Is it becoming another Hundred Years War?
India and Pakistan are on the brink, once again. Ever since their first Kashmir war in 1947, they have seen so many wars, war-like situations, and cross-border fire exchanges that they have probably lost count.
As a child when I read about the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, I used to surmise: How could a war continue for so long? But is not our Kashmir war becoming one such war?
Even if good senses dawn on these nations to ward off the eventuality, their TV and media warriors would continue to prepare the people for the war as if it amounts to watching movies. In the region, Bangladeshis are the only people who really know what war really means.
The present India-Pakistan crisis had its origin on February 14 when the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed deployed Adil Ahmad Dar, a 20-year-old Kashmiri Fidayeen, to explode his RDX-laden SUV on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in Kashmir, killing as many as 40. A terror strike of this scale is rare.
A retaliation came on February 26 from the Indian Air Force which targeted a Jaish camp in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The idea was to send the message that India reserved its right of “hot pursuit” the way America did by attacking Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad.
One does not know what happened to the Jaish base. Although the BJP president Amit Shah claimed that 250 terrorists were killed and the Indian social media bragged that 300 to 600 were killed, the Modi government was circumspect. The maximum it revealed was that the Israeli S-2000 bombs had hit four buildings inside Madrasa Taleem-ul-Quran.
Pakistan said that the bombs fell on barren fields, a claim that seemed to have more takers in the international media. Let us accept all the versions for now as, in such situations, the biggest casualty invariably is truth.
On the following day, however, the situation became serious when Indian and Pakistani fighter jets got engaged in a dogfight in which one Indian wing commander ended up as a hostage. Mercifully, the crisis ended the day after as Pakistan released him as a “gesture of peace.”
Although it is difficult to know what exactly had led to the release, India’s TV warriors kept claiming that Pakistan had buckled under India’s pressure. These omniscient commentators kept talking about the “big picture.”
In this jingoistic melee only one sane voice was audible. It came from none other than the former army chief of India, General Shankar Roychowdhury. In the midst of the nail-biting wait for the release of the Indian captive, he pleaded not to lose sight of the “small picture” as well.
He sensitized his viewers about the trauma that the Indian hostage and his family must have been undergoing and also how miserable Prime Minister Imran Khan must have been feeling for not being appreciated -- after all, it was he who had staked his macho reputation by announcing the unconditional release of the Indian POW for the sake of India-Pakistan peace.
The Kashmir question has been analyzed so comprehensively over the decades that nothing new can be said in this short article. Professor Rasul Bakhsh Rais of the Lahore University of Management Studies calls it a “stable instability.” But since both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers this “instability,” however “stable,” is potentially perilous.
It is flawed logic to say that if America and the USSR could survive the long-drawn Cold War, why not India and Pakistan? But remember: America and Russia fought their wars through their proxies which served as safety valves. India and Pakistan have no such luxury.
Let us understand that neither India nor Pakistan will give up their claims to the respective portions of Kashmir they occupy. However, much of India may say that the entire J&K is an integral part of India. However, there is hardly any corresponding effort to back up that claim.
Rather, since the slogan is repeated ad nauseam, its seriousness gets compromised. On the contrary, it reminds one of what the American humorist Ambrose Bierce lyricized in another context: “Mark how my fame rings from zone to zone/ A thousand critics shouting: ‘He’s unknown!’”
As far as addressing the Kashmir problem in terms of its identity and autonomy demands, only Atal Behari Vajpayee (1999-2004) and Manmohan Singh (2004-14) are recognized to have made some serious efforts. Those efforts surpassed even those of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru though, during his time, the Kashmir Accord and the Kashmir Constitution happened.
Nehru is more remembered for managing the problem through his puppets as chief ministers of the state. The present phase of course is the worst because the BJP/RSS Hindutva politics, with its thrust on hyper-nationalism, is structurally incapable of appreciating any nuanced approach to the problem. Such notions as human rights, autonomy, or cultural diversity are simply anathema to the Hindutva ideology.
Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state in India and howsoever its Muslims may be culturally different from their counterparts in the rest of India, there is a limit to this diversity, particularly when the Hindutva militancy is in such pervasive form. Its mass-based militant refrains in northern India like ghar wapsi (call to Muslims to return to their original Hindu fold), love jihad (accusing Muslim men of enticing Hindu girls to marry them with the ostensible intention to get them converted into Islam), “cow protectionism,” anti-beef protestations, etc have led to the lynching of many Muslims.
Even when there is no violence, these orchestrated slogans maul the dignity and self-esteem of Muslims at large as citizens of India. It is bad sociology to argue that Kashmiri Muslims are different and that they are unconcerned about all these anti-Muslim invectives.
It is no surprise, therefore, that Kashmir is on the boil. In the last few years, about 100 people have been killed in the Valley, 12,000 have been injured, and more than 1,000 completely or partially blinded by pellet wounds.
The Srinagar parliamentary by-election of April 2017 had recorded as little as 7.14% polling which was soon followed by a spontaneous student uprising. The Anantnag by-election had to be postponed again and again because the law and order situation was not conducive to holding it. The government had to frequently cut off all 3G and 4G telecom services.
The most ridiculous thing happened when an army jeep tied up a Kashmiri boy on its bonnet to use him as a human shield to protect the soldiers from the young stone throwers. Calling it “cruelty and cowardice,” The New York Times editorialized: “Members of India’s armed forces reached a new low in the long history of alleged human rights abuses in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir when they beat and then tied a 24-year-old shawl weaver named Farooq Ahmad Dar to the front of a jeep on April 9, using him as a human shield against stone-throwing crowds. As the jeep drove through villages, Mr Dar said, ‘I saw people breaking into tears on seeing my state.’ Mr Dar, who says he never supported the separatists, complained: ‘I voted [in the Sri Nagar by-election], and this is what I got in return. Do you think it will help India in Kashmir? No. It will give Kashmiris another reason to hate India.’”
However, many of the Hindutva ideologues may ask the Muslims to believe that they are not anti-Muslim but their message is written on the wall. Annual reports of India’s Home Ministry and other independent studies make a pathetic reading of India’s frequent riots in most of which Muslims are the victims.
Not that Hindu nationalistic forces did not exist earlier, but they were never on the centre-stage. It is also not true that the Indian state had not systematically poached into Kashmir’s autonomy in the earlier years. But the dramatics that are now being conducted to nullify the autonomy clauses contained in Articles 35A and 370 of the Indian Constitution are unprecedented. That these dramatics are meant to enlist mass Hindu support makes common political sense.
It is interesting to watch how skilfully the Hindutva leadership has mastered the art of placating the Muslim nations in international forums yet simultaneously deriding the Muslim community at home. In the recently held Summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held in Abu Dhabi, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj not only spoke eloquently about inter-religious bonhomie in India, but also quoted from the Holy Qur’an to highlight its peaceful messages.
But such things are conspicuously lacking in BJP-ruled India. Unlike other national parties, BJP rarely fields Muslim candidates to fight for the parliament or state legislatures. At the local level, anti-Muslim slogans often get vitriolic during the elections.
If India’s Kashmir policy has failed, what about Pakistan? For the sake of Kashmir, it is most unlikely that it would wage a war against India. It is too risky given Pakistan’s relative weakness on all parameters, more particularly its teetering economy.
Given the fact that its Afghan border is vulnerable, particularly in the wake of an imminent US withdrawal, it would look for a safer and cheaper option. Here comes the efficacy of terrorism as a tool of its Kashmir policy.
Terrorists need no salary or pension. If an appropriate mixture of radical Islamism and hyper-nationalism can be injected into their consciousness, the rest will fall into place, a veritable jihad against India. Since no terrorist group has ever been able to dislodge an established state, not even al-Qaeda or IS, if they can be utilized for just their nuisance value to foment trouble in targeted areas, it is a fair strategy.
Pakistan’s goal is to create such compelling circumstances under which the Indian state would have no option other than negotiate a deal on Kashmir.
Diplomatically who has gained from the India-Pakistan face-off over Kashmir is a moot question. The Indian government and most Indian commentators think that Pakistan has been internationally isolated. Even if it is true, the question is whether that is a good strategy for India from a long-term perspective.
Given Pakistan’s precarious economic circumstances, the more it is isolated, the more its dependence on China, its “all weather friend,” will grow. It means more Chinese physical presence on Pakistani soil the way it has happened in Sri Lanka through the Hambantota port lease.
It would not be surprising if it culminates in the stationing of Chinese troops on Pakistani soil someday. If that happens, that would be the ultimate failure of India’s regional diplomacy.
There is no harm, therefore, to have a negotiated deal on Kashmir if it satisfies both the countries. I have been arguing for years that there is no escape for either state from recognizing the present Line of Control as the international border. The existing arrangement, as in the case of the Koreas and Israel-Palestine, has failed to promote peace.
Kingsley Martin, the editor of the London New Statesman and Nation, was prophetic when he wrote as early as 1953: “It is dangerous to allow a ceasefire-line to harden into a frontier. The United Nations [plan] ... in Kashmir, Palestine, and Korea has been patiently to isolate the dispute so that fighting ceased.
“In the case of Kashmir and Palestine, it failed to have any effect beyond helping to settle the cease-fire line. Today it is clear that India and Pakistan cannot indefinitely endure the tension of indecision in Kashmir, while the relations between Israel and its neighbours remain dangerously bitter on a frontier that was never intended to do more than recognize a temporary fait accompli.”
The solution to the problem in Kashmir is in statesmanship, not politics.
Partha S Ghosh is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, and a retired professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University.