Friday, 1 June 2012

The agenda this winter
Kashmir Times
  • Published:10/6/2011 12:05:00 PM
  • Updated: 10/6/2011 11:22:06 AM
  • Filed Under: column
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The new joint study report by the Council on Foreign Relations and Aspen Institute India, 'The United States and India: A Shared Strategic Future', has it that, India and the US, '(H)old classified exchanges on multiple Pakistan contingencies, including the collapse of the Pakistan state and the specter of the Pakistan military losing control of its nuclear arsenal.' This testifies to a dangerous neighbourhood; but one that can do without exacerbation. Inescapable in the backdrop is the ongoing Pakistan-US stand-off.
The second element is that the effort at addressing the Kashmir issue internally is coming to a culmination with the report of the three interlocutors due this month. India has two response options. The first is largely reactive, being military-diplomatic and externally oriented. The second is proactive and internally oriented. While the first commands attention for managing the environment to enable conduct of counter insurgency, the second provides an opportunity that India must seize.
Statements from senior Northern Command officials maintain that Pakistan has its terror infrastructure intact. It has also taken care to keep its support base alive despite inroads by security forces. This is what keeps the Army from recommending revision of the AFSPA. In other words, Pakistan has the potential to foster trouble. The Islamabad joint statement between Vajpayee and Musharraf had required Pakistan to refrain from abetting terror. The declining indicators of violence over the years since give an impression of Pakistani self-restraint. It's modulation of the proxy war serve as a reminder that the Kashmir issue has not gone away, even if Pakistan is in dire straits on the other front. It is perhaps keeping its powder dry in order to see India's action pursuant to the report.
India for its part has attempted to progress the dialogue both internally and externally. Externally the two states are poised on the second round of talks since 26/11. Internally the report of the interlocutors is anticipated positively. The report may receive less than the requisite political support since the Union government is currently preoccupation with stability on Raisina Hill. This means that a restive winter, as against the usual pattern of a hot summer, cannot be ruled out. This is the reason that both of India's options - the military and political - are discussed in this article.
The military option will come to foreground in case the report disappoints or in case the government is unable to deliver on the promise in the report. In both cases, the government will be constrained to managing the fallout, both internally and externally. Internally, this may amount to imposition of population control measures, but externally it may be subject to terror provocation. Its reaction would require being contingent on levels of state-nonstate actor complicity. This does not mean there will be a departure from the 'strategy of restraint', but a military response may appear warranted, diplomatically sustainable and, not to forget, politically expedient internally.
There is a cryptic indication of the nature of the military response in the Army Chief's statement: 'As part of our overall strategy we have a number of contingencies and options, depending on what the aggressor does. In the recent years, we have been improving our systems with respect to mobilisation, but our basic military posture is defensive.' It appears that innovative work-rounds have been arrived at for making the military instrument available, in consonance with political ends and grand strategic priorities.
The military option perhaps has a selective target set for application of air power, employment of special forces on high priority terror related objectives in the mountain sector, along with realignment of the Line of Control to facilitate the anti-infiltration posture, tactical balance and proactive operations if forced by enemy reaction or when necessary in an indeterminate future. Kashmir will quite obviously furnish the battle space. The key question is how to contain and limit the action. A willingness to address Pakistani concerns in the settlement in Kashmir between India and its own Kashmiri citizens can be a useful sweetner in arriving at limitation. A tryst could nevertheless prove useful in revealing the limitations of the military option; a realisation that can then impel mutual commitment and urgency for resolving outstanding issues.
However, prevention being better than cure, India must seize the opportunity of acting on the interlocutor's report. The ongoing speculation on prospects of a mid term poll suggest that there would instead be a temptation to send the report down the Telangana route. Action on the Telangana report had been deferred pending consensus building for suitable action. It is evident that the problem has not gone away. The problem in Kashmir has been around for equally long, but has been to national forefront as the more acute one for much longer. Therefore there would be a fallout. While usually temperance is laudable, in this case the government must seize the moment and implement the practicable, even if the whole package is more imaginative than practical. Transparent intent and political courage will defuse any reservations people may have, decreasing any inclination to take to the streets.
There is a strategic necessity for gaining ground. Firstly, there are credible reports that gains have been made in the counter insurgency campaign. It is a truism that the solution is not a military one. Therefore, there is no escaping political antidote. The report will have provisions within the power of the government to deliver. Even if it is trumped politically, it can deliver partially. The more difficult parts can be carried over for the next Union dispensation, with the interim being used to condition opinion and debate over intractable issues nationally.
Secondly, the second significant insight from counter insurgency theory is that insurgency cannot sustain without local support. That vestiges of support remain indicates a potentiality for internal conflict continuing. These need to be wrapped up to the extent possible, by political action. Good governance and people friendly military operations are useful from conflict management point of view but less so for conflict resolution. That J&K has over a third of the army stationed means war clouds can gather. Such presence can at best deter not dispel.
Lastly, the end game in AfPak is ongoing. Uncertainty over the future is evident from Karzai's impending visit to New Delhi, for which strained Afghan-Pakistan ties serve as backdrop. There is little direct connection between the Afghan situation and Kashmir, however, in case Afghanistan becomes a site for an India-Pak 'cold war' then Kashmir would be singed in Pakistan using it as a pressure point against India. India must cauterise Kashmir from such incidence. This can best be done by attempting to bring the internal dimension of the problem to a closure politically. Externally, there is a case for a grand bargain not gone into here.
This summer's respite may yet prove a mirage in case the potential for peace immanent in a promising interlocutor's report remains unexploited since the converse also exists alongside.
(The author is Research Fellow, IDSA)