Kashmir – Strategic Deadlock!

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(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

Kashmir issue remains strategically deadlocked over the past 70 years.  It is despite five wars including the continuing 30-years ‘Proxy War” with no end in sight and ceasefires and peace dialogues in between.

All those in pursuit of an early resolution by peace initiatives and also through resort to war are living in a fool’s paradise. Let none suffer from an illusion on the above count. Peace is a mirage in South Asia as its history abundantly testifies.

On 22 October 1947, “Paradise on Earth” was turned into ‘Hell”, when Pakistani tribal armed hordes entered J & K in army trucks and raped nuns and slaughtered priests and congregation, including patients in the hospital in Baramullah. Eye witness accounts of the gruesome incident are available in history books. Pakistan Army officially entered the war in May 1948.

Indian political leadership committed many blunders in the past. Nehru committed the first blunder by referring the issue to the UN despite Sheikh Abdullah’s opposition to it and when the Indian Army had successfully seized the initiative and gained momentum in driving the Pakistan Army out of J & K. It is also an established historical fact that the UN Security Council failed to ensure “Pakistani forces withdrawal for holding a plebiscite as a precondition.” In retrospect, it can never happen. Quite an intellectual absurdity it is for Indian pseudo intellectuals to continue to harp on the issue.

The next blunder was committed by Lal Bahadur Shastri at Tashkent. Even in 1965 war, Indian Armed Forces had gained advantage with its forces on the outskirts of Lahore and Hajipir Pass, the most strategic axis providing firm base to launch an offensive for the recapture of POK in its control.

The worst blunder was committed following victory gained in the 1971 war. Indira Ghandy squandered the glorious opportunity by signing the Shimla Accord without reaching a comprehensive and conclusive settlement of the J & K issue what with 90,000 Pakistan Prisoners of War held in custody.

Subsequently, political indiscretions were committed in J & K by holding most ‘farcical elections’ and allowing rampant corruption by Abdullah dynasty. The only solace is Farooq Abdullah consistently upheld the State’s accession to India as final and irrevocable. However, Farooq demanded dissolution of local unit of the Congress party in 1983, which was rejected by Indira Ghandy.

Followed Farooq Abdullah alignment with the Awami Action Committee led by Maulvi Mohd Farooq ending the 50-year-old rivalry between “Sher (Lion)” and “Bakra (Sheep)”. His flirtation with opposition parties to get national recognition led to his downfall in a palace coup engineered by the Congress in 1984. Mufti Mohd Sayed organised defections. Farooq Abdullah was removed from power and GM Shah installed as the Chief Minister with the Congress support. Thus followed most farcical political ‘musical chairs’ and total loss confidence of people to live with dignity and self respect.

Most important is the issue of ‘alienation’ of Kashmiri Muslims. By mid-1988, there was a dramatic shift in the psyche of Kashmiri Muslim. People rallied to raise the Azadi war cry stridently in the streets of Srinagar. The JKLF and the Mosques became their political mouthpieces. The ISI became its frontline ally and reliable patron.  They also agitated vociferously on the death of Gen. Zia in air crash in Pakistan and Rushdie affair in 1988. During the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, the militants issued boycott call. People response was spontaneous and massive – turn out varied between 2% to 4%.

Thus, the consolidation of psychological alienation can be largely attributed to mayhem of democracy in the past.  Inter and intra party rivalry and divide remained endemic and highly acrimonious. The President’s Rule became the ‘Mantra’, which bred nexus of vested interests. It bred corruption and nepotism. Tourism based economy collapsed. People felt betrayed on all fronts. It was largely instrumental for promotion of communal polarisation, consolidation and eruption of militancy in the Valley.

Today, the situation is dramatically worse than ever before. Regardless of Modi’s transgressions and BJPs unholy alliance with the PDP, Kashmir valley is in a total mess largely the result of a broken, angry, and dysfunctional region in turmoil marked by failed or failing governance and leaders and institutions unable to provide the kind of reforms needed to right itself: good, inclusive governance; accountability; transparency; respect for human rights; and gender equality.

Indian opposition parties attribute it to lack of leadership, abdication of responsibility, and adversary-appeasing foreign policies. But, they fail to realize that they are offering an opportunity to adversaries to gain advantage in the ongoing crisis escalation.

So the situation favors Pakistan to implement General Zia’s strategy of “Proxy War” to bleed India by thousand cuts by a 1000-year Jihad as means to achieve its end of dismemberment of modern India.

General Zia’s based his grand strategy on the ‘intrigue’ capability of Kashmir Muslims learning from the lesson of past wars that Indian cannot be defeated militarily and if any it contributes to the collapse of ruling regimes in Pakistan. His grand strategy of “Proxy War – Operation TOPAC” started with explosion of 8 bombs in Srinagar on 1 July 1988 by the JKLF. Its cadres openly clashed with police in August 1988. In April 1989, violence broke out in the valley with militants launching attacks on Police Stations viewed as rehearsals for final countdown.  Rising of anti-Indian slogans and hoisting of Pakistani flags became an annual affair.

Manohar Parrikar has, most appropriately, summed up the current situation in Kashmir valley: “Going to Kashmir is like going to Hell.” HM, LeT and other alien terrorist groups are inciting spread of violence and threatening to kill all those who were not willing to abide by their diktat in the valley. Ipso facto, they have celebrated Pakistan’s Independence day by hoisting Pakistan Flag in most of the towns of South Kashmir and appeared with arms on the scene.

In sum, the major share of blame goes to the blundering political “Blindmen of Hindoostan” who mindlessly pursued peace promotion as a way out of the strategic impasse or logjam. Resolution of ongoing Kashmir crisis is increasingly most vexatious. Both India and Pakistan have no easy strategic prescriptions to promote peace. Instead, hawks on Pakistan side are hell bent upon proxy war and terrorism as a means to settle the ‘core’ issue of Kashmir.

Why the strategic deadlock or impasse? Lack of understanding its reasons or root causes are real among the majority.  Civilization conflict – clash of values, ideologies and interests – is real. Stating the obvious, Pakistan was created on communal basis and now declared “Islamic State.” So, Pakistan is locked horns perpetually with India on communal vs. secular lines. Whichever nation succeeds poses a threat to the other. Thus strategic paranoia persists on both sides.

Now, having engineered the violence escalation following Burhan Wani’s killing, Pakistan has gone on a diplomatic and proxy war offensive in the Valley. Both the President and the Prime Minister of Pakistan have dedicated their Independence Day for “freedom of Kashmir”. And, Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi has undeniably followed his master’s voice and made similar provocative statement characteristically most undiplomatic in New Delhi.

Encouraged by such statements, Hafiz Saeed has demanded Pakistan Army to start a full fledged war in J & K. And, the HM commander in J &K has directed his cadres to ensure continuation of protests in Kashmir valley.

Quite obviously, Pakistan has failed to learn from past lessons of history. Past wars resulted in the collapse of regimes in Pakistan.  For example military regime leadership – Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan – were immediately replaced after 1965 and 1971 wars. Similarly, the Kargil fiasco precipitated the military coup. Most Pakistanis viewed the coup with great relief. Pakistan plunged into economic despair and diplomatic isolation. Now, Pakistan is facing multiple threats in multiple fronts.

In a diplomatic riposte or departure from the past policy, Modi has invoked Baluchistan, POK and Gilgit crises and extended India’s support to their freedom struggles. Indian hawks are demanding a ‘hard line’ action against Pakistan.

Political statements or rhetoric and jingoism cannot deter Pakistani pursuance of cross border infiltration and terrorist strikes in Kashmir valley.  They need to be backed up action of ground aimed at points where it hurts Pakistan most and deters it from meddling in India’s internal affairs.

So, what are the options available for India? Scope for dialogue to reach an amicable solution is utopia. Dialogue between political leaders without Pakistan Army and the ISI participation is a futile exercise using democratically elected leaders as ‘shield’ to cover their nefarious strategic designs.

Thus, India can ill afford to appear on the defensive politically, diplomatically or militarily based on appeasement track diplomatically. So, what should India attempt? Many strategic options are available to adopt step-by-step in a cold and calculative manner.

First, India must recall its High Commissioner from Pakistan. In return, Pakistan must be asked to withdraw its High Commissioner from New Delhi, Abdul Basith, for his diplomatic indiscretion and his oft repeated connivance with separatist leaders. Merely, announcing Arun Jaitley not attending the SAARC Finance Ministers conference means nothing particularly the humiliation suffered by Rajnath Singh.

Next, stop all cross border traffic to include Wagah-Attari in Punjab (Samjhauta Express and Bus Service), Zero point-Munabo (Thar Express) in Rajasthan, Srinagar–Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalkote Bus service in J & K. Alongside, extend covert support to freedom fighter in Baluchistan, POK and Gilgit. For, it hurts their people more than people on our side.

Furthermore, impose Presidents Rule. Arrest all separatist leaders and send them to a camp in Siachen Glacier to cool their heels like Sheikh Abdullah’s confinement for over 20 long years (1953 to 1974). After Mirza Afzal Baig signed Kashmir Accord, Sheikh Abdullah, hailed as Lion of Kashmir, was released and anointed as the Chief Minister. However, the Congress Party failed to fulfill restoration of special status to pre-1953 status providing a fillip to separatist movement.

Politico-economic solutions, as the mantras, are the obsession of intellectuals. It is despite irreconcilable contradictions persisting among the stated positions of both India and Pakistan.  Kashmiri Muslims nurture Azadi in their hearts. Militancy has already triggered a backlash among Jammu Dogras and Ladakh Buddhists.  They would never support Azadi. After all, they cannot be blind to the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan and other neighbouring Islamic nations.

Viewed holistically, all sides are caught in strategic traps of their own making. Pakistan Army and ISI sponsored radical Islamists and Kashmiri leaders in exile in Pakistan would not retract from their commitment to liberate Indian Occupied J & K. So, no scope for reconciliation on mutually agreed political template. Restoration of normalcy is, therefore, a mirage.  Sometimes, it may appear a distinct prospect; but changes course.  People may be seen moving around and interacting with outsiders freely.   Tourism may appear to pick-up.  Suddenly, hell breaks out.

Prepare for the worst yet to implode and explode.  United Indians must stand; for divided will provide opportunity to adversaries to exploit. “Tit for Tat” appears the most sensible strategic option; but not reactive but proactive. Be firm and decisive.

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