by the State Government did not square with it.
Yet, the difficulty arises in news reports mentioning in the same breath that a ‘consensus’ proved elusive. This explains Omar Abdullah’s meetings with all concerned in New Delhi, including a ‘call on’ by the Army Chief. These were apparently intended by him to arrive at, if not manufacture, a consensus. In the event, the consensus proved elusive. It begs the question: why does the Centre expect the Chief Minister to create the conditions for a consensus? Next, a strategy does not require consensus; instead, it requires ownership by whoever is answerable to India for its Kashmir strategy.
One thing is self-evident. It is not the State Government. The Supreme Court ruling on the AFSPA is clear, that the State Government does not have ‘exclusive’ authority. The Law Ministry has confirmed this in its statement that it is the Governor, and not the Chief Minister, who has the authority to revoke or extend the disturbed area status as required.
Yet a remark by the Defence Minister suggests that it was delegated the responsibility by the Centre. He has said: ‘The CCS last year decided to leave it to the Unified Command to take a decision on partial withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir.’ The Home Minister has clarified that the CCS had indeed asked that the exercise be done by the State. This means that the head of the Unified Headquarter, who happens to be the Chief Minister, was to take a view. It is apparent that the head of the UHQ has been held up by the Army thinking otherwise.
The view supportive of the Army position has it that the very idea of the AFSPA being repealed or disturbed areas status being revoked is seen as politicking. This can potentially place the national interest and space retrieved in Kashmir in jeopardy, since Pakistan and its proxies would be quick on the draw. The Army, not having any vested interest but with the best spatial spread of all agencies, can professionally judge the outcome of misplaced policies. It cannot allow a roll back of the position of strength arrived at with some cost in blood. This article not being one on the AFSPA but on strategy, the position is not queried here. Suffice it to mention that the AFSPA appears needed because it is there!
THAT the situation remains so uncertain into the third decade of militancy that the State cannot even countenance revoking of the disturbed areas status of areas where all indices indicate near normalcy, suggests less that the strategy has not worked but more that it does not exist. It is no wonder then that the Army has had to put its foot down. The message is that an embarrassing bout of ‘Arab spring’ in case decompression was to take place prematurely may require its return. It begs the question as to what the powers under the AFSPA can do to combat the apprehended problem. In fact, the immunity clause makes the AFSPA downright dangerous in such a setting. The long and short of all this is that the graver problem is not the persistence of such dangers; but that these dangers continue to exist due to India’s lack of strategy.
More charitable assessments can be arrived at. The first is that a strategy exists, but the institutional actors involved have let it down. However, the controversy cannot be said to have been media created. It was over a substantive issue and that the positions of the players were in the open was positional play at its best (or worst).
Second, a strategy exists, but all is not quite right with it. There can be divergence on conclusions between the players certainly, but the strategy allows for arbitration. It is uncertain if the inaction in this case owes to being persuaded by the yardstick or by the relative strength of the players in the bureaucratic power-play.
Irrespective of which of these is closer to the reality, introspection is warranted.
The argument for non-existence of a Kashmir strategy can be rebutted by the position that the task forces and interlocutors have been deployed for a political resolution. Economically, the over Rs 25,000 crore Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Programme is in place and C. Rangarajan has made out at least two economic packages for Kashmir. Diplomatically, India is looking to begin the second round of talks with Pakistan. Militarily, the violence indices are at yet another record low. Clearly, the strategy must be credited with this turnaround, testifying to its existence.
This is easy to refute since the problem persists and there is a likelihood of reversal in case Pakistan was to re-emerge from its current predicament. A strategy implies orchestration of all efforts towards a predetermined end. Individually, India has indeed activated all prongs of strategy individually; but not in symphony.
The major one, the political prong of the strategy geared towards conflict resolution, both internal and external in orientation, is little in evidence. The working groups, task forces and interlocutors’ efforts can instead be seen as internal procrastination, till India’s ‘strategy of exhaustion’ delivers. Mr Ansari, a member of the interlocutor triumvirate, is on record stating that the time for political action is now. This illustrates the contents of their report, kept confidential by the Central Government.
Externally, the promise to arrive at a negotiated solution with Pakistan, mentioned in all joint declarations and agreements, has not been taken to its logical conclusion. The critical hold up, both externally and consequently internally, is in the incidence of terror. This is an illegitimate tool being used by Pakistan and it is rightly proving counter-productive.
However, since Indian citizens are facing the consequences, even as all measures are taken proactively and defensively to tackle terror, it bears mention that resolution of the Kashmir question can bring about its alleviation, if not the very termination. The internal dimension must be progressed irrespective of the position of the external since Indian citizens cannot be allowed to bear the brunt of external friction indefinitely into the future.
A grand strategy, taking cue from the national aim of getting to be a great power and developed state, must deliver peace and security. While a strategy is not easy to formulate and execute, especially in such complex questions as Kashmir, it remains necessary. The reason is that it builds in accountability. The problem in India is that there is nobody charged with this. The National Security Council system is nascent, has an advisory role and is non-statutory. The Home Ministry does not have the requisite apparatus in the form of its Kashmir Division to formulate, implement and monitor a strategy. For instance, it does not have a joint staff including military- men on its rolls. The Defence Ministry is not responsible for internal security, though the military, when so deployed, reports to it. The State Government, as seen above, has exposed itself as being powerless. In the light of the absence of an institutional structure for strategy- making, it is clear a strategy cannot exist.
Six decades into the AFSPA’s existence, it is certainly time to tackle the problems that the ongoing controversy has exposed.
The author is a Research Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi