Guest Column | The Future of Kashmir

In the years to come, the valley’s status is expected to remain the same

DR N.C. ASTHANAN.C. Asthana

However hard Pakistan might try, short of a ‘limited nuclear war’, nothing is going to alter the status of Kashmir. For all practical purposes, the fate of Kashmir has been sealed now.

According to ministry of home affairs (MHA) and Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP) data accessed by the online newsmagazine The Print, the number of militants killed in 2020 went up slightly. Public protest actions/ stone pelting went down by 80 per cent, obviously due to the pandemic and the much greater presence of security forces.

However, the JKP estimates that the number of youth joining militancy (167 for 2020) is the second highest in a decade. This is an indicator of their frustration even as they do realise that militancy can no longer help ‘solve’ the issue for them.

Two things are instrumental in determining the portents for security situation. The first is the number of security forces, which is expected to continue at a high level. The second is the pressure on Pakistan to avoid being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Thus, both terrorist and public protest activities are expected to continue at a low level.

This has little to do with the so-called developmental activities started there since 5 August 2019—militancy was never the consequence of poor development!

 

DDC Election Results

It would be preposterous to claim that the 110 seats won by the Gupkar Alliance are an indication of people’s support for it. People are unhappy with the abrogation of Article 370 alright, but they also know that even if the Gupkar Alliance were to sweep the assembly polls someday, Article 370 is not going to come back.

Voting for the Gupkar Alliance is therefore just an expression of their impotent indignation. Therefore, the 75 seats of the BJP including three in the Valley also cannot amount to a referendum on the abrogation of the Article 370. Both must be viewed in the backdrop of the 50 seats won by the independents, which can only be attributed to local influences and factors, not related to Article 370.




Mehbooba and PDP

Mehbooba Mufti and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) face a ‘crisis of credibility’ in view of their ‘opportunistic’ alliance with the BJP. Not long ago, she had described it as ‘people’s alliance’. Now, crying that the alliance was ‘akin to drinking poison’ is outrageous. Claiming that Mufti Sayeed had thought that he could make the BJP understand how important it was for India to solve the problem of Jammu and Kashmir, is childish at best and ridiculous at worst. Fact is, in a political masterstroke, the BJP pulled the rug from under their feet, making her appear a political amateur!

Her argument that Article 370 could not be tinkered with as long as she was in power is wrong because a BJP government with its overwhelming majority in the centre was not in power at that time. She told senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, “I will not fight an election till Jammu and Kashmir special status is restored. That day, I will hold the tricolour and Jammu and Kashmir flag together”. Neither this is an apology for their opportunistic alliance, nor does it help project them as ‘betrayed’ people deserving sympathy.

In an interview to The Wire, she raised some disturbing questions about the Balakot strike. However, those doubts, even if worthy of further probe, have already been swept away into oblivion in the storm of the 2019 election results. It is too late to question them now. Similarly, lamenting fake encounters in 2021 is puerile. Fake encounters have been taking place in this country ever since insurgencies started.

 

Abdullahs and National Conference

In September 2020, Farooq Abdullah was pure rhetoric in his interview to The Wire, where he spoke of not being able to find anybody who would call himself an Indian, and Kashmiris being ‘slaves’ now. Speaking of the presence of security forces, he said Kashmiris were sick of what they had to put up with and hence they would rather have the Chinese. Obviously, he forgot that security forces have been present in Kashmir in similar strength even when the National Conference (NC) governments were in power!

Omar Abdullah was more honest when he told journalist Karan Thapar this year that he had lost motivation and was struggling with the question of whether he should continue in politics.

PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti addressing party leaders

 

Future of the Gupkar Alliance

If there is one thing that unites the constituents of the Gupkar Alliance, it is their opportunism. Cutthroat enemies till the other day, they have no locus standi except a forlorn hope to carve a future for themselves by joining hands against a common enemy. They are understandably reluctant to admit that rent seekers and those used to living on a sense of entitlement have been beaten consummately in their own game.

In a reference to ‘lakhs of troops’, Mehbooba said, “If you establish peace by frightening and threatening people, then you cannot call it peace.” However, troops were present during her alliance with the BJP also. Her argument of the BJP wanting to bring people from outside for labour work is even weaker—have not we heard it played out in Mumbai since long?

 

The Future

Militants could not achieve anything even in the late Eighties and early Nineties when they were very strong (their numbers running into thousands) and the state response very weak. Now, with their greatly depleted strength, they can do nothing, which will change anything materially. Occasional acts of terrorism, however terrible, will not be able to unseal the fate that has been sealed irrevocably.

Lamentable though it could be, but the future of public protests is bleak. The legal screw, if tightened, can spoil the lives of thousands and it is a great deterrent. For once, the ‘Iron Heel’ is triumphant.

Frustration, alienation, Islamic fervour, feelings of betrayal and revenge might all increase with time or reach a plateau; the harsh reality is that the majority in the country does not care for it.

Some people bemoan that India has Kashmir with it but not the Kashmiris. However, if the number of messages circulating on social media is any indication, millions of Indians are exulting that the abrogation of Article 370 has shown the ‘pampered’ Kashmiris their place. It might be unpalatable to many, but that is how the vox populi perceives it.

For decades, we spoke of a mysterious thing called the ‘Kashmir problem’. The problem has been solved by refusing to acknowledge its existence altogether! By refusing to acknowledge public discontent, any vestiges of militancy become a purely law and order problem, not deserving of national attention.

 

Pakistan’s Hand

As far as Pakistan is concerned, contrary to popular propaganda in India and the rhetorical reaction in Pakistan, abrogation of Article 370 has not changed anything on the ground vis-à-vis Pakistan. It has only ended the special status of the state within the Indian Union. From India’s point of view, the state being an integral part of the Indian Union was never in doubt. On 24 February 1994, that is, even when Article 370 was very much in force, the Parliament had formally passed a resolution to that effect.

If the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has any brains, they must have realised by now that the strategy of externally supporting, equipping and instigating an insurgency in Kashmir has failed. What it could not achieve in the early Nineties when it had everything going for it, it cannot achieve now. Combining insurgents with military effort has also failed thrice—Operation Gulmarg (1947), Operation Gibraltar (1965), and Operation Badr (1999).

So what are the options for Pakistan now?

The best they can hope for is to fight a ‘limited nuclear war’ over it. I must clarify that an ‘uncontrolled escalation’ is a fallacy based upon utter ignorance of the psychology of waging war. Continuing a war depends on the nature and character of the humans that are waging it—that is, whether they have the determination to sustain the devastations of war or not. The use of nuclear weapons in a war between us will have to do more with the ‘bloodlust’ and ‘pride’ of the people on both sides. Even a single nuclear weapon could serve to satisfy that bloodlust and pride.

Thus, a nuclear exchange is not only possible, both India and Pakistan are not likely to use more than a couple of nukes each. After the resulting ‘limited but considerable devastation’, the exhausted people, media and leaders will all strive to find ingenious ways of face-saving and to explain how peace and development are more important than continuing to fight.

For the post-nuclear exchange scenario, I agree with Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, that it could prompt the deployment of an international force to help stabilise the situation for a number of years. During that period, Kashmir might be administrated under a UN mandate and protected by an UN-legitimated force, with an election eventually determining the region’s future political status. This could last a decade or more, to allow for the calming of tensions and for political transitions in both countries.

Short of a nuclear war, nothing is going to alter the status of Kashmir.

(The writer, a retired IPS officer, has been DGP Kerala and ADG CRPF and BSF. He is author of 48 books and 76 research papers including nine books on military science, defence and strategy and four on internal security)

 

 

 

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