Wednesday, 4 November 2015

What the next war spells for Kashmir

Kashmir Times, Op-ed, 4 November 2015

The 1965 War’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations in India saw amateur military historians opportunistically claiming that India won the war. If Zhau Enlai’s view of history is taken as guide – in which when questioned on effects of the French Revolution, he is said to have remarked that it is too early to tell - it is somewhat early to celebrate 1965 War as a victory.

Whereas there have been two wars since – 1971 War and Kargil War – these have not been about Kashmir, even if Kashmir figured prominently in the former’s peace treaty and served as the site of the latter. In the 1971 War India cut Pakistan to size in the hope of creating the conditions for having it give up on Kashmir. It succeeded partially in this, in that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, firmly in saddle with the Pakistan army down and out, was ready to sign away Kashmir. Later the army hanged him for that, not for political murder. For its part, the Kargil War was an extension of the war in Kashmir, in its theater along the Line of Control. It extended Pakistan’s bloody fingers in the conflict by another three years.

Instead, the 1965 War was fought by both sides over the issue of Kashmir. Pakistan was stampeded into war by India’s political actions seeking to normalize its relationship with Kashmir in the mid sixties. India also took the opportunity offered by Pakistani military action to claim that having tried and failed to wrest Kashmir, Pakistan had lost raison d’etre in Kashmir. Going by the aims of the two sides, it cannot be said that Pakistan lost since it has kept its stake in Kashmir alive. Likewise, it cannot be reckoned India won since the Kashmir issue is not quite history.

That Kashmir continues as an ‘issue’ ensures it will figure in the next war.

That another war is not being ruled out by either state is clear from Pakistan’s foreign secretary acknowledging for the first time that its Tactical Nuclear Weapons are in response to India’s conventional war doctrine and capabilities. Within merely a week from his statement, India announced field maneuvers for its field army, Southern Command, and its strike corps, 21 Corps.

It is unclear if this is a preplanned exercise since the announcement has been without the usual publicity that attends such exercises. Incidentally, there is no name given to the exercise as is the usual practice either. It is also uncharacteristically the second exercise of a strike corps within the same year; 2 Corps having been exercised in early summer this year. Usually, the three strike corps exercise in rotation, with one being exercised each year. 

This bit of ‘signalling’ by both sides will no doubt keep both security establishments wary of war. Both hope to deter the other and can be expected to succeed. However, there is a ‘jack in the box’ that can upturn things.

India’s readiness to battle – evident from exercises this year across the frontage of its South Western and Southern Commands stretching from southern Punjab to Rann of Kutch – can only serve as incentive to jihadists. Should they attempt another mega terror attack, the favoured scenario of strategists would indeed play out: a terror attack followed by India’s conventional inroads into Pakistan forcing Pakistan’s nuclear trigger finger.

This is all the more plausible since the two sides would be relying on the US to pick their chestnuts out of the fire. US think tanks have extended the scenario into its post nuclear use phase and in a war game held in Dubai conditioned players from both states that external peacemaking initiatives would be necessary and inevitable in such a case. Indian participants have shifted their advocacy of dispatching Pakistan to oblivion for the temerity of nuclear first use to a softer nuclear response of throwing back merely a double of tactical nuclear tonnage. This non-strategic war will presumably enable de-escalation.

Kashmir will figure in such a war not only as a theater of war but also in its aftermath. However, no scenario lately has a mushroom cloud figuring over Kashmir. The last such cloud was conjured up in the early eighties when a threat of a nuclear bomb on Banihal blocking its access to Kashmir, enabling Pakistan to wrap up Kashmir, was used in scaremongering by nuclear hawks to push India into catching up with Pakistan in bomb making.

As a theater of war, India can employ its new mountain strike corps to wrest territory. This would be in keeping with its information war plank that taking back POK is what is meant by ‘outstanding’ issues of Partition. Since this could be a messy enterprise and would take longer than a ‘short, sharp war’ allows, it could at best straighten the Line of Control to its own advantage. It may be more forthright in advancing in areas that it can hope to control firmly later such as along the Skardu-Gilgit axis. The strategic gain from this would be in threatening the Pakistan-China link and proposed economic corridor in perpetuity.

It would be sticking its hand into a beehive in case it drives into the Punjabised areas to Kashmir’s west. Not only will these be difficult to wrest, but there would be an irregular war backlash even as the war progresses and prospects of failure in stabilization operations later. It would put Indian troops on the wrong side of their fortifications built over half century. Besides, the shifting of the Line of Control forward would open up spaces for infiltration the likes of which would put the infiltration of fidayeen in wake of the Kargil incursion seem a trailer. The consequence on revival of troubles in Kashmir can be easily imagined.

As for the aftermath of what was intended as a Limited War and ends up as a Limited Nuclear War, Kashmir can be sure to figure in the peace. Since, as mentioned, both states would be abdicating their accountability to respective citizens by outsourcing peacemaking in a war that goes nuclear to the US lead international community, the international community is unlikely to confine itself to humanitarian assistance and mediating a ceasefire. It could legitimately engage in structural peacemaking, meaning the elimination of structural conditions – root causes - that lead to war.

Since India as the status quo power – one in firm possession of its secular crown Kashmir – would not like to see external arm twisting over Kashmir, it needs deciding now if its inclination for the military option is in its best national interest. For Kashmiri nationalists, war might not altogether be such a bad thing. For jihadists it will be altogether a good thing. What’s good for them cannot also be good for India.

Clearly, the analysis here does not suggest that the current day militarized approach to Pakistan can protect India's interests as defined by itself. While somewhat late to inform Mr. Modi’s package for Kashmir to be rolled out on 7 November, there is a case for defusing Kashmir from within, rather than seeking to ‘resolve’ it through a 'final' military tryst with Pakistan. What needs doing, and urgently, is a change of tack: leavening an ideological strategy with strategic rationality.