Friday, 4 August 2017

Debating the 'harder military approach'

In wake of the attack on the Amarnath pilgrims that took a toll of eight innocent lives, Lord Meghnad Desai in an op-ed lamented that, 'A harder military approach will be urged. That has been tried since 1989. Time may have come to try something different ( article/opinion/columns/the-opportunity-in-kashmir-death-of-pilgrims-amarnath-yatra-attack-hurriyat-jihadists-naga-tribes-4752306/).' 

As if on cue, a hardy contender for the vacancy coming up soon in the Raj Bhawan in Srinagar, while agreeing that '… no proxy conflict of this kind can ever be defeated by military means, 'countered that, 'I disagree, however, that India's approach to the proxy conflict has so far only been militaristic or through the security prism and not from the angle of winning the support of the people ('

He gives an article long summary of the army's engagement in Kashmir covering inter-alia its Operation Sadhbhavna initiatives. More pertinently, perhaps referring to his tenure at the helm of Srinagar corps, the author, who is a retired member of the army brass, has this to say: '2011-13 saw the conscious calibration of the balance of hard and soft power through the Hearts Doctrine which created hope and attempted restoration of dignity to the conflict stricken people, incidentally by the army itself; a situation not politically exploited ('

The general appears to have drawn cudgels with the academic over the latter's understanding that a 'harder military approach' has been tried since 1989 and has been found wanting. His article attempts to highlight two aspects to the military's engagement in Kashmir. One that the military is indispensable to managing the situation of such violence as encountered in the 'proxy war' in Kashmir; and, two, that despite this, the army has attempted to win 'the support of the people', by largely following the counter insurgency doctrine of 'winning hearts and minds (WHAM!)'.

The academic, however, was questioning whether India's Kashmir policy that has been rather military dominant, could succeed, and on that count advocating a shift in tack from a military reliant to a political approach. A politics-up-front approach would have political outreach to Pakistan on one hand and an internal political settlement with the Kashmiris on the other. Lord Desai appears to believe that India has erred in not taking the two prongs of the political strategy to their logical conclusion in a settlement in Kashmir, even though its Kashmiri citizens have been imposed upon as a consequence for over a quarter century. 

Since Lord Desai's remark is a concluding one in his article on the routinisation of conflict and approaches to conflict in Kashmir, space constraints precluded his articulation of his position in these terms. But this appears a fair interpretation of his position, since he calls for a change of tack from the direction Indian has been on since 1989. 

He is entirely right. The political prong of strategy has never been the dominant one in tackling India's Kashmir problem. Over the preceding two score years to 1989, India firmly retained a hold in Kashmir, by lining up its military along the Line of Control and deliberately foisting corruptible regimes in Kashmir. The Swaran Singh-Bhutto talks of the early sixties were not sincere. This was brought out in an evening talk by PN Haksar at the India International Center in the early nineties at which this author was present. Haksar recounted asking Swaran Singh what the aim of the talks had been, with Swaran Singh letting on that it was a charade to keep the Americans at bay. The Simla Agreement is similarly a promise regarding the representatives of the two sides to meet 'to discuss further the modalities and arrangements for the establishment of durable peace and normalization of relations… a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir… (italics added).' It is about 'talks about talks'. 

The story of the nineties is little different. The weak coalition governments then - even if led by a bleeding heart at one time, Inder Gujral - were hardly in a position to change tack on Kashmir. When Nehru and Indira in their prime were unwilling to walk down the road to peace politically arrived at, it would be too much to expect of the prime ministers in the nineties. The late nineties saw some political activity, such as the composite dialogue initiation under Gujral and its spirit carried forward by Vajpayee. However, the leeway either had in clinching the issue through compromise was non-existent. Gujral was a stopgap, while Vajpayee had Mr. Advani on his flank to be mindful of, as revealed unmistakably at the Agra Summit a few years on. Since India was also rather hard pressed through the upturn in the proxy war in Kashmir in wake of the Kargil War, it could hardly be seen to be compromising in face of such pressure. 

Even so, it is to Vajpayee's credit that he allowed the backchannel to enable a start to the composite dialogue, by creating the conditions for this in an unwritten ceasefire along the LC and on its heels with the Islamabad declaration. However, in retrospect, it is questionable whether Vajpayee could have gone the distance, even if the BJP's India Shining campaign had worked out. Within Kashmir, the 'healing touch' campaign could not even get the AFSPA sway diluted, though some of the army was depicted as returning to barracks - which incidentally was a sleight of hand since only additional troops deployed for Operation Parakram reverted to barracks. 

This remained the case even as the indices of terrorism were brought to negligible as the composite dialogue progressed desultorily under Manmohan Singh. Manmohan Singh's incapability was stark in his inability to convert the quiet in Kashmir to India's advantage by acting purposefully on the feedback from his three roundtables, five working groups and his team of three interlocutors. For its part, the Congress was unable to convert the penalty corner into a goal owing to its political sense telling it that India was then veering away to the right, buoyant from a high growth rate, increasing great power aspirations, diaspora influence into its polity, imbibing of cultural nationalism and, therefore, was unlikely to countenance any let up on Kashmir. All it's tuning in to the national mood could not keep the Congress from being swept into history - as history will record soon enough. 

Mr. Modi's strategy is what Lord Desai was ruing. An opportunity to foreclose a deal with Kashmiris internally has been lost. The PDP chief minister in alliance with the BJP, Mehbooba Mufti, is right that Modi holds the cards. She is only naïve in thinking he would play it in the way she hopes. The unnecessary standoff with China on the Doklam plateau suggests the lengths the two - Modi and Doval - have invested in a militarized template for India's security policy. In this, resort to politics is a sign of weakness. The Hindutva cultural paradigm entails revitalization of Hindu masculinity. Muscles, brawn and testosterone now matter, since India's eclipse a thousand years ago is attributed to their absence. A national security policy on steroids cannot but singe its Kashmir policy. 

This exposé of the absence of a political prong to India's Kashmir policy, leaves one just enough column space to touch upon one of the general's pet projects, which happenstance he does get to Rajbhawan he will surely thrust onto a hapless state administration. In his own words, this is: 

…if the chief minister has to walk this talk it will need the support of one organisation which can make all the difference, the Army; it has the deployment, reach, contact with people and the robust ability to secure a grand engagement plan. It cannot be a creeping plan. It just has to be bold with transformational approach. All the talk about not talking will vanish once the government, the politician and security forces are speaking with the people and not the leadership ( article/india/handling-jk-what-is-right-and-what-more-needs-to-5333.html). 

Perhaps an elaboration is merited: absent politics, there is only the military left. But the matter is best left to the reader.