Friday, 29 November 2019

Approaching Kashmir through Theoretical Lenses

By its early August actions that rendered Article 370 vacuous, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has thrown down the gauntlet in Kashmir to Pakistan. The adoption of this hard-line position by India flies in the face of the theory in both the contextual fields, security studies and peace studies. This article examines India’s newly adopted position on Kashmir in light of the two theoretical lenses to conclude that India’s action lacks a strategic rationale.
While the security studies framework informs of the dangers stemming from India’s action, the peace studies lens offers a lifeline to help India walk back. It is hardly likely that the government will turn any time soon to peacemaking, prescribed in both disciplines for conflict resolution. Disregard for the political prong of strategy implies that the antecedents of India’s Kashmir decision are located instead in the ideology of cultural nationalism. The corollary is that the problem in Kashmir—and with Pakistan—cannot be addressed without first politically and democratically addres­sing the problems arising due to majoritarianism.
Security Studies Lens
Over its post-Cold War evolution, security studies has gone on from a “statist, power-centric, masculinised, ethno-centric and militarized worldview of security” (Ken Booth qtd in Horrigan et al 2008: 1896) to a position that nation states cannot be secure if its citizens are insecure. It is apparent from the constitutional initiative in Kashmir that this shift in theory has not quite registered with India’s security managers.
More narrowly, the theory in security studies on countering insurgency has it that an insurgency needs containing and rolling back militarily even as one is working towards a political solution alongside, in light of the understanding that insurgency is a political problem (Anthony 2008: 903). This understanding informs India’s counter-insurgency doctrine, which sensibly acknowledges the limitations of military action while sotto voce calling for political solution:
Since conflict termination and their (conflict) political resolution are the ultimate end states sought, such conditions, besides enabling the initiatives by the economic and informational elements of national power to consolidate, also facilitate initiation of political dialogue for a negotiated settlement. (Army Training Command 2006: 20)
The second theory of relevance is deterrence, which in this case is directed at the proxy-war angle of insurgency in order to stay the hand of external sponsors and supporters. Deterrence theory is not only about punishment to affect the calculation of expected gains of the adversary, but also about incentivising restraint on its part with positive inducements to make the expected utility of limiting or ending proxy war acceptable to the aggressor (Huth 2008: 1259).
India has largely approached the 30 years long insurgency in Kashmir through the security framework. It has deployed a military predominant template—though with a political prong of strategy alongside—aimed mostly at conflict management rather than conflict resolution. Counter-insurgency operations have continued alongside India’s conduct of periodic elections for furthering mainstream politics and deploying a series of interlocutors for progressing political dialogue with separatists. Its policy towards Pakistan has oscillated between engaging it to aggressive pursuit of its international isolation diplomatically, and strategic proactivism on the Line of Control (LoC) and beyond. India’s doctrinal changes, military restructuring, acquisitions, military exercises and its demonstration of resolve in conducting the surgical strikes by land and air, indicate a heightening of deterrence assertion. This is necessary to keep Pakistan from escalating either through terror provocation or in the face of India’s reprisal strikes following such provocation.
Its political prong has been limited by the conflict management framework. While the reports of the working groups from the late 2000s were partially implemented, the report of the three interlocutors appointed in the face of the 2010 unrest in Kashmir was largely ignored, as have reports from civil society initiatives such as that of the Yashwant Sinha-led Concerned Citizens Group. Of the 2010 report, the then home minister lamented rather late in the day that he ought to have implemented it (Business Standard 2018). No wonder, one of the three authors of the report, Radha Kumar, has written, “Astonishingly, the Indian government has never failed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when it comes to Jammu and Kashmir” (Kumar 2018: 341). The secrecy surrounding the work of the last interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma gives rise to suspicion over the nature of his input into the questionable constitutional initiative in August.
Since its August manoeuvre, the clampdown in Kashmir, deterrence messaging to Pakistan, diplomatic offensive and military deterrence signalling through capability upgrades, such as acquisition of the Rafale aircraft, and restructuring of the apex military by moving towards a chief of defence staff system, are indi­cative of a hard-line set to be prevalent in the foreseeable future. The role of political initiatives in counter-insurgency repertoire stands attenuated.
Currently, civil society in Kashmir appears to have taken to the non-violent route of non-cooperation (Sundar and Ramakrishnan 2019). The fallout of egregious violence, such as the reported playing of cries from the torture of militants on public loudspeakers (Wire 2019), can only add to the alienation. It is apparent that Kashmir remains fertile for heightened insurgency in case Pakistan ups its proxy war. For now, Pakistan has been constrained by its economic troubles and privileging of the conflict termination efforts in Afghanistan.
Since Pakistan has always projected Kashmir as a key national interest, a resumed proxy war at a higher tempo is a plausible future. This means a return to the past but at a higher threshold of danger for the region. India’s defence minister’s recent reference to nuclear doctrine remaining unchanged (Singh 2019), a remark made apropos nothing in particular other than in the context of the crisis, renders the nuclear overlay over future crises unmistakable. The dangers are stark from a recent study that puts the figure of dead from a nuclear war at 125 million (Toon et al 2019).
Peace Theory Lens
The field of peace studies has the theoretical oeuvre that can be profitably applied in conflict situations such as in Kashmir. Conflict is taken as the contestation, often involving violence, arising over an incompatibility. Resolution is predicated less on absence of violence—“negative peace”—than on addressing root causes by delivering social justice, taken as “positive peace” (Stephenson 2008: 1537). This can be done by the stakeholders by non-violent means through peacemaking techniques that include negotiations. The peace studies framework—conflict prevention, peacekeeping, peacemaking, peacebuilding and reconciliation—is a useful alternative heuristic, since it emphasises peacemaking by addressing the interests and needs of stakeholders.
In Kashmir, the incidence of violence has been of an order that has overshadowed peace initiatives and their potential. As seen earlier, though there has been a peace prong to India’s Kashmir strategy, it has proven ineffectual. While elections have enabled mainstream political activity, its high point was in the mid 2000s in the meetings of separatists with the home minister and prime minister (Dulat 2015). Externally, there was considerable engagement with Pakistan forged by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and carried forward by its successor, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Neither the internal nor external efforts went the distance because the UPA government was ineffectual in the face of the domestic right-wing opposition and its refrain in the strategic community.
Buoyed by a majority in Parliament, the NDA government, early in its first term, attempted to gauge the potential for peace by its outreach to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Its subsequent actions do not lend confidence that its peace overtures were aimed at resolution as much as to perfunctorily tick the peace outreach box before moving on to legitimise power assertion as a twinned Kashmir–Pakistan strategy. The long-standing ideological plank against the special status of Kashmir led to a denial that Kashmiris have a historical claim to autonomy dating to promises made during its accession.
The peace studies framework offers an opening for a step back. Conflict prevention is an ongoing process even in the midst of conflict. For instance, if the current-day clampdown in Kashmir is seen as setting the stage for a renewed and heightened insurgency, then such conflict analysis can be taken as early warning for conflict prevention measures as called for in the civil society reports after visits to Kashmir (Drèze 2019). Some measures are release of detainees, investigation of juvenile detentions, withdrawal of restrictions, return of the communication network and restoration of state human rights supervisory commissions (Print 2019).
Cognisance of the peacekeeping peg of the framework helps to foreground the rule of law and that all security forces’ actions should be guided by professional conduct in good faith. That operations can be envisaged since peace enforcement—the use of force—is not absent in the peace framework. The reduced violence for now is the result of the overweening presence of the paramilitary with implications for surveillance, privacy and freedom of movement of women in parti­cular. Even if direct violence is absent—negative peace—indirect or structural violence precludes positive peace as the ill-trained and ill-led instruments of suppression remain on site with their propensity for direct violence corresponding to frustration levels from protracted deployment.
The major insight from the peacebuilding theory is that development is not appropriate as a top-down imposition nor can it be undertaken in the face of continuing instability. The enabling conditions need to be set first by peacemaking. Under the circumstance, peacemaking would imply getting the people to reconcile to their insecurities since the government’s move amounts to a shifting of the goalposts. A peacemaking agenda under the circumstances is at best a return to the earlier privileges under the defunct Article 35A and a return of statehood. These can be made possible by adding another clause to Article 371 as enjoyed by several other states.
However, the August action disembowelling the mainstream political groups has fused all shades of political opinion into a separatist front. Also, the right-wing government would be loath to consider concessions from its present-day position of strength. Having put in place a bureaucrat as lieutenant governor to further development, without creating the enabling conditions through a political outreach, the government’s intent is clear and the outcome easily predictable. The desirable end state of dignified return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley as the ultimate indicator of reconciliation is unthinkable.
In relation to Pakistan, the Kartarpur Sahib initiative unfolded in the most testing of times for interstate relations. At the event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi likened it to the fall of the Berlin Wall (Modi 2019). Though Pakistan has heightened its anti-India rhetoric as part of its diplomatic offensive post India’s Article 370 move, there is a silver lining. Pakistan’s India policy, the eponymous “Bajwa doctrine” (Abi-Habib 2018), attributed to its army chief now on a three-year extension, is predicated on reaching out to India. While it may be intended to cool tensions in order that the Pakistan economy is stabilised, it provides an opening that India could exploit if it chooses to change tack to peacemaking.
India’s record on peacemaking is patchy. Even as its August initiative unfolded, the impact on the fragile peace process in Nagaland was palpable since the Nagas were reportedly holding out for a separate Constitution and flag, both of which were wrested from the Kashmiris (Scroll 2019). However, peace initiatives have also had a chequered outcome (Roy 2012). It is not clear if India is at all persuaded by the tenets of conflict resolution theory.
In Conclusion
The survey here through the two theoretical lenses of the constitutional knifing of Kashmir in early August suggests that the initiative was not anchored in either field. The strategic studies lens reveals a heightened insurgency and proxy war ahead. On the other hand, the peace studies lens—in particular its peacemaking insights—informs of pathways back from the brink. A power-oriented government can hardly be expected to be sensitive to theory when the impulse for its action lies outside the precincts of strategic rationality and within the ruling party’s cultural nationalist ideology.
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