Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Kashmir is in a state of churn. Will 2020 mark a new dawn?

That India and Pakistan escaped coming to blows twice over during the year tells us much of the trend into the coming year. In the first instance, in the Balakot-Rajauri they did exchange aerial punches. In the second, to its credit, Pakistan refrained from hasty action in response to India’s early August constitutional initiatives on Kashmir.
That Kashmir continues in a partial state of lock down into its fourth month indicates it is not out of the woods as yet. Extension of detention of Farooq Abdullah by another three months betrays the government’s thinking that it needs working through winter to avoid the seeming stability unwinding in case of any premature letting up on its part.
Since by then spring would be at hand and the year’s cyclical campaign set to begin that would also unlikely be the time the government would seek to ease up. It has elections to prepare for through summer, the dates of which are not out yet since their proximity will likely get the Kashmiri gander up.
This would be cue for Pakistan to get its act together. It appeared outpointed by India’s deft footwork over the Kashmir initiative. It was not able to upset India’s apple cart not only because of careful Indian security preparedness but also since its economy was on the rocks and it was not able to secure its western flank timely through brokering a deal between the Americans and the Taliban for a dignified American withdrawal.
It almost seemed as if the Pakistani army was doing a repeat of its 1971 act. Then, it had promised to save East Pakistan by attacking in the west. In the event, Yahya Khan developed cold feet. This time round when its ‘jugular’ – Kashmir - was yanked out of reach, it left the rhetoric to civilians, in particular its selected prime minister, Imran Khan, while presumably holding its powder dry for a better day.
That day appears nigh. Pakistan’s economy was elevated in Moody’s ratings on from a negative status to a stable one, even as India’s went in the reverse direction. It received its thirteenth financial bailout from the International Monetary Fund. Geopolitically, the Americans are back to resume talking to the Taliban, even as Trump hits election year stride to deliver on his promise of draw down from America’s longest-ever war.
For its part, absent civilian deaths in Kashmir as ready evidence of repression, India got away relatively unscathed internationally. International opprobrium has expectedly been muted. Though India has been prickly towards their criticism, it has not been able to readily brush off the observations of the international media and watch dog human rights bodies.
However, India’s continuing down a right wing ideology-driven path, most recently by enacting the dubious Citizenship Amendment Act, it is losing its political capital. This is to be followed by a nation-wide citizen’s register, which can only lead to further dwindling of its secular-democratic image, opening up Kashmir, that it considers an ‘internal matter’, to nettlesome external interest. 
Its security measures in Kashmir while yielding short term dividend of buying India time have diminishing marginal utility. A central police force analysis reportedly has it that the tight grip down to mohalla level in Kashmir is unsustainable, particularly as it continues to be ad-hoc, with troopers roughing it out through the harsh winter. The paramilitary is already being pulled out for firefighting elsewhere, for now in the north east.
Its army has suffered 20 casualties from snow related accidents, purporting to extant alert levels whereby it is unable to withdraw troops from inner anti-infiltration tiers timely off ridgelines in depth areas where it does not maintain posts as along the Line of Control (LC). Along the LC itself, even if it is drawing more blood than the Pakistani military and mujahids, it has little to show as different from the time two decades back when similar ordnance exchanges and stand-off action as sniper fire were routine.
Thus, while Pakistan appears poised for a proactive turn, India appears jaded. Its newly appointed lieutenant governor – a bureaucrat - is busy with non-essential activity, such as house listing, at a time when major political and developmental initiatives should have been unleashed as part of a political strategy to defuse the pent up anger in Kashmir over its demotion.
The political decapitation of Kashmiris in the incarceration of every shade of their leadership from mainstream through separatist to local stone thrower ring leader has not resulted in lack of innovation on their part. There is utter stupefaction in the government on how to tackle the campaign of non-cooperation underway by common folk, resulting in a perception ambush in which it appears the lock down continues even in face of the administration’s denials.
Even if the government manages to get a new leadership supposedly under manufacture currently under a Bhartiya Janata Party government headed by a Jammuite Hindu in place, continued restiveness coupled with renewed Pakistani interference may yet set up the region for the proverbial perfect storm over the coming year.