Friday, 1 June 2012

Kashmir: It's now or never
  • Published:12/9/2011 12:05:00 PM
  • Updated: 12/9/2011 10:02:25 AM
  • Filed Under: column
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That India's Kashmir initiatives are held hostage to its 'AfPak' strategy is by now evident. The outset of winter was a useful decision point for changing the situation around. Nothing has happened less due to absence of political will, but more due to grand strategy considerations. While the former cannot be discounted due to the political preoccupations at New Delhi since mid year, together with the latter another opportunity at arriving at an appropriate closure has been given a go by. This article argues that the possibility of negative scenarios for AfPak in the future should spur the Centre to take necessary measures, lest the window close steadily over time, if not slam shut dramatically.
That the time was ripe at the end of a quiet summer in the Valley was self-evident. The interlocutors have given in their recommendations. The economic program under the tutelage of C. Rangarajan has been underway. The military has managed its WHAM campaign with finesse. The chief minister mounted a campaign for a break in the deadlock, with his AFSPA plank as spearhead. At New Delhi, the opposition has been in disarray, leaving the Center enough maneuver room in case it had chosen to exploit it. Pakistan was under considerable pressure to the point of disjuncture in their relationship with the US. The second round of talks with Pakistan is due to begin.
In effect, India had forced a penalty corner. Its inaction since is risking its conversion into a goal. Worse would be in case this loss of opportunity with time proving a self goal. The hold-up calls for an explanation.
Both Pakistan and India are hedging their bets regarding the endgame in 'AfPak'. Pakistan's current restraint in Kashmir is explicable in light of its security circumstance to its west. India, apprehending this, is waiting it out, lest it play its hand in terms of conflict resolution initiatives prematurely. Reports of presence of 2500 terrorists in POK of which 700 are apparently in launch camps makes it pause.
The hope seems to be in a worsening situation in Pakistan, wherein the difficulty of that state can be turned to advantage. Since no one in the Valley would like to see instability imported from across the LoC, the problem will be more amenable to resolution. Pakistan, against the ropes, would be more likely to compromise on Kashmir.
Is this scenario likely? A scenario building exercise is warranted to test this perception of Indian strategy.
The key drivers are the choices made by the US and Taliban on the continuum of military competition and political engagement. The secondary drivers are stability of Pakistan, ability of the Afghan state and its security forces to cope and the proactive content of India's strategy. The baseline assumptions are that the US continues military engagement, the Taliban remains obdurate, Pakistani stability continues on its downward trajectory and India tends towards containment in its Pakistan strategy, that lends its AfPak strategy a competitive edge.
In such circumstance, the narrative for a 'baseline scenario' would have it that the military competition intensifies and spreads. While the US drawdown occurs, the US does not leave the region. It instead outsources the fighting to the Afghan National Security Forces. The Taliban increases its challenge. US pressure on Pakistan to take on the extremists results in Pakistani stability being compromised. Instability continues.
A 'positive scenario' is in a US drawdown and a tamed Taliban along with improved Pakistani stability. The narrative for such a scenario would read: US draws down militarily, but emphasises the political prong. The Taliban bites, with Pakistan acting as honest broker. The 'worst case scenario', reminiscent of the early nineties, is in the US departing, forced by economic and political compulsions back home. The Taliban make a triumphalist reentry into Kabul. Afghanistan dissolves into civil war and serves as a site for the regional proxy war, extension of an India-Pakistan cold war.
Of the three scenarios - status quo, positive, negative - above, India stands to gain less in case of either the positive or the negative one playing out. In case of a positive talks-driven outcome, Pakistan will be able to revert its attention to Kashmir after gaining 'strategic depth'. In case of a negative scenario, triumphalism could mean a return to the nineties, both in Afghanistan and, in turn, in Kashmir.
India's preferred scenario approximates the baseline one, of continuing instability keeping Pakistan occupied. The problem is that this implies continuing room for extremism in the region. India cannot insulate itself from being singed since India's abundant caution in Kashmir suggests that there is enough dry wood, twigs and leaves stacked to catch the proverbial spark from across.
In other words, India is not a gainer in all three scenarios. This implies that it should clean up its backyard, preserving itself from any stray sparks. This means arriving at an internal settlement, using the window of time till the outcome scenarios in AfPak materialize by about mid decade.
This is in keeping with the Prime Ministers strategy, expressed in his opening remarks at the meeting of All Party Delegation from J&K in wake of the unrest through the summer of 2010 that consumed 110 lives: '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. We are ready for this. We are willing to discuss all issues within the bounds of our democratic processes and framework. But this process can gather momentum and yield results only if there is a prolonged peace.'
The solution is clear: a dialogue both internal and external. Since the external prong of dialogue is not entirely India's to control, the internal prong of strategy gains precedence. The problem is in defining 'prolonged peace'. As seen from the scenario building exercise, developments in the neighbourhood make 'prolonged peace' illusionary. Instead, prolonged peace has to be engineered by appropriate internal strategy.
The elements of the strategy are already in place. Peace prevails. If the time lapse since the prime minister's statement last August is taken as long enough to count as 'prolonged, the time is now.
A beginning can be made with an agenda setting tweak to the AFSPA!
(The author is Research Fellow Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses)