Thursday, September 22, 2011

Jammu & Kashmir – Emerging complexities

Article sent to Ms. Puja Raina Mahaldar for publishing in DSA on August 11, 2009 ( published under the caption of “The right path for India” in October 2009)

Jammu & Kashmir – Emerging complexities
Ajit Doval, KC
Issues become complex when their loci is determined by intertwined and mutually conflicting variables. Kashmir, one of the longest enduring conflicts of the modern times is a classic case in point. What makes the problem intractable and the response difficult is that any initiative taken to address one vector has collateral impact on the others, often unfavorable.
It started as a simple problem of addressing the concerns of a recalcitrant Maharaja of a princely State - more personal then politico-strategic. In last six decades, both Pakistan and India have added new variables – former to have a locus-standi on an issue that it had none and the later guilty of faulty assessments of Pakistan, politics of Kashmir and their own capabilities. Time inconsistent and segmental approach in the past not only added new complexities to the problem but expanded the scope and intensity of existing ones. Illustratively, to deal with an obstinate Maharaja, Nehru brought in Sheikh Abdullah and his National Conference to counter him, though they had no locus-standi under the accession arrangement. This linked local politics to an issue which had national security, sovereignty and territorial implications. The wrong approach was evident when Sheikh Abdullah had to be kept under prolonged detention and the problem did not end with signing of accord with him in 1975. To gain support of the Valley Muslims, Article 370 was introduced which created complexity in relationship of union with the state and instead of achieving emotional integration only helped divisive forces. By allowing the state to have its own constitution, Criminal law and ill defined relationship with the union, the integrative process got negated.
Pakistan, the original sinner, complicated the issue by adding variables of ‘religion’ and ‘violence’ when in the name of Islam it conceived, resourced and mounted a proxy invasion by the Razakars in 1947. No better evidence than Maj. General Akbar Khan, who was incharge of the entire operation, himself narrating the entire story in his book ‘Raiders of Kashmir’ giving full details of Pakistan’s involvement in arming, organizing, coordinating and financing the operation can be adduced. Nehru gave unwarranted locus-standi to Pakistan in India’s internal affairs by engaging Pakistan in talks and correspondence over Kashmir when he should have squarely focused on vacating the aggression and driving the invaders out from the entire area that legally had ceded to India. He thus made state of Pakistan a stake holder. By unilaterally declaring in an All India Radio broadcast on November 2, 1947, much before he took it to the UN that, “We are prepared to have a referendum held under international auspices like the United Nations and shall accept their verdict”, he not only internationalized the issue but declared that its accession to India was only tentative and conditional. On January 1, 1948 when India took the matter to UN Security Council it fell into the trap of Pakistan of making Kashmir an international territorial dispute to India’s disadvantage. Since then, at every turn of events, the situation has got further complicated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Joint Communiqué in Sharm-el-Sheikh being the latest goof up in the series.
While the old complexities continue to haunt us in their original or mutated form, the new ones have emerged. First in the list is use of terrorism by Pakistan as an integral part of its state policy to achieve its strategico-political objectives in J&K. Militancy in J&K is essentially a low intensity external aggression launched by Pakistan, an asymmetric adversary, using Jihadis, to bleed India. Organized under the banner of different Tanzims (religious outfits), youth are indoctrinated in ISI supported seminaries, trained in camps run by their supplicant organizations like Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba, weaponized and financed by the ISI and launched into Indian territory through Line of Control with the help of Pakistani Rangers or third countries by providing them travel documents. ISI also facilities their collaborative networking with underworld criminal gangs, gun-runners, drug traffickers, currency counterfeiters, border smugglers, radical Muslim outfits etc. that which provide them logistic, infrastructural, intelligence and at times, financial support. It also calibrates the level of violence, selection of targets, timings of major terrorist depredations and coordination of activities of various Jihadi groups to meet their strategico-tactical objectives. Irrespective of the heavy rate of degradation, ISI has been able to maintain the numerical strength of terrorists in J&K between 2,800 to 3,300 uninterruptedly for nearly two decades. Similarly, notwithstanding large quantities of seizers of weapons and explosives, fencing and other border strengthening measures taken by the security forces, they have been able to ensure unhindered supply of terrorist hardware to the militants. Since the inception of militancy despite 22, 064 terrorists killed and nearly 82,000 weapons seized, mostly AK series of rifles, sub-machine guns, and rocket launchers etc., ISI has been able to replenish the losses on continuing basis. This singularly has been their greatest success.
There has, however, been a decline in the intensity of violence since 2001. To interpret it as a change in Pakistan’s strategic objectives or their denouncement of terrorism as an instrument of state policy would, however, be a gross strategic miscalculation. The first factor responsible for this decline is that Pak ISI estimates that raising the ante of terrorist violence in J&K does not pressurize the Government of India to the extent the incidents in the hinterland do. Consequently, since 2001 they had been focusing more on the main land taking on targets like urban areas, economic centers, religious places etc. It is significant that while terrorist violence by Pakistan sponsored Islamic groups in the main land were almost non-existent till 2001 (except 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts following demolition of Babri Mosque), casualties inflicted outside J&K after 2001 have been as high as 1,023 killed and over 4,000 injured in nearly sixty terrorist incidents. The second factor has been that with the declining role of Kashmiri militant out-fits following 1996 assembly elections, they have been predominantly banking on Pakistani Jihadi groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Jaish-e-Mohammad etc. to bleed India. These terrorist groups did not enjoy tactical advantage and people’s support in Kashmir to the extent the Kashmiri groups did and hence were more effectively deployed in the hinterland that provided vast areas to operate with relatively lesser pressure of security agencies. Thirdly, after September 11, 2001 Pakistan came under heavy international pressure and had to use their terrorist assets more circumspectly to ensure higher deniability. Estimating that operating through third country bases like Bangladesh, Nepal, Middle-East etc., with no direct evidence of their involvement, could reduce pressure on Pakistan they exercised this option. They used local surrogate radical outfits like Harkat-ul-Zihad-e-Islami, with which ISI had enjoyed long association. Even within India, they converted SIMI from a radical Muslim youth organisation to a terrorist outfit by training a section of its cadres, financing and indoctrinating them and developing their linkages with terrorist tanzims in Pakistan and Bangladesh. For these non-Pakistan based groups, it was relatively easier to operate in India’s hinterland than in the J&K. The deteriorating internal situation in Pakistan leading to declining support for the militancy in J&K was another contributing factor.
It needs to be emphasized that decline in terrorist incidents in J&K notwithstanding, Pakistan’s strategic intentions on Kashmir remain unchanged. The India specific terrorist infrastructure remains in tact and Pakistan army’s fight against domestic and anti-west Islamic groups is part of an entirely different transaction and a source of little comfort to India. The India specific groups should be seen more as intelligence resource of Pakistan operating under Islamic cover. Occasional tactical readjustments in location, size and organisation of the training camps and infrastructure as also so-called counter-terrorist initiatives are a mere eye wash to hoodwink India and international opinion. General Officer Commanding in Chief, Northern Command informed the media on January 15, 2009 that, “A member of terrorist training camps are still active in Pakistan”. Pakistan’s Islamists reserves targeting India like Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hizbul Mujahideens, Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, Jaish-e-Mohammad etc. continue to receive Pak intelligence patronage in one from or the other.
Pretensions of peace notwithstanding, Pakistan’s provocative firing along the LOC has continued unabated during 2008 and 2009. Mostly, it is meant to facilitate crossings by the terrorist groups by diverting the attention of Indian troops deployed along the borders; forcing them to concentrate on the firing rather than coming out routine border patrolling providing opportunity to the terrorists to infiltrate. A. K. Anthony, Defence Minister, informed the Parliament on October 20, 2008 that “Pakistan had violated the five-year old pact on cease-fire 58 times since the ceasefire agreement came into effect from November, 2003. And since January 2008, Indian position on the LoC has been fired upon 34 times, while the total cease-fire violation by Pakistan has occurred on 58 counts.” The year 2008-2009 also witnessed intensified infiltration bids.
Another new vector that has compounded complexity of the Kashmir issue is nuclearisation of Pakistan. It considers it as a strategic asset that immunizes it against any military retaliation by India, giving it a free space to indulge in anti-Indian activities like terrorism, sabotage, subversion, espionage and other internationally unaccepted activities. It also feels that its nuclear possessions sufficiently hedge it against the world allowing it to become a failed state and whatever its follies, will sustain it politically and economically. It both subtly and blatantly capitalizes on the global fears of nuclear assets falling into the hands of Islamic radicals posing serious threat to global security. It estimates that it will force the world not only to keep it politically and economically going but even allow it space to tackle Kashmir issue on its terms. Its recent effort to proliferate its nuclear arsenal, when it is embroiled in serious internal turmoil and faces no external threat, is part of its hedging exercise. The west’s fears of the worst make them lower their strategic sites and remain content with whatever little Pakistan delivers and at whatever costs to safeguard their security interests. For them, even undermining India’s legitimate security concerns is an affordable cost. The doctrine that resolution of conflict in Kashmir with some concessions given to Pakistan will de-radicalize Pakistan and isolate the terrorist groups though completely untenable has some takers in the West. India has not been able to demolish this precarious myth.
The changing diplomatic setting at bilateral level is another important vector having a bearing on Kashmir issue. At bilateral level, India’s handling of Pakistan has left much to be desired. Pakistan has almost succeeded in restarting the dialogue process with India, after profusely bleeding it in Mumbai terrorist depredation of November 26, 2008, thereby getting away without paying the attendant cost of a most reprehensible act of international terrorism. Covert Actions (CA) come with a price tag, albeit with a difference – act now pay later. The cost to be paid is determined by the aggrieved party’s capacity and will to punish the delinquent state at one end and its diplomatic skills and capability to isolate and pressurize it internationally on the other. Through terrorist depredations, Pakistan conveys the high cost that Pakistan can inflict on India for retaining Kashmir and having done so, it tries to minimize the retaliatory cost to itself by denouncing the act of terror, swearing to fight the menace together and urging to state the dialogue process-to which Kashmir is central. Propounding the root cause theory, it asserts that not much can be achieved in tackling terror till the root cause i.e. Kashmir is resolved amicably. Believing that for such messages to have an impact they have to be persistently repeated talks and preparations for the next attack go concurrently. As Pakistan lacks military capabilities to achieve its strategic objectives it takes recourse to the bleed-talk-bleed mode which it is not likely to abandon. As per its calculations, after voicing empty threats, meant more for domestic consumption than part of any well considered national strategy to counter it, India will dither, blink and talk.
While preparing for the other attack, it uses the time allowed by the peace process to hoodwink international opinion, portraying itself as a terror victim instead of a terrorist sponsoring state and concurrently redoubles its efforts to internationalize Kashmir issue and raise the hopes of secessionists. This strategy helps Pakistan to achieve its objective of bringing Kashmir to international focus, projecting it as the root cause radicalizing Pakistan and thus catalyzing international terrorism. Musharraf’s assertion in his autography that “I would like to state emphatically that whatever movement has taken place so far in the direction of finding a solution to Kashmir is due considerably to the Kargil conflict” is indicative of this mind set. Kargil was seen by Pakistani strategists not as a military debacle but a success vis-à-vis its policy objective in Kashmir. Mumbai may be acclaimed by some one some day as a policy success as it enabled Pakistan to accuse India of a terrorist sponsoring state and India agreed to have a bilateral talk on the subject. Opening of this discourse weakens India’s argument on Kashmir and its accusation of Pakistan branding exported terrorism as an indigenous freedom movement. If Pakistan genuinely wants to withdraw support to terrorist groups, it needs no joint acceptance through talks, talks are needed only when they want to link it to resolution of Kashmir and it is wrong for India to fall in this trap. India agreeing to talk also helps Pakistan regain its eroded legitimacy as a terrorism sponsoring state even after repeated acts of terror.
The other important dimension of the vexed Kashmir problem relates to its internal politics, governance and handling of civil society. Derailing the constitutional democratic process in J&K has been central to Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. Derailing of democratic process and destabilizing elected governments was necessary in their strategic calculus to project an externally sponsored terrorism as a people’s popular freedom movement. They wanted both indigenous and Pakistani, terror groups to terrorize the political leaders, parties and the voters through violence, intimidate the free press and stun to silence the common man and orchestrate the cumulative effect to be seen as people’s rejection of Indian Constitution and democracy. All Party Hurriayat Conference (APHC) was raised by Pakistan to articulate this distorted political version with its representatives in US, UK, Brussels and Middle-East. Hurriyat was effectively commandered by Pakistan and given wide international publicity despite its lacking any mass support. India also helped giving them the legitimacy and status that they did not deserve by initiating dialogue with them at highest political levels. They partially succeeded in this attempt in early years of militancy but the successful holding of elections in October, 1996 started undoing of the process. Notwithstanding, terrorist violence, threats and intimidations to disrupt the poll process, since 1996 the democratic process has continued uninterrupted, demolishing Pakistan’s and its surrogate APHC’s, propaganda that J&K was witnessing a violent freedom movement that India was trying to suppress through oppressive military means. State Assembly elections in 1996, 2002,2008 and the Parliamentary elections in 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009 with sizeable voter turn out ranging up to 62% (2008 Assembly elections) vindicated India’s position, both internally and externally. 2008 Assembly elections were particularly significant in strengthening democratic process in the state. Record number of 1,353 candidates contested for 87 constituencies as against 709 in 2002 and 547 in 1996. Since the advent of terrorism, record number of 4,277 political meetings was held by various parties that included 2,281 in the troubled valley and 1,996 in Jammu. The voter turnout averaged around 63 per cent as compared to 43.6 per cent in 2002. This all was inspite of the fact that.
Hurriyat with its factionalism, poor public image and low credibility of its propaganda has lost much of its steam. On the internal front, India has, however, achieved substantially though the reach and quality of governance calls for major improvements. The local politicians need to be more responsible and responsive, particularly when addressing issues with high emotional contents. The secessionist forces often are able to seize the initiative from them and turn public protests and agitations violent to promote anti-India sentiments or disrupt communal harmony.
In the above backdrop, in formulating our national policy towards J&K following vectors need to be factored:
a) Expediency and tactical posturing notwithstanding, Pakistan harbors a compulsive hostility against India which is a complex product of psychological and religious fixation constituting Pakistan’s state idea, and its vision of emerging as ‘fortress of Islam’. There is no evidence of emergence of a new state idea to substitute this. Apparent moderation in approach is due to compulsions and expediency and not by strategic shift and hence have short time consistency coterminous with continuation of the compulsion. India should develop a long term vision and strategic plan to deal with its recalcitrant western neighbour having a national consensus cutting across the party lines.
b) J&K is a Muslim majority state and religious factor will continue to play an important role in political proclivities of the people, their perception of Pakistan and Pakistan’s temptation to exploit religious demography to its advantage. With changing ground realities the form and direction may vary but the fundamentals will endure;
c) Nuclearisation of Pakistan has limitized India’s conventional military options. Pakistan estimates that India has been forced to raise its tolerance threshold many notches high providing, Pakistan near immunity from Indian military response. Pakistan will continue to use the cost effective option of covert action against asymmetric India. India will have to think of building capabilities that works as effective deterrent against Pakistan exercising this option. Should they still venture it the attendant costs should be made unaffordable through a well fore thought action plan.
d) India with its exploitable socio-political fault-lines, size and diversity, soft governance and democratic liberties provide scope and opportunity for subversive and disruptive activities at an extensive scale. Bangladesh getting fast radicalized and subversion of a small section of Indian Muslims opens new operational opportunities for Pakistan. Global conflicts of Islam and revolution in informatics have started influencing the mind set of Muslims globally and Indian Muslims can not be insulated from this phenomenon. Pakistan is aware of the possibilities that it offers and have started entrenching itself through multi role covert modules which have serious security implications for India.
e) The existing status quo in J&K, though not in conformity with India’s legitimate claims, should not be allowed to be altered to India’s disadvantage. The present position in terms of territory, political and constitutional arrangements, management and control of borders, access control etc. should constitute the minimum acceptable position in any settlement. Pakistan, if not punished for waging a covert offensive against India should, at least, not be rewarded for it. Any concessions, even national, by India will be seen as India’s susceptibility to terrorist pressures, and will strengthen the forces of terror, violence and fundamentalism in the long run. Till a final settlement is firmed up on all points of detail, India should not prematurely dilute its principled position. The Indian position on J&K exists as defined under Article 1(3) of the Constitution of India encompassing the entire state of J&K, including POK. This is further reinforced by the Constitution of J&K and all party Resolution of the Parliament;
f) Rolling back of terrorism and dismantling its infrastructure in Pakistan should constitute a pre-requisite to carry forward any political process. The assurances of action taken must be verifiable and impact implicitly visible on the ground. Pakistan handing over the Indian nationals wanted in various heinous offences and enjoying Pakistani hospitality should be the minimum test of Pakistan’s sincerity and changed intentions;
g) War against terrorism must be fought with total determination. Any slackening of the effort or thinning out the troops till normalcy is restored would be inadvisable. No confusing signals should be given to Pakistan, the terrorist cadres or people of J&K through ambiguous moves and statements. Dragging of feet by the Government in executing the sentence awarded by the apex court to Afzal Guru is a case in point. The safe return of Kashmiri Pundits to the valley would be the empirical test to judge that the area has been freed from the forces of violence and terror;
h) Any implicit or explicit suggestion which undermines India’s absolute sovereignty over areas under its control in J&K should be jettisoned from any agenda of bilateral talks. This includes right to deploy and maintain troops, management of borders, exercise of legislative, executive and judicial functions as laid down by country’s laws and constitution etc. Sovereignty is indivisible and cannot be shared. As far as devolution of powers to the states is concerned, in a democracy it is an ongoing process and purely a matter of internal political management. Pakistan can not be allowed any space in dictating or influencing it.
i) Hurriyat has no representatory character and should not be accepted as an articulator of wishes and aspirations of the Kashmiri people. While efforts should be made to bring them in main stream national politics, it will be a folly to accord them the legitimacy and credibility through our acts of commission and omission. Their self proclaimed role as a ‘bridge’ between India and Pakistan or ‘Crusaders of Kashmiri unity’ should be snubbed;
j) On national security issues, like J&K, India should exercise total decisional autonomy. No third party intervention, prompting or pressure to influence the decisions should be allowed;
Kashmir is a real test of India’s comprehensive state power and ability to exercise it. If despite its size, economic strength, military capabilities, technological advancement and international clout, it is unable to protect its legitimate interests against a small delinquent failing state, it will reflect too poorly on the capabilities and vision of those who are at helm of affairs. History may judge them too harshly.
(The author is Director of Vivekananda Kendra International and former chief of Intelligence Bureau)

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