Battle for India's soul

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Battle for India's soul

Sunday, 14 August 2016 | Dr Ashutosh Misra

Battle for India's soul

For Pakistan, it is the ‘problem of Kashmir’, an unfinished agenda of Partition. India views it as a ‘problem in Kashmir’; considers the State an integral part of the country and cites cross-border terrorism as the main problem. And until the two definitions converge, a lasting solution is unlikely
 

Firdaus’s paradise — which was once the summer escape of Mughal emperors and British masters for centuries, and attracted honeymooners and Bollywood producers in the modern era to its enchanting embrace — not only has a history written in blood, but also a tumultuous future cast in stone. Kashmir, often referred to as paradise on earth, seethes with pain, inflicted by its self-proclaimed custodians and saviours. What an irony!

Kashmir has come to symbolise the Indo-Pak enduring rivalry since 1947. An independent princely State at India’s Independence, Kashmir acceded to the Indian Union on October 26, 1947, when the Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh signed the letter of Accession to secure India’s military intervention against the Pakistan-backed marauders. The invasion was repulsed, but not completely, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru approached the UN to restore the status quo. The UN intervened, passed several resolutions, but only to lay the seeds of an enduring and bitter conflict.

As prospects of lasting peace remain elusive, the body count has crossed the 44,000-mark since 1988, including civilians, security forces and terrorists. Blood spilled on the streets again in street protests when the security forces eliminated Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, one of the several terrorist groups backed by Pakistan.

New Delhi’s multipronged approach under different political dispensations — melding talks with Pakistan and the Kashmiri separatists, sustained operations against terrorist groups, fencing of the line of Control and increased financial assistance to boost development, governance and the State economy — has met with short-term successes only. The Narendra Modi Government too, while keeping the channel of communication open with Pakistan, has continued operations against terrorist groups in Kashmir, and justifiably so. For any political initiative to make headway under the PDP-BJP regime, gun-wielding elements need to be purged.

However, the current trajectory of Indo-Pak relations, Pakistan’s timeless civil-military discord, and public sentiments in the Kashmir Valley indicate that Kashmir’s woes are not ending anytime soon. The rise in tension along the loC and terrorist attacks in India are a stern reminder to Nawaz Sharif, since he came to power, that Rawalpindi has little appetite for peace overtures of the lahore Declaration variety.

Twenty-eight years since the lahore Declaration was reached between Sharif and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, bilateral ties have come a full circle, with PMl and NDA again in power. Sharif and Modi made a good start when the former reciprocated to the Indian PM’s invitation for his oath-taking ceremony, followed by Modi’s impromptu visit to Pakistan, but alarm bells went berserk in Rawalpindi.

The Pathankot airbase attack soon followed, with the military and ISI in-charge, and India stood accused of self-engineering the Pathankot attack. It was a sign of things to follow. As posters praising the Army surfaced overnight in lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi — put up by a newly found group, Move on Pakistan — Sharif had to surrender his decision-making autonomy apparently to prevent another military takeover.

SAARC Interior Ministers’ Conference was his opportunity to prove his allegiance to the Generals. As terrorist supremos Hafiz Saeed and Sayeed Salahudeen protested on the streets, inside, Sharif raised the Kashmir issue, referring to Burhan Wani as a martyr and India’s security response as ‘open terrorism. But with a blood-splattered record of dealing with ethnic and sectarian dissensions, perpetuating hundreds of missing persons, murder of Baloch leaders and nationalists, and a structured pogrom of the minorities, including Ahmadiyyas and Shi’ites, Pakistan’s Kashmir call is devoid of any moral potency.

It is worth recalling that when Mirwaiz Umar Farooq led the Kashmiri delegation to Pakistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) in 2005, he had also lambasted their leadership for only causing bloodshed and hardship in Kashmir and making no constructive contribution for the betterment of Kashmiri lives. At the SAARC meeting, a resolute Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh also did not mince words and made a hard-hitting riposte against cross-border terrorism and eulogisation of Burhan Wani. This implies that as Sharif has surrendered the India policy to GHQ, India would stick to its no-talks with terror policy, and this equation isn’t altering in a jiffy.

Critics argue why does India allow Pakistan to interfere in its internal affairsIJ Frankly, no Government in New Delhi can prevent that, but Pakistan’s altered Kashmir policy should not worry India either. WhyIJ 

Pakistan’s Kashmir policy hinges on twin pillars: Cross-border terrorism and the UN resolutions. First, Pakistan has become a de facto international pariah, a safe haven for Jihadi groups, and Osama bin laden’s killing just a few hundred yards from the military college in Abbottabad has cemented that international reputation. It is a violator of UNGA Resolution 26265 that directs states to “refrain from organising or encouraging the organisation of irregular forces or armed bands, including mercenaries, for incursion into the territory of another state”. With a growing global antipathy towards Islamic extremism, Pakistan would only undercut its position on Kashmir by stoking terrorism in India.

Second, the champions of plebiscite and azadi in Pakistan and India perhaps are unaware that the case for UN resolutions lacks teeth. The UN Security Council resolution passed on August 13, 1948, had three parts. Part I called for a “ceasefire” (effected since January 1, 1949); Part II made it incumbent upon the Pakistani forces, both “regular” and “irregular”, to withdraw from the occupied territories, and urged India to reduce its troops strength in the area; and Part III, talked about determining the future status of J&K in accordance with the “‘will of the people”.

The UN Commission on India and Pakistan also gave assurances to India that the plebiscite proposal shall not be binding if Part I and II of the August 13 resolution were not implemented.

Troops withdrawal from the “occupied territories” by Pakistan has not occurred till date, as it continues to occupy the territory described as Azad (independent) Kashmir, which India calls POK.

So can the resolutions be imposedIJ No. First, there is a clear distinction between the resolutions passed under Chapter VI and Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The resolutions on Kashmir were passed under Chapter VI, which means that they are non-binding resolutions and more of a recommendation. It can only be implemented through mutual cooperation of the parties. The resolutions passed under Chapter VII are binding, and the UNSC can take all necessary measures, including force, for its implementation.

Understandably, UN Secretary Generals, Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon, dismissed equating UN resolutions on Kashmir with other Chapter VII resolution (Iraq, Israel and Indonesia-on East Timor etc), as “comparing apples and oranges”, and advised that the UNSG and UN members can only facilitate bilateral effort, and not use force.

Second, some Pakistani commentators argue that the first clause of the 1972 Simla Agreement reads: “The principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations shall govern the relations between the two countries.” There is no contradiction here. The reference to the UN Charter in the Simla Agreement has been made in the context of the mandate of Chapter VI resolution, whose implementation rests on “bilateral” and “peaceful” means.

And, third, planned territorial and demographic alterations overtime have rendered the UN resolutions redundant. In 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,130 sq km to China, and when General Pervez Musharraf emphasised that the arrangement was subject to the final disposal of the Kashmir dispute, Beijing issued a quick rebuttal snubbing him.

Pakistan has also altered the demography of POK by pushing in non-Kashmiris through ethnic cleansing. In 1988, under General Zia-ul Haq, Musharraf, then a Brigadier, had quelled a Shi’ite revolt using Wahabi Pakhtoon mercenaries led by Osama bin laden. Ironically, having butchered hundreds of Shi’ites, Islamabad and Rawalpindi are shedding tears over violence in Srinagar. No wonder, POK residents — impressed with India’s efficiency during the 2015 earthquake and 2014 floods, governance record, and democratic successes — aspire to join the Indian Union. Since 1987, Pakistan-backed terrorist groups, including JKlF, have forced over 350,000 ethnic Kashmiri Pandits to flee the Kashmir Valley, who now languish in transit camps in Jammu and elsewhere in India.

So, what’s nextIJ From a conflict resolution perspective, Kashmir solution is hindered by divergent definitions. What sounds rather academic has a practical relevance as it demonstrates how stakeholders view the problem. For Pakistan, it is the ‘problem of Kashmir’, an ‘unfinished agenda’ of Partition, and UN resolutions should be implemented to settle it. India views it as a ‘problem in Kashmir’, claiming the State is an integral part of the country, and cites cross-border terrorism as the main problem. Until the two definitions converge, a solution is unlikely.

Under Musharraf, a compromise formula was circulated in the media for a soft border solution, but failed to get any traction in Pakistan itself, let alone being formally considered by India.

Policy-wise, India needs to isolate and put pressure on Pakistan, internally and regionally. Internationally, Pakistan remains isolated (barring China) on Kashmir anyway, and its terrorism-based regional policy has battered its ties with India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Iran. This makes a compelling case for creating a Regional Counter-Terrorism Alliance that organises periodic meetings between security and intelligence officials; facilitates information sharing and intelligence gathering; prepares memos, white papers and submissions for international conventions and summits; prioritises intraregional extradition; and above all, keeps Pakistan terrorism policies under constant spotlight through individual and collective initiatives.   

The current crisis must be seen as an opportunity for New Delhi to augment its goodwill in Kashmir. While separatists like Syed Ali Shah Geelani appear larger than life during crises, they lack any positive influence among the Kashmiris, who have voted in State and local elections in large numbers, defying terrorist threats and boycott calls from separatist leaders.

During the Kargil War too, there was no local support for Pakistan. london-based independent market research company MORI International’s survey had also showed virtually no support among the people for J&K being divided on religious or ethnic lines. The survey found widespread support for economic development (93 per cent), free and fair elections (86 per cent), direct consultation between New Delhi and the people of Kashmir (87 per cent), end to militancy (86 per cent) and stopping infiltration across the loC (88 per cent) as the key to stabilising Kashmir. Overall 61 per cent Kashmiris considered themselves better off politically and economically as citizens of India, and only 6 per cent with Pakistan.

This necessitates a sincere dialogue between New Delhi and the people of Kashmir on equal terms. But any dialogue should begin by exploring ways to restore the long lost Kashmiriyat, of which safe and respectable return of the Kashmiri Pandits is an integral component. For the dialogue, it is also extremely vital that the Kashmiri people also undertake self-introspection and a realistic assessment of the future options. Pakistan has neither the military muscle nor the moral strength to wrest Kashmir by force. The UN resolutions are in all practicalities redundant.

Kashmiris surely realise that while the separatists’ children are tucked far away from the struggle, their own kids are being incited to make the sacrifices. In this scenario, while New Delhi can endure the conflict fatigue for another 70 years, earnest and purposeful initiatives from the Kashmiris would soften New Delhi into exploring various options for a solution.

A beginning can be made by resorting calm on the streets by preventing children and women from being exploited to incite violence. Notwithstanding the merits of improved training of the security forces, I see no fine example of crowd control from the world over — against a mob throwing bricks and projectiles, lynching security forces, setting public property and police vehicles ablaze and plunging them in the river — without inflicting injuries and casualties. The operational compulsions and life-and-death situations faced by the security forces shouldn’t be belittled by the armchair azadi crusaders. From military aggression, civil disturbances, to natural calamities, they are the ones who defend our integrity and well-being, time and again. 

With the PDP-BJP alliance in place, New Delhi should continue to push its four-pronged policy — countering terrorism to ensure a peaceful political climate; accelerating economic development and good governance; initiating an open dialogue with the people of J&K; and upholding democratic values to restore public participation and faith in the State Government.

Back in 2003, Vajpayee had proposed the need for “an action plan on good governance”. His plan comprised: A comprehensive legal framework that is defended and enforced by an impartial and competent judicial system; a framework that would be accountable and open; a transparent executive decision-making apparatus; a system coupled with a capable, efficient and people-friendly bureaucracy; and a strong civil society. This should be prioritised by the alliance to win hearts and minds and heal the wounds. Rest will follow from there.

To conclude, some academic experts construe that Kashmir is a symbol of India’s secularism. I see it more fundamentally as a territory, defining the core of India’s territorial integrity. It needs to be defended till the last bullet and soldier.

As witnessed during the Kargil War, now too the political parties, including the BJP and Congress, stand united, knowing well that if the fire in Kashmir rages out of control, it will subsume all, irrespective of their ideological and political leanings. Encouragingly, the passage of the GST Bill has demonstrated that bipartisanism is possible even in a deeply polarised polity. Can Kashmir galvanise India’s battered soulIJ Absolutely. The nation comes first. Always.

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