J & K – Scenarios, Choices and Options

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(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

The current crisis situation in J & K is commonly viewed as extraordinarily explosive and incredibly complex situation – a multi dimensional politico-military conflict.

For example, highly rated print media – The Hindu – published former Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram statement on 25 February 2017 highlighting: “he had a sinking feeling that Kashmir was nearly lost for India (sic) …….”.  Chidambaram also stated in Indian Express earlier that “the path taken ….was perilous and asked them to reverse course; and the answer was not muscular Kashmir policy but engagement with stakeholders.”

Not to be left behind, yet another Congress Party stalwart, Mani Shankar Iyer, believed “There is only one way out of this maze. It is for Mehbooba to withdraw from her untenable coalition with persons at the exact opposite end of the ideological spectrum and open the way to the three principal parties of the Valley to jointly work out a strategy (sic)……”

Utter rubbish are such alarmist views that only provide “Oxygen to the other side” to prolong the nearly three decade ‘proxy war’, more aptly, 7-decade old fight.

In contrast, some “Hawks” want more aggressive operations against the separatists, militants, stone pelters and others.  In between the spectrum, moderates want imposition of Presidents Rule to bring modicum of order.

Stating the obvious, the ongoing violence re-escalation is the consequence of the killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016, commander of the Kashmir-based Hizbul Mujahideen. In particular, Pakistan sponsored and paid ‘stone pelters’ are openly defying the security forces in Srinagar and towns of South Kashmir.

Almost daily encounters are reported between security forces and separatist militant groups, bank robberies, curfews by both, media sensationalism, infiltration and ceasefire violations and cross border skirmishes including revenge beheadings and surgical strikes.

Media hype over “War clouds hovering over the horizon” is unwarranted despite jingoistic rhetoric by “Generals” of both sides. Hyper media sensationalism is increasing volatility, which is breeding uncertainty and despondency among skeptics.

But, the “threshold” of violence in J & K has not yet been crossed the line of equilibrium for war to breakout what with nuclear deterrence holding the key.

The need is for media to desist from sensationalism. After all, headlines over the past 70 years like “at Cross Roads; Paradise turned into Hell; Boiling Cauldron; Imbroglio; Quagmire; morass; quicksand; and so on” contribute to increasing alarm in the minds of people. So what if there is “No sight of ‘Light of peace at the end of the Tunnel.”

Chasing peace in J & K is like “Chasing Shadows” – so near, yet so far. All peace initiatives including Modi’s sudden visit to Lahore, All Party Delegations to Srinagar and Yeshwant Sinha’s 5-member delegation have failed to produce tangible peace breakthroughs.

The study of data available in public domain (Ministry of Home Affairs and External Affairs and South Asia Portal on Terrorism), mercilessly exposes the blatant falsehoods perpetrated by the Congress Party stalwarts forgetting irrefutable fact that the prime culprits for the J & K crisis are Nehru and Indira Ghandy in cahoots with Sheik Abdullah dynasty.

Be that as it may, when compared to the data of trends of violence from 1990 to 2000 and 2001 to 2007 with the current data, violence pales into insignificance.

For example, from the high of four figures (over 4000 in some years), it is down to three figures (less than 400).  Similarly, there is reduced number of fatalities suffered by Security Forces vis a vis terrorists.  Even there is substantial reduction of infiltration numbers.

Although the present cycle of street violence is the longest in the Valley, the 2010 street violence was much worse in terms of fatalities, with at least 101 persons killed and 4,288 persons, including SFs, injured. Also, in the street violence of 2008, 46 persons were killed and 1,265, including SF personnel, were injured.

None can deny that the security forces are performing quite creditably in containing and marginalizing terrorism and street violence by stone pelters among others. The forces have the will and capability to stem the menace of violence. Strategically viewed militarily, it is a stalemate or deadlock or still below the “Line of Threshold of Equilibrium.

Viewed in the above background content, why are the opposition political leaders and national media hyperventilating the absurdity of ‘almost all is lost” in J & K?

War fighting outcomes are predictable – victory/defeat/stalemate. Lesson of mankind’s wars and violence history is simple – “Slender is the difference between victory and defeat.”   In the ultimate, Victory goes to the ‘strong willed; but not ‘weak kneed’.

Furthermore, victory also goes to the side with “greater punishment withstanding capability”.  Who has more punishment withstanding capability – separatists and non state and state actors, Kashmiri Muslim people, democratically elected representatives or the Indian State? Surely, the Indian State has more resilience than others.

Ipso facto, peace talk outcomes – mediation, negotiation and consensus – are vexatious and most uncertain. Track II talks by concerned citizens of both sides – so called reliable interlocutors – have failed to produce significant breakthroughs either with Pakistan or the separatist groups in the valley in the past.

No end to the cycle of peace talks. Key peace initiatives since 1947 include: UN intervened and mediated ceasefire in 1948; Nehru-Sheikh Abdullah talks ending the “Kashmir Conspiracy” case; Tashkent Agreement following 1965 War; July 1972 Shimla Accord following 1971 War, 1975 Indira–Sheikh Accord, !986 Rajiv Ghandy-Farooq Abdullah Accord; Vajpayee-Musharaf Agra Talks; and ongoing Track II talks.

Suffice to highlight that peace efforts between Kashmir political parties and enhanced financial grants have failed to produce enduring peace largely due to separatists parties demand for holding talks simultaneously with Pakistan.

The hard line demand of separatists is non-negotiable – AZADI for entire J & K which will be unacceptable not only to Jammu DOGRAS and Ladakh Buddhists but also to Pakistan and its sponsored separatist groups which want merger with Pakistan.

As per polls conducted, majority of Kashmir valley Muslims want “AZADI”.  Also, a sizeable minority prefer merger with Pakistan. Under the fear of the guns of terrorist and separatists, even the voices of majority are stifled. Less hyped, majority in Jammu and Ladakh region prefer to remain with India as per polls.

Will current political parties like the Abdullah’s NC and Mufti’s PDP among others concede for merger with Pakistan in the full knowledge that they will marginalized politically by separatists leaders and their assets seized inside the valley and lost elsewhere in India.  Of course, loss to economy on account of Indian tourist inflows cannot be compensated by Pakistan. Even chaos in PoK, Baluchistan and FATA serve as grim portends.

IF relative peace and violence continue to swing in most macabre ways with utter disregard to innocent lives besides growth and development, be that be so.  The worst sufferers are the Kashmiri Valley Muslims. But, there will be economic costs to both nations.

A wide array of strategic options have already been employed since 1947-48 to reach an amicable solution to include: 3 ½ wars, UN intervention, ceasefires, coercive diplomacy, all party delegations to find political solutions, elections, appeasement, winning over people’s hearts and minds, attrition, and so on.

Yet, the current impasse or deadlock persists. Why continuing peoples psychological alienation? ISIS and Al Qaeda have made inroads. Religious ideological shift from “Kashmiriyat” to Sunni Islam is firmly getting embedded in the psyche of people, which is not easy to overcome due to communal acrimony in the rest of the country and world over.

Quite a few strategic options are available like “Strategies of Patience, Appeasement, Riposte, Attrition, Annihilation, Decapitation, Presidents Rule; and so on.” Mostly, tested and failed to produce enduring conflict resolution.

Of course, Recourse to war must the last resort. In particular, when both nations have nuclear weapons states. Yet another low cost strategic option available is pursuit of low-cost counter “Proxy or Hybrid” war against Pakistan in Balchistan and even Sind – “Balkanization. Like Baluchis, even Sindhi people have major points of friction with Punjabi Muslims.

After all, realpolitik is ruthless in hawkish global strategic environment. No place for moral and ideological considerations in advancing national security interests. Over the past 30 years Pakistan has ruthlessly resorted to hybrid warfare: information warfare combining terrorism and Islamist ideology (1000-years Jihad) thereby inciting and provoking violence by locals to achieve the end of bleeding India through thousand cuts.

Realize Modi must that appeasement politics mostly in defensive-cum-reactive mode inherited from the Congress Party’s dumb strategy (dangerous mixture of idealism and opportunistic coalitions) or Vajpayee’s failed Agra peace initiative cannot promote enduring peace. Withdrawal of AFSPA or pellet guns cannot alone restore sanity in the valley.

So, Modi must demonstrate strong and ruthless leadership to pay back Pakistan in the same coin. If so, he must act with calculative intelligence keeping all options open – flexible response strategy with all actors in the sordid drama.

Counter “Hybrid” war strategy in Kashmir valley should be based on calculative “information war’ campaign. Surely, people of Kashmir, known for their intellect, would understand the pros and cons of various alternative solutions and what offers scope for their improved life styles. Alongside, Modi must appeal to media to stop sensationalizing alarmist views by opposition political parties and also champion the cause of human rights activists.

Simultaneously, Modi must also conduct counter “proxy or hybrid war” with the end objective of “Balkanization of Pakistan”.  There are no shortcuts. Be prepared for a long haul, which is the worst case scenario.

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