The Prime Minister from the Red Fort ramparts has once again reiterated the well worn stipulation that India is willing to talk in case people in Kashmir and the North East advance their causes through democratic means, stating, “I would like to convey to our countrymen, especially our citizens in Jammu and Kashmir and in the North East, that they should adopt democratic means to join hands with us for their and country's welfare.”
The state government in Kashmir in 2000 had presented the Center with an autonomy report. Both mainstream parties in Kashmir favour autonomy. The people’s agitation has been to pressurize the Center. It cannot get more democratic than that. It begs the question, then; what is holding up the Center?
For the government to believe that the people require ceasing agitation is self-deluding. From the people’s point of view, it makes sense as a strategy to keep India embarrassed, lest India forget that there is a problem that needs resolution. The coming CWG and the Obama visit are opportunities that, as with the Tibetan agitation prior to the Beijing Olympics, the opposition in Kashmir is unlikely to miss.
There are several reasons why the State must resolve Kashmir. Firstly, ever since nuclearization of the region, there is a need to resolve problems that can have uncertain consequences. Since with 1974 and 1998, India had partially led nuclearization, the onus is on them to ensure it is responsive to the implications of the same. Nuclear pessimists, such as S Paul Kapur and VR Raghavan, have respectively rephrased the popular characterization of the region to instead read ‘instability/instability paradox’ and ‘ugly instability’.
The lesson to be learnt from the Ussuri clashes and the Kargil War, is that nuclear states need to resolve problems between them. At a minimum, the two need to establish mechanism for nuclear talks that is buffeted from the state of their relationship. This is the argument separately made by Arun Prakash in Force, echoing that of Rajaraman and Raja Menon’s earlier in the Times of India. While the consequences of keeping a problem unaddressed can be tackled by such means, it is more logical to get to the root of the issue.
Secondly, there is a belief that the Army can handle the situation indefinitely, as indeed, it is meant to, in case called upon to do so. Past records indicate that it can. Nevertheless, AG Noorani, writing in Frontline, demonstrates that at least three Chiefs, including the present one, have asked for a political solution. Why?
Resorting to a counterfactual account helps understand the Army’s reservations. Prior to the India-Pakistan talks in mid July, the Army was called out in a ‘stand by’ mode to cool things down. Its very presence on the periphery brought the situation under control. Army rules clearly stipulate that it is to shoot for effect. This it would have done reluctantly, but surely, seeing itself as the last resort. The situation from January to March 1990 shows how the scene could have developed in case of such employment. Highly avoidable, is how the Army would view this.
Deployment into perpetuity is not necessarily good for the military. In India this is the norm, be it deployment on the variously named Lines of Control with both neighbors, or in unending counter insurgency. There is an opportunity cost such deployments exact. The Army is forced to remain a ‘mass’ army. The deployments are reminiscent of WWI, and so are the standard operating procedures. The only parallel, and a not so healthy one, is the Korean border. Likewise, constant deployments in its secondary role make it a player in the ‘insurgency economy’ that self-perpetuates. The impact is on the ‘inner health’ of the Army, to use a phrase of the Army Chief.
There are of course good reasons why the state has been unable to ‘solve’ the problem. These include an adversary unwilling to help resolve it. India has coped but at a cost to its own people and its own Army. In other words, India has played into the hands of its adversary who aims to tie India down. India’s strategy is one of coping, not of breaking out. This brings into question India’s strategy.
The Prime Minister speaking to the All Party delegation said, “But I recognize that the key to the problem is a political solution that addresses the alienation and emotional needs of the people. This can only be achieved through a sustained internal and external dialogue.” Even if the external angle remains held up, there is little holding back the internal.
Having C Rangarajan, who earlier led the third working group on economic affairs to the Kashmir round tables, to come up with an economic package is not a ‘political’ answer. Instead India must put all viable options from the working group reports, as yet unimplemented, into one package for unilateral implementation. In the words of the Godfather, it would be ‘an offer they can’t refuse’.