Friday, 1 June 2012

Time not right to let the guard down in Kashmir
Ali Ahmed
Research Fellow, IDSA
The report on a political solution to Kashmir has been kept confidential, giving the govt breathing space to digest its contents and once its position is formed, either to release it in whole or in parts

UNLIKE THE usual practice, the report on a political solution to Kashmir by the three interlocutors Dilip Padgaonkar, MM Ansari and Radha Kumar has been punctually handed in to the home ministry. They have been asked to keep themselves available for interaction with parliamentarians to build a constituency for their recommendations.
The report has been kept confidential, giving the government breathing space to digest its contents and once its position is formed, either to release it in whole or in parts. The issue of concern is the implication of lack of political will to implement it. It conveys the impression that the appointment of interlocutors was an exercise to help tide over the summer and ward off winds arising from the Arab Spring. The turnout of a million tourists and decline in the number of home ministers may lull the government into believing that the worst is over. Though largely right, inaction is not an option.
Firstly, the people, led by the youth, have three summers of experience in peaceful demonstrations. Liberal application of the public service announcement has kept the lid on tight this time. But its next eruption has the potential to embarrass India poised on the cusp of great power.
Secondly, the physical attack on eminent lawyer Prashant Bhushan in the premises of the Supreme Court ostensibly for comments in favour of resolution in Kashmir, was a demonstration by forces that stand for the status quo. The timing of the attacks indicates they have the capability of holding up initiatives, if emboldened by hesitation.
Lastly, the international factor needs to be kept in mind. The pressures on Pakistan after the US endgame in Af-Pak are evident. The visit by Afghan president Hamid Karzai to New Delhi and the resulting ‘strategic partnership’ that envisages increased. Awareness of Pakistan’s capacity for disruption in both Kashmir and Afghanistan implies that any intention for it to do so needs to be worked upon. By implementing the report, even if in part, Pakistan can be kept at bay.
Even if desirable, is it feasible?
The government has, in its earlier tenure, defied expectations in pushing through the Indo-US nuclear deal. An internal Kashmir settlement is an issue of equal magnitude to take a stand. But the government has been under siege throughout the year. The ruling party would be shy of handing the opposition that is in equal disarray, a ‘nationalist’ card to play.
The army-ISI combine needs to be displaced over the long term to end the Indo-Pak conflict
Next, the input of security forces can be predicted to be negative. The military, for instance, is wary of suggestions on even a partial roll back of the AFSPA. The commentary is on a ‘collusive’ threat from India’s neighbours. Evidently, it is not the time to let the guard down.
The understanding appears to be that the costs have been affordable so far and can be paid up indefinitely. With India on the seeming upswing in the strategic trajectory, there is little reason to placate adverse interests, either internal in the form of separatists or external in the form of the ISI.
G Parathasarathy, a formidable realist influence, has opined, ‘Indian ‘intellectuals’ and bleeding heart liberals have zealously believed that ‘dialogue’ alone can address the animosity of the Taliban and its ISI mentors towards India’. The subtext is that dialogue does not and cannot work. Instead the resulting cold war must be managed so as to bring about regime change in Pakistan by displacing the army-ISI combine over the long term.
Undecided, India’s strategy is poised between containment and engagement with the onus being on Pakistan to determine India’s choice. Pakistan’s past record suggests that India will be left with only one choice. India is apparently prepared, having former cabinet secretary Naresh Chandra’s task force looking at restructuring national security and by investing in military means.
This suggests that South Asia is headed for another lost opportunity. The nuclear backdrop compels a prayer that this, hopefully, would not prove the last.