The options conundrum for Kashmiris
For now it is evident that Kashmiris are into a unique form of non-cooperation, opening up enough to survive, but not so much as to underwrite any claim by the government of a return to normalcy. This may be as much to do with their leadership of all hues being incarcerated as with Pakistani proxy war minders recovering from their post 5 August shell shock.
What is certain is that history is not an end, as the dynamic trio that heads the Indian state – Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Ajit Doval - might like Indians to believe. With the strains beginning to show on their primary instrument – the central reserve police that lost a senior officer in an avalanche as he cut corners to make it back to Kashmir from a short breather outside it – it is clear that even the Chanakyan duo – Shah and Doval – cannot believe this.
What the state expects and is shaping is a substitution in the leadership of Kashmiris by well meaning and opportunist quislings of sorts, encouragement for forgetting the recent past through incentives in drips and drops like rekindled broadband etc, distraction in hectic activity like preparing the house verification as part of run up to the update of population register and census, and holding out hope for political reinstatement through sweetners as a residency requirement of 15 years for purchase of land etc. Alongside, it keeps its dragnet in place, with its security forces occupying, as a recent report on protests suggests, college premises.
It is only a matter of time that the fratricides and fraggings make an appearance, as is the spate with repressive deployments in central India when beset with election duty additionally. The calls on armed policing from elsewhere such as restive Assam have resulted in some troop deinduction from Kashmir. Evidently, the string is taut. The resulting tension may well be awaiting the proverbial spark. History suggests winter is no time for respite, given that the events of December and January at the turn of the nineties shook Kashmir as no other period has done till then or since. The clampdown then, that has since lent resonance to place names as Habba Kadal, Gau Kadal, Maisooma, Rainawari etc, only added to the energy that it was meant to dissipate. This time too it could be no different.
Then, the army had a few columns out on assistance to civil authority. They are rumoured to have seen action, with mention of light machine gun usage at the time, though history for most part records the hapless central reserve police at the forefront. This means that the army may well be sucked in willy nilly into any impending explosion. Quite like its counter parts in Assam, called in from their deployment close at hand on a counter insurgency grid for aid to civil authority against the anti-citizenship bill agitations there, Its current utility in an anti terror role and on stand-by stands to be rudely interrupted.
Though the army commander was shown supervising a security meeting at the onset of the lock down, in order no doubt so that the civilians could get a buffer should things go wrong, it is not self-evident that the army is enamoured with its lead role. One news report let on that the army uncomfortable with being mistaken for the paramilitary wanted to change its camouflage pattern to a distinctive one. The resemblance has led to it being accused of violence even if perpetrated by the paramilitary, such as in the notorious case of broadcast of cries from torture so as to cow the citizenry. It is not known what the army inquiry promised when the accusation surfaced revealed.
Even so, given that that the army chief has on at least two occasions said that the security forces in Kashmir are hand in glove, the army cannot but gets its uniform dirty even if egregious violence is perpetrated by the paramilitary. The advisor home having been kicked upstairs to a sinecure in the ministry in Delhi, the burden is more starkly on its shoulders. Its links to the bureaucrat in saddle are no doubt challenged by protocol issues as much as lack of any known familiarity on his part with counter insurgency.
The army is no doubt aware of the challenges. An illustration is its losing some 20 soldiers to avalanches this year that indicate the pressures to keep people on posts and even untenable posts on snowed-in ridgelines for as long as possible. Apparently, avalanches have accounted for 74 deaths over the past three years, indicating the operational alertness. The soon-to-retire army chief, who may well be kicked-upstairs as chief of defence staff, warns of increased border action team assaults along the Line of Control that will add to the stretch. The relative quiet in the Valley, a respite from militancy, stone throwing and terrorist activity, may unravel at a higher tempo on breakdown.
Much depends on what the Kashmiris opt for. They appear to have four options. One is to be quiescent, throw in the towel and get along with the humiliation inflicted by the dynamic trio. Since even the state does not appear to be so deluded, this option can safely be discarded at the outset. The second is to maintain the status on non-cooperation and embarrass the Indian state. Their effort so far has drawn blood with India being uncharacteristically cast into the doghouse of international public opinion. However, this option is predicated on the assumption that the dynamic trio has ordinary sensibilities. Yashwant Sinha, formerly in the right wing corner, informs of being aghast to discover that the national security establishment is enamoured of a ‘doctrine of state’, presumably based on a misreading of Kautilya that only the ‘dand’ works. Simply put, this is arrogance of power. Believing in the trite saying that ‘pride comes before a fall’ is to wait indefinitely. This regime’s policies are predicated on an anti-Muslim foundation, rather than national interest mundanely defined and it is not going anywhere any time soon.
The third option is to resume the status quo ante of a mix of militancy, insurgency and terrorism. This is an old script that can only yield result if there is a political prong to Indian strategy at play. In the insurgency play book, military activity is to force a political settlement without compromising one’s position. Since India has chosen to cut off its nose to spite its face, there is no political prong of strategy in sight. So a status quo ante can at best witness another four years of self-inflicted hardship, since any change of gear can only await the democratic departure of this government. There is no guarantee of this since it can yet pull a Balakot on the electorate.
The fourth is to rely on Pakistan to up its act. This flies in face of history. Pakistan did not bestir to rescue East Pakistan in late 1971, even though Indian forces had ventured into East Pakistan early November onwards. While India once dated the war to Pakistan’s belated aerial attack on its airfields in early December, it is no longer reticent in owning up to creating the conditions for the Pakistani (counter) attack. Its veterans have a plethora of stories of their incursions starting with Indira Gandhi’s intervention legitimizing trip to foreign capitals in early November. Given this history of lassitude on a national interest of following through with its promise of defending East Pakistan by acting in the west, Pakistan is hardly likely to jeopardise its national interest of survival and its army its institutional interest beyond a rhetorical responses, led by the (s)elected prime minister. This option is a chimera, with Pakistan – that has not outwitted the financial action task force just yet nor managed to deliver on its promises to America on the Taliban – unlikely to be able to make good any time soon.
Kashmiris therefore face a conundrum. It is not something that would have escaped its incarcerated leadership. Reports of political bonhomie and cross-party discussions when confined together abound. Their next steps are perhaps solidified and await the nod of leaderships once their confinement ends. What might the contours?
Kashmir could perhaps pitch for the unfinished agenda of bifurcation - another bifurcation. Even if initially this may lead to foregoing the buffer to Jammu, the earlier trifurcation agenda could be explored. Kashmiris can be their own masters. The price is to dispense with their control over others that has arguably partially caused their present predicament. If this is not possible, then the regional autonomy features that were covered in the several reports, such as of the three interlocutors, the working groups and the mainstream parties, could be put in place to keep the two regions currently yoked together from each other’s throats – with a Delhi appointee playing umpire. This can in a way keep alive the Kashmiri quest for a distinctive self-hood, which is of a piece with India’s constitutional scheme. If and when this regime joins the debris of history, Kashmiris could reprise their course.
Needless to say this political course has no room for violence. As the security survey preceding the discussion of options suggests, the situation is keyed up to blow with a bigger bang. This is just the diversion the regime would welcome at a time it is being challenged for its misplaced ideological initiative, on citizenship, across India. The security establishment and its instruments would also not be averse since Kashmir has been beneficial institutionally and personally for ticket punching. Pakistan would be loathe to put its money where its mouth is. Therefore, with no one else being hurt, it would be irrational for Kashmiris to revert to militancy, but would be better advised to channel the youthful energy to back its political course, taking a leaf from the situation developing in rest of India.