Gambling for high stakes

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Gambling for high stakes

Tuesday, 13 August 2019 | Deepak Sinha

Gambling for high stakes

Only time will tell whether the decision to abrogate Article 370 will turn out to be a grave miscalculation or hugely successful. One can only hope that good sense prevails

In my last opinion piece in The Pioneer on August 3, I had concluded my piece with a plea for the real Narendra Modi to please stand up. Well, the Prime Minister answered my question quite definitively the very next day. Whatever may be his faults — undoubtedly there are many — self-confidence and the willingness to take risks are certainly not among them.

Undoubtedly, the high-stakes gamble in Jammu & Kashmir is one such. Whether the Prime Minister’s actions will turn out to be a grave miscalculation or a hugely successful one only time will tell. But whatever the future may hold, nobody can fault him for lacking in courage for his “bold” attempt to cut the “Gordian Knot” ie, the Kashmir dispute, which has strangled peace and progress in the sub-continent for over seven decades now ever since independence.

While the unholy pact between the National Conference (NC) and the Congress to suborn the 1987 local elections in the State resulted in insurgency, that continues to haunt us to this day, it was the British meddling — the true unfinished agenda of Partition — that has finally been laid to rest. The only dispute that now remains and requires early resolution — either bilaterally or through third party mediation — is for the return of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to us.

Though in the interest of peace and goodwill in the region, we should be willing to forego our claims in exchange for recognition of the Line of Control (LoC) as the international boundary. Then, open borders in the not too distant future, something that many on both sides crave, could be a distinct possibility.

Every counter-insurgency practitioner knows well and understands that no insurgency can ever be successfully defeated through just military means. Insurgencies are political in nature and, thus, can only be resolved through political initiatives. Yet, over the past three decades that this insurgency has ebbed and flowed in Jammu & Kashmir, never has any Government expended the necessary political capital required to resolve the issue satisfactorily.

Thus, we have seen repeated cycles of violence that have adversely impacted developmental activities in the State. Moreover, given the law of diminishing returns, controlling violence and returning the State to relative calmness after each successive cycle of violence has got much more difficult and complex. Thus, undoubtedly, this initiative of the Prime Minister will be wholeheartedly welcomed by the security forces, especially the Army, as the goal of winning hearts and minds has a more substantive focus.

Whether the manner in which Article 370 has been employed to supersede the Presidential Order of 1954 with a new order of August 2019 — which allows for the supersession of Article 35A as well as the application of the entire Indian Constitution in the State — is unconstitutional or not is for the courts to decide. But clearly, as a temporary provision that it was stated to be, it had long outlived its utility. By no stretch of imagination did it protect the Kashmiri identity or culture, Kashmiriyat, as many suggest.

It had instead become a potent weapon in the hands of vested interests, which allowed them to exploit the State for personal ends. The truth that Kashmiriyat died the very day the Hindu minority in the Valley was targetted and forced to flee, most of who continue to languish in refugee camps, cannot be wished away.

In this context, therefore, those, who allege that this initiative of the Government was against our “secular” framework and aimed at further marginalising the Muslim minority, are being parochial in their outlook apart from being extremely hypocritical, given that they have done little or even shown any concern or compassion for those rendered homeless within their own country.

Pakistan’s reaction to all of this has been along expected lines. For its Army to respond in any other manner, given that its primacy within the country is directly linked to the situation in Jammu & Kashmir, is simply not viable. If this dispute were to be somehow resolved, the importance of the Pakistan Army would be greatly diminished, which would hurt not only the ego of many Generals but also their extensive business interests.

Yet, their room for manoeuvre is severely constrained, especially given Pakistan’s economic situation. Nevertheless, the threats of war emanating from there need to be taken seriously and bankruptcy has never stopped warmongers.

Obviously, given the meticulous manner in which this political initiative has been planned, one can be certain that the Government is well prepared to deal with any foolishness the Pakistan Army may decide to indulge in.

In a just-concluded conference organised by the Observer Research foundation (ORF) on ‘Tackling Insurgent Ideologies 2.0’, a speaker made a pertinent point that while a compromise on financial issues is a relatively easy possibility, given that both sides can negotiate to reach a middle ground, it is not so easy to do so when negotiations involve the politics of identity, which tend to be seen as a zero-sum game.

A seemingly intractable problem that has been around for seven decades is not going to just disappear and it will require much patience and understanding before the general population comes around and accepts the new reality. In the interim, the possibility of sporadic street violence cannot be ruled out.

But what probably scares Pakistan and even more local mainstream political and separatist leaders the most is the possibility that the general population in the Valley may not respond with violence to the new scheme of things. This could well be because they have, over a period o time, realised that the price

paid by successive generations for such opposition has been extremely high; while its fruits have only been enjoyed by those who have instigated the mobs.

Moreover, given the thorough preparations made by the Government, the large quantum of force deployed will also be a very big deterrent as well.

Finally, the optimistic view could be that the average Kashmiri is quite tired of the way things have gone in these last few decades and would be willing to give this game-changing initiative a try.

Whatever be the reason, if that were to happen, the credibility of the Pakistani Generals and local politicians alike would be badly hurt, which in turn would certainly decimate the business of insurgency in quick time.

One can only hope and pray that good sense will prevail and the course of events turns out just this way. That would not only be a victory for the country but also for the long suffering people of Jammu & Kashmir, who have been held hostage by circumstances for far too long and have been forced to pay a very high price in blood. We all deserve better.

(The writer, a military veteran, a consultant with the Observer Research Foundation and a Senior Visiting Fellow with The Peninsula Foundation, Chennai)

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