Friday, 1 June 2012

Kashmir: Declaring premature victory
Kashmir Times
  • Published:4/2/2012 11:48:00 AM
  • Updated: 4/2/2012 10:31:35 AM
  • By: By Ali Ahmed
  • Filed Under: opinion

Kashmir is quiet. But as the continuing stalemate over AFSPA indicates, it is not quite ‘all quiet on the Kashmir front’. The killing of four terrorists in their hideout in the Rajwar forest near Kupwara by the Rashtriya Rifles suggests that Pakistani cannon fodder exists. With the winter snows doing their annual damage, the infiltration season is set to begin early with infiltrating groups taking advantage of snow-created gaps. The Kashmir police is now armed with non-lethal means to tackle any outbreak on the streets. They have their ‘guardian angels’ in the form of armed chaperones from the paramilitary.
These tactical level indicators need however to be buttressed by the more positive developments at the strategic level for a fleshed-out picture of the coming campaign season. Externally, the India-Pakistan relationship is seemingly on an upswing moving towards a ‘result oriented dialogue’ phase. Internally, the status quo, in which India sees electoral democracy as an exercise of self-determination, is set to continue. The problem lies in seeing this situation as good enough reason for India to declare victory.
India’s strategy appears to be a security centric one. While the police, assisted by the paramilitary, is to control the ‘center of gravity’ of separatism, Srinagar, the military has the rural hinterland in a tight grip in order to break the influence of separatism radiating outwards from Srinagar and other towns in the Valley. The Army’s ‘Jee Janab’ policy over the past year is an ambitious one, designed more than to merely win hearts and minds. It stands the Maoist principle on insurgency on its head: of using a base in rural areas to envelop and take over the center. Here it is the counter insurgent resorting to the strategy of squeezing the city.
The success of the strategy is in the invective AFSPA incites in separatists. The calls for demilitarization, such as selective roll back of the AFSPA, are to unlock the vice like grip of the Rashtriya Rifles. Their omnipresence constricts space for terrorists. The concept of Territorial Army (Home and Hearth) helps soak up manpower that would otherwise have been available for recruiting into terrorist ranks, besides helping with surveillance.
With a tight lid on security, economic measures and governance are to be furthered. Another couple of years of quiet are expected to yield up self-sustaining peace. With over a million visitors last year, the Udaan program for training and employing half a lakh youth, panchayats in place finally, rail and road connectivity projects underway etc, the people are expected to grasp the dividend of peace.
Externally, India is well poised for discouraging Pakistani interference keeping alive India’s Kashmir problem. The widening gap between the two states is stark. While Pakistan appears to have seen off its worst year yet, this time round it appears that the military is backing the India-Pakistan engagement process. Utterances that Pakistan is placing its Kashmir interest on a backburner are indicators of Pakistani course correction. The winds of Arab Spring, not having rekindled the flames of 2010 in 2011, India breathes easier.
The paradox of these favourable factors is in India deluding itself into believing that little else needs doing, particularly in terms of dealing with the political dimension. The cold storage of the interlocutors’ report suggests as much. The continuing of the security template suggests little intention of proceeding down this lane either. In effect, the impression is that the proxy war defeated, only remnant eddies of the insurgency are to be contended with.
Yet, the security template betrays ambivalence, unease with the ‘solution’. Strategically, India is uncertain as to the effects of the wind down in AfPak set to unfold by 2014. Politically, it is aware that the angst arising from a faltering insurgency could well deepen the psychological wounds of Kashmiris. Unmet political demands for substantial autonomy, arising in the sentiment for ‘azadi’, keep alive disaffection. Since India expects that it can control the consequences, it does not see any incentive to address these demands.
Is India’s preference for a conflict management rather than a conflict resolution approach sensible? Past Indian responses to crisis do not infuse confidence: the recapture of Aizawl, the siege of Golden Temple, the Jaffna battle, the fall of the Babri Masjid, the aftermath of Godhra etc. However, while tight control and deep surveillance in Kashmir help keep India from being surprised and thereby over reacting, India’s crisis response will have its own compulsions and dynamics, rendering the direction, momentum, and outcome indeterminate.
Strategically, resort to a suppressive strategy is a given in light of political weakness at the Center. However, reliance on security forces can prove counter productive owing to their suspect quality. The central police forces have witnessed a rapid expansion over the last decade. The quality of intake and quality of socialization and training cannot be of a high order. This could result in the Rashtriya Rifles getting to the forefront. The Army’s self-image of ‘last resort’ will impact its actions. What ambers currently will be fanned to a flame. While security agencies can cope with the violence, any people centric non-violent opposition, the portents of which were on display late last decade, will have India stumped.
Internally, political fallout is certain. The liberal spectrum would be unwilling to concede the government the political space would like to tide over the problem. The debate will be ugly, since the stage has been set by the conservative-extremist spectrum holding up the political prong of India’s strategy. Unwilling to grant any concessions even from a position of strength, they would be less amenable under threat of a gun. The right wing, threatened by marginalization due to regional forces taking center stage in the latest round of elections, will opportunistically exploit the situation. This can only make for greater reliance on force by a defensive government.
Externally, Pakistan, regaining stability and over time regaining ground through the talks process with the Taliban underway, will be emboldened to reverse gear. The ‘CNN effect’ of harsh measures will certainly embarrass India politically. Though the international community will likely look away; India cannot thereafter be expected to project itself credibly as a rising democratic power with a difference.
In effect, India can be in deep trouble before the summer is out. All it takes is access of a few Kalashnikovs to down town Srinagar. This threat will continue into the middle term. Only a political turn to its Kashmir policy can help India break out of its strategic cul de sac.
(The author is Assistant Professor, Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia)