Kashmir: Towards peace with dignity
The November end update of statistics from the bean count in Kashmir was intended, as usual, to embellish Operation All Out, ongoing in Kashmir in its second iteration beginning mid-year. The detail has it that some 233 militants have been killed this year, overtaking with a month to go the count of last year.
Since criticism has long had it that martyrdom creates its own attraction for social media savvy youth, the statistics take care to preempt it informing that this November for the first time there were no fresh recruits to militant ranks, contrasting this with the figure for October that had been pegged at 30.
The other positives we are given to understand are that stone throwing episodes are down; interference by bystanders in military operations has declined; and mass attendance at funerals of ‘martyr’s’ has dwindled. Some half of those figuring on the list of 14 ‘most wanted’ have been dispatched, including a few hardcore Pakistanis terrorists in high profile operations.
This is attributed to the synergy between the intelligence grid and operations, with terrorist high handedness – such as kidnaps and killings of policemen, their relatives and alleged informers - reportedly increasing skepticism and intelligence inflow from people.
In short, the November update caps Operation All Out at the end of the traditional campaigning season in Kashmir. The year end is on an upbeat note in Kashmir. There are 300 odd militants still out there to keep the counter ticking through winter, with intelligence led operations through winter setting the stage for the wrap up of the militancy in summer.
The security establishment then can report ‘all clear’ to the lead national security minder, the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, who put them to Operation All Out a couple of years back. He can in turn apprise his boss, Prime Minister Modi, as he takes to electioneering hoping to gain a second term tenancy of 7 Lok Kalyan Marg and its garden-track inspired by the five panchtatvas (elements of nature).
Experts have it that Operation All Out now has its aim violence free elections to both the assembly and the parliament in summer. Since people vote in the state government to keep the administration going even as the militancy continues, the elections turnout is unlikely to need any exceptional vigilance. Elections are an excuse to keep the operations going.
Since the summer will be around by then, the campaigning season will kick in. The bean count reflecting success in Operation All Out indicates that the militancy would need a Pakistani injection soon enough.
Pakistan, that has self-servingly held off, this year, may be tempted by the reopening of passes come summer for taking to its old tricks. This year it had been put on notice by Trump over its support to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
On delivering the Taliban for talks with the US it may be off the hook, allowing it to get back to business in Kashmir. With India ignoring Imran Khan’s outstretched hand, reportedly with his army’s backing, Pakistan will have an excuse.
The new governments in Delhi and Srinagar, even if either is reelected, would take time settling in. Worsened security indices, reflected in the statistics, will stay their hand at changing tack. If Modi is reelected, in part on account of his showing in keeping with his 56-inch chest, he may have Doval continue.
For his part, Doval has taken care to kick off electioneering in his Sardar Patel lecture calling on the electorate to keep his boss in saddle for another ten years. So, Doval, having assured himself continuity in office, persistence in the hardline can be expected.
Doval acolyte, General Bipin Rawat, would be happy to oblige in order to earn his tag as counter insurgency specialist, that got him his elevation to his appointment over heads of two of his seniors. He has till next year end, when he retires, for firming in his legacy.
Ideally, such a legacy would be if he is able to bring about an end state in keeping with the army’s counter insurgency doctrine. The doctrine has long had it that kinetic operations can at best create the conditions for political initiative.
This has usually been misinterpreted with elections turning in a provincial government. It is no wonder then operations continue, as does the facilitating cover of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, even as state administrations extend it indefinitely. What needs doing instead are peace talks initiation, as in Nagaland.
The general’s challenge is in bringing this about. He gave voice to his quandary, lamenting recently, “If separatists don’t want to approach the interlocutor, then I don’t know what further can be hoped.”
He was referring to the low-profile representative of the Union government, Dineshwar Sharma. Dineshwar Sharma missed the boat during the mid-year month long ceasefire. Flat-footed Sharma had not taken cue from the Chief’s words during the Ramzan period of suspension of offensive operations, “Talks must happen. The issue is that a lot of locals are joining militancy. We kill them and more would join. Infiltration can be controlled, but this cycle of recruitment of local youth can go on and on. So…let’s give peace a chance and see.”
Sharma continues to be missing in action, outflanked most recently by the initiative last month of the controversial godman Ravi Shankar, who organised the visit of a former Norwegian prime minister, who now heads a typically Scandinavian peace think tank, to the Valley for meetings with Hurriyet stalwarts.
Sharma is probably waiting for Ajit Doval’s cue. Therefore, besides his official pitch in the relevant forum, Bipin Rawat needs working his direct line to Doval arguing for a turn to doctrinal compliance, with initiation of peace talks on the backs of a successful operational showing. Rawat would only be urging the government to toe the doctrinal line.
He could sugar coat his pitch arguing that it would look equally good at election time in case Modi follows through on his promise from the ramparts of Red Fort this year that he would resolve the Kashmir issue by embracing people. With the state elections results hardly enthusing for the ruling party, it appears Modi would need all the innovative ideas he can get. He can claim to be taking advantage of the success of his hardline.
The appropriate juncture is at hand. The winter’s operational respite, that is in terms of operational intensity akin to a period of non-initiation of offensive operations since only intelligence led operations are usually launched, can be taken advantage of. Pakistan can be put on notice that its bona-fides in its peace overtures are under test in the peace initiative succeeding, even as it continues for now under US pressure.
Operation All Out, an operational success, can prove a strategic failure if India yet again foregoes a peace opportunity brokered by its security forces. It must reach out to the remaining Kashmiri militant leadership rather than strike them off one by one from that list.
A two-track peace initiative can be visualized, one to the Hurriyet and one to Kashmiri militants. Sharma can set the conditions for a dialogue, with operations continuing against Pakistani terrorists and any Kashmiri camp-followers. The timeframe should be to have a process in place by end winter, so that a full-throated summer campaign resumption is precluded.
A third track involving Pakistan can kick in as the internal political track begins to show promise and the outreach to Kashmiri militants matures into a ceasefire of sorts.
With 86 member of security forces dead this year – the highest figure for the decade – both militants and their supporters in the Pakistani establishment can claim to have forced the talks on India through military action, thereby justifying to themselves a turn to the table.
The national and regional parties in their manifestos need to be incentivized to come out with how they respectively conceive of talks going forward. A competition in peace mongering can develop, ensuring the longevity of talks and momentum.
The party or coalition that comes to power in the Center, in consultation with the regional parties or coalition in power in Srinagar, can appoint a political level interlocutor of national eminence to take the process forward.
Radha Kumar’s recent book, Paradise at War, mentioned that an idea for a high-level political initiative was dashed early in the Manmohan Singh years when she had been a conduit with Singh’s predecessor Vajpayee carrying Singh’s offer for Vajpayee to be the lead negotiator. That history could have been different had he been allowed by his party to take up the offer reveals the potential in a purposeful peace process.
One name suggests itself for now, Gopal Gandhi, as patron, with the former adviser to chief minister Amitabh Mattoo for the heavy-lifting. This does not upset the current governor’s rule, that restricts itself to the administrative detail, as would any post-elections state government.
Needless to add that all this would be wishful without contending with the naysayers, who will be potential spoilers. They are crawling all over in the strategic community, foreign policy establishment, veteran’s community, Hindutva brigades, media lobbies and national security corridors. The national security institutions are also actors with a stake in the troubles, on both sides of the border. A peace strategy will have to view how to neutralize them.
The Kashmiri Pandits must be central. Their return in security and dignity must be the ultimate benchmark. An lobby worth tackling initially will be the hardliners in them, some of whom - in perhaps justifiable vengeance - prefer the troubles.
A beginning is to engage in a theoretical debate on ripeness without a hurting stalemate and practical possibilities, such as opened here. Fleshing out alternative pathways such as this is necessary to energise thinking peace. Strategic thinking needs leavening by peace studies insights to get India and Kashmir out of a cul-de-sac. Peace with dignity is an attainable pathway.