Peace in J & K – A mirage or Illusion? Oh, Blindmen of Hindustan!

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(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

Sane thinking people everywhere, hopefully, want peace in J & K.  But radical Islamists aided and abetted by Pakistan, non-state actors, separatists in J & K, ideologically motivated and inspired youth in the valley and even political parties do not want peace to prevail in perpetuity.

“Terror and talks” cannot go simultaneously is current India’s official policy; but decried by peaceniks. Even after 70 years, all actors alike involved in the high-stake regional geopolitics have not been able to find an amicable peace solution.

Squandered were the opportunities in 1948 when Nehru went to the UN, Lal Bahadur Shastri at Tashkent with Indian Army at the gates of Lahore and Haji Pir Pass in possession, Indira Ghandy with over 90,000 Pakistan Army prisoners captured in erstwhile Pakistan, Atul Bihari Vajpayee at Agra Summit following Lahore Bus Yatra and Kargil, and Modi’s fly-in peace foray to Lahore.

Rahul Ghandy-Ghulam Nabhi Azad-Mani Shankar Iyer- Jairam Ramesh of the Congress Party, Yeshwant Sinha (ex BJP)-Ari Marshal (Retd) Kapil Kak mission to Srinagar, spurned and snubbed mission led by the opposition parties headed by Sitaram Yechuri-D Raja-Sharad Yadav and the attempts of various VIP peaceniks on both sides of the border are living in a ‘fool’s paradise’  if they think they can broker peace in perpetuity in J & K.

Furthermore, Pakistan’s domestic political and terror dynamics do not lend hope for fruitful peace talks. The outside chance of Pakistan disintegration by implosion unable to reconcile its simmering ethno-centrist and sectarian religious rivalries may lend hope for peace; but none can predict its residual fallout spilling over across the borders.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”  Gandhi and King, both apostles of peace, gave their lives pursuing nonviolent solutions; yet both failed to ensure peace in their lifetimes.

Peace is, therefore, a mirage and illusion. Perfect peace in perpetuity, even during the Holy Period of Ramzan” in J & K as evidenced in today’s context, is virtual impossibility. Let me recount Bismarck’s famous quote: “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” Quite apt it may be to add: “Idiots refuse to even learn from their own mistakes.”

Suffice to highlight that the J & K situation is an extraordinary complex web of violence woven, which is most difficult to unfold. Pakistan is waging relentless proxy war – Hybrid Political War – based on the policy of General Zia-ul-Haq to “bleed India through 1000-cuts through 1000-year Jihad.

 

No easy solutions despite making all types of peace initiatives in the past. Too many actors with competing, conflicting and divergent ideologies and end objectives are involved in the sordid drama – no openings for common meeting ground on contentious issues. Only idiots can go around talking about peace making and building through talks with separatist HURIYAT leaders on pay roll of Pakistan’s’ ISI. Undeniably, even the HURIYAT conglomerate of separatist cannot delink themselves from external linkages to hold bilateral peace talks with the Indian State or intermediaries.

Hard line separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has sought “Insaniyat”, Kashmiriyat” and “jamhooriyat” to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Having driven Kashmiri Pundits out of the valley in late 1989, Geelani is bluffing all alike over Kashmiriyat – centuries-old religious and cultural harmony, patriotism and pride for their mountainous homeland of Kashmir.  Insaniyat – humanity – has no values considering the thousands of lives lost.             Also, for having spurned opportunities to contest in elections held on regular basis.

Ipso facto, Islamist radical resurgence is sweeping not only West Asia, but also has made inroads into all other parts of world including J & K.  Kashmir youth can be seen flaunting the ISIS flags in the valley.  Radicals suffer from cultural narcissism and imperialism – Islamic Caliphate in South Asia.

Having nurtured such terrorist outfits that have emerged as “states within states or ‘Cobras’ at home”; and autonomous to even the Pakistan Army and the ISI with financial aid pouring from all corners of the Sunni World particularly Saudi Arabia, it is naïve to expect peace breakthroughs even by talking to Pakistan Army in today’s context and content.

Defining higher directions of war strategy may appear easy; but it is an anathema for peace forging particularly with multifarious terrorist groups like JeM, LeT and so on who are headed by Hafiz Saied and likes.

At the Apex political level in the past, a number of time-tested and proven steps have been exercised quite often like PMs undertaking visits to Srinagar and announcing financial packages and projects, selective declaration of unilateral ceasefires, granting of amnesty’s to surrendered/stone pelters, release of prisoners, lucrative financial rehabilitation packages, continuing Track-II talks through emissaries and political power sharing.

Yet, the current impasse persists with all failed past initiatives. As events unfolded currently, the unilateral ceasefire has only emboldened the terrorist/separatist groups to mobilize and recruit cadres to their ranks and marshal stone pelters to strike at lib against security forces. On the LoC and the border, fire exchanges continue unabatedly what with civilians fleeing to safer homes in depth.

For “Peaceniks”, “Give peace a chance” is a catchy slogan to justify their relevance despite realization that “Peace” is most elusive and nebulous concept.  And, peace apologists groups also know that “peace” is the cry of the weak and “war” is the act of the strong. Finally, it is most difficult to manage the shift from waging war or state sponsored terrorism to living in peace.

Admittedly, harmonization of cultures is a Himalayan challenge. Forging universal brotherhood in a live and let live atmosphere is impossible without bridging the cultural gap in pluralist society. Even Akbar attempted to promote syncretism  Din-e-Ilahi (Religion of God); but failed.

Unless one understands what peace is, one cannot promote sustainable peace.  “If you wish for peace, first understand war” said the famed military strategist of 20th century – Sir BH Liddell Hart. In the 21st century global terrorism context, the quote needs refinement: “If you wish for peace, first understand wars, insurgency, terrorism and violence.” It implies a thorough understanding of the cultures and chemistry of the societies and also the psyche of all actors in the field.

Let me reiterate that peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances. Peace starts from within and actions should reflect it; but not imposed by external actors. Unless one ensures it, one cannot strive for it. So, peace initiatives must start by the people; it must grow from below and not imposed from the top by coercion. People must stand for peace, in their actions, in their expectations of their leaders, and in exercising their votes. In today’s interconnected world, it is impossibility.

The civil society and NGOs must, of course, play a vital part.  In reality, political leaders, media and radical intellectuals are the greatest threat to peace. It is they who first create crises to satisfy their intellectual egos thereby divide societies – we and they. The decrepit political class seizes the opportunity to create crises, bungle in managing them and revoke force to quell people’s uprisings unable to control passions and reconcile divergences through forging conciliation, compromise and consensus.  They resort to use of force as pragmatism and fear over idealism and hope for peace. How can peace ever have a chance to prosper under such circumstances?

Unless local majority believe that their safety and security will be guaranteed by the constituted government, none should expect dramatic outcomes in their leanings towards the other side. It means fair and just functioning of the coercive apparatus of the state and not partisanship and rampant corruption.  Annihilation and attrition strategies, particularly encounter deaths and killing of innocents caught in the crossfire cannot pay in the ultimate.

Unless separatist and terrorist groups are isolated and separated from the people, the engagement strategy cannot yield dividends. Modi led BJP is not strongly and decisively acting against the separatist groups by sending them away to uninhabited Andaman Islands.

Be that as it may, psychological reconditioning or dynamic changes in thinking and attitudes – the way they think and act – of political leaders, bureaucrats, judiciary, media,  administrative machinery, police forces, other security forces and  armed forces is critical if one wants to promote and consolidate peace.  They must do things dramatically different – to change how one thinks; and how one operates. Respect the complexities of the situation and design tailor-made operational approaches.

Ultimately, change in the operational culture is most critical at grass roots level. By pursuing tactical military gains and mindless attrition in vicious pursuit of power, the risk of strategic defeat due to casualties and collateral damages become real.  Gaining peoples support for peace would need better understanding of their needs, choices and more importantly, their sensitivities. Preoccupied with fortress-type protection, leaders tend to distance themselves physically and psychologically from the people, just as the coercive apparatus of the state.  Connecting with the people and protecting them from violence, rooting out corruption and promoting development is round the clock engagement.

Remember always that psychological reconditioning takes time at all levels. Six months and one year turnovers cannot facilitate building relationships with locals. The troops surge may be an operational imperative. But its judicious deployment and employment can only earn the respect of the people and provide a secure environment for them. Their collaboration and cooperation with the security forces and local administrative machinery is yet another critical issue.

In sum, peace is a bold but calculated risk, a brave and noble choice. Peace is not for the weak but rather for those courageous enough to take a risk.

Of course, mankind has gained a wide range of experiences. Some of them include: big armies & big money cannot win people’s War; brains over bullets or mind over muscles more critical; adopt “Loose to Win” strategy; ultimate result depends on punishment withstanding capability of nation – National Will or domestic consensus; cultural intelligence is a vital input for gaining actionable intelligence; people’s hearts & minds is the ultimate objective; shift out of “attrition” mentality at all levels; avoid “Zero Defect” syndrome;  conduct during frequent ‘lulls’ more important than how to fight battles; conduct after victory more vital as also early regime restoration satisfying majority sections of society/community; and so on.

In sum, everyone is aware that the real challenge is multi dimensional.   For without a credible long term development strategies in social, political and economic fields and their synergy, military solution alone cannot ensure sustainable peace and stability in perpetuity. Force and fear certainly cannot produce enduring peace. Also, separatists/terrorists must be denied access to financial resources besides photo opportunities to remain relevant and capability to influence minds of vulnerable youth. Not to be sidelined, of course, respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as fundamental basis of fight against separatism/terrorism.

For peacekeeping, building and maintenance, negotiation, mediation, conciliation and consensus are vital. Yet another significant factor is to promote inter-religious and intercultural tolerance, reduce marginalization of vulnerable populations, such as the youth, and to promote social inclusion. It implies capacity building of all elements in the environment in the right direction; but not working at cross purposes.

Viewed in such a vicious environment – the “right hand not acting in concert with the left hand’ – Oh ‘Blindmen of Hindustan – the path to peace is strewn with thorns.

 

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