Friday, 1 June 2012

Praveen Swami, India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: Th e Covert War in Kashmir, 1947–2004 (New York: Routledge,
2007). Pp. 258. Price: Rs 495. ISBN 978-0-415-40459-4
.India Quarterly 65, 3 (2009): 329–343
Praveen Swami has established his journalistic credentials in reporting and analysing, among other things, the
Kashmir situation, for the reputed periodical, Frontline, and for the well-regarded newspaper, Th e Hindu. Recourse
to his in-depth reporting is virtually a necessity for gaining a handle on the complex situation. Th is owes to his
range of sources, particularly in the intelligence and police, but also his self-imposed requirement of getting a
feel of the ground through visits to the remote and relevant locales as necessary. Th e insights gained have been
packaged with balance and sensitivity over the years. Th at said, the book falls short of his own standards in terms
of being uni-dimensional in its focus on ‘Jihad’ at the expense of the several factors that have underpinned the
India–Pakistan six decade long tangle and the two decade old insurgency in Kashmir. Jihad has, of late, acquired
a notoriety that sells. Any linkage with Jihad these days instinctively leads to delegitimisation, so strong is the
dominant, largely western media–led, discourse. Unfortunately, insertion of the term Jihad in the title serves to
misrepresent the Kashmiri situation and in doing so does a disservice to the very people Swami has so sensitively
written about for over a decade.
At the outset, it is conceded that the author has brought to the fore a relatively lesser known dimension of the
vexed Kashmir question—that of the covert war between the two states and by non-state actors. Th is is a signal and
original contribution to the otherwise over-crowded Kashmir book shelf. Since other dimensions such as the foreign
policy and military have already been brought out by other perceptive authors earlier, there was little remaining to
be told. Swami, in accessing the intelligence trove that is usually off limits, has been able to shed fresh light on the
confl ict. His work, therefore, is a necessary supplement to known aspects. It is with good reason that Swami writes:
‘No one book of course can tell the tale of all these and all the other struggles which together constitute the Jammu
and Kashmir confl ict…Th is book traces just one thread of a complex weave. It is however a thread that few have
paid attention to…’ (p. 16). Nevertheless, the manner in which it is titled, the focus on Pakistan–directed Jihadi
terror and his reading a historical continuity into it, distracts from the other, equally salient dimensions that are
absent from his book. Th is shortcoming can however be overcome by the discerning reader keeping in mind the
context, parallel happenings and competing narratives in other facets of the confl ict.
Swami’s book is a product of his Senior Fellowship at the United States Institute of Peace in 2004–05. Th is is
perhaps the cause for the over-emphasis on ‘Jihad’, since during the period, the topic had reached a crescendo in
the US. He covers his ground with great detail, even delving into hitherto classifi ed intelligence fi les. He traces the
Jihadist journey in Kashmir to the original schism between the fundamentalists and secularists in the anti-feudal
politics in Kashmir prior to the Accession. Th ereafter the political project of the Muslim Conference was taken
up by the Pakistani state for identity and other, more secular reasons grounded in realpolitik. Th e despatch of the
tribal lashkars and later, a like invasion under Operation Gibraltar in 1965 are examples. Th e untold story revealed
by Swami shows how the Jihadist enterprise was kept alive through the quieter period of the seventies and eighties.
He attributes the explosion over the turn of the last decade to the ability of the infrastructure already available in
Pakistan to exploit and hijack the civil unrest in Kashmir. He thus sees continuity in Kashmir’s troubles in Jamaati
politics and its linkage to the other side of the border.
Book Reviews 337
India Quarterly 65, 3 (2009): 329–343
In actuality, the religious motivation aspect, while not absent, does not impel the most grave challenge the Indian
state has ever faced from any of its constituent minorities or ethnic groups. Among the prominent competing
factors is the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan based on secular, historical and resource related claims.
Th e covert war is a result also of this tussle between the two states. Th en there is the aspect of the uprising since
1990. Th is was occasioned by a constellation of factors, including the culpability of the Indian state. Th is was not
a jihad to begin with, though jihadi forces did play a role and have since acquired prominence. Last is the aspect
of power asymmetry between the two states. Addressing this through realist logic meant that Pakistan ties down
Indian military power in manpower intensive counter insurgency operations. Th is strategy explains ‘K2’ (Khalistan
and Kashmir) referred to by Swami. Th is implies jihad has been more a strategic tool, rather than having any
autonomous reason to exist. It is for this reason that Pakistan continues to hedge in curbing terror originating from
its soil, despite the ‘blowback’ that it is currently experiencing. Take for instance the numbers of jihadis. Th e number
of foreign terrorists has seldom touched 60 per cent. Th eir motivations range from mercenary to youth escaping
anonymity and ennui in the stratifi ed Pakistani society. Witness the origins of Kasab. Even their handlers, though
espousing Islam for self interested reasons, cannot be oblivious to money and power. Swami’s neglect in bringing
out a more variegated picture indicates his scholarly instinct has been held hostage to his intelligence based sources.
Th e requirement of bringing new sources to light is important. Drawing sustainable conclusions is more so.
Th e important point that emerges indirectly from Swami’s work is that the Indian state has been responding
primarily to the element of jihad that is only one among the multiplicity of factors and not necessarily the most
signifi cant. Th is is evident from the importance intelligence experts have been accorded over the years in formulating
India’s policy with respect to Kashmir. Many are listed in Swami’s sources and some remain unnamed. Swami has
elsewhere informed us of the interface the ISI has had with RAW over Kashmir that did not lead anywhere in the
early nineties. Such contacts are in the air as of the writing of this review and in light of the competition between
the two state agencies, are bound to lead nowhere. Th is calls for a political approach and political control. Th at such
a strategy will not be forthcoming owes to policy space conceded to the intelligence community, strengthened in
the wake of Kargil with the addition of new structures. Th e pathology is well understood in the case of Pakistan;
however, as has been amply brought out by Swami, the intelligence input, that has queered India’s policy response,
awaits a book length treatment. It is perhaps one reason why India has not been able to bring the problem to
a closure through political means. Having misinterpreted the Kashmir problem as a jihadi covert war alone,
it has understandably not wanted to appease such forces. Th e political working group established as a result of the
Prime Minister’s Round Tables exercise in the middle of this decade did not even submit a report. Th e governance
initiatives that have been taken are arguably not enough.
An accurate interpretation of the Kashmir problem has been held hostage to many factors that include inadequate
intelligence analysis. Others include the zero sum contestation with Pakistan. Since acceding to legitimate grievances
in Kashmir would be taken as a Pakistani ‘victory’, India stays its hand in turning the rhetoric of ‘sky is the limit’
and ‘hand of friendship’ to reality. Th e ascendance of the conservative end of the spectrum and cultural nationalism
in India over the nineties has also infl uenced the government’s position. Th e hard line is, therefore, inescapable.
Analysis such as that of the credible Praveen Swami only serves to further prevent the necessary initiatives. Th us,
338 India Quarterly 65, 3 (2009): 329–343
Kashmir remains on the boil. Th is serves Pakistani interests. Indian interests are not served since Kashmiris are
Indian citizens and secondly, continuing instability gives Pakistan a handle. Lastly, it energises forces that Swami
describes as Jihadi at the expense of other motives that boost these such as ethnicity, historical grievance and
freedom from counter-insurgent pressures.
With the corresponding covert war from the Indian side, not only in Kashmir but also in Pakistan, not
being covered, Indian intransigence is only superfi cially understandable. In case these are to be factored in, what
emerges is a duet between two contending intelligence agencies, virtually autonomous of political control. While
in Pakistan the ISI can be expected to be granted a blank cheque by the military.I In India, there appears to be
a defi cit of political and parliamentary control. Th is is a telling comment on India’s democratic good health.
Swami unintentionally opens up a pandora’s box that it would behove political decision makers to introspectively
address in the North Block and 7, Race Course Road.
Research Fellow Ali Ahmed