The ghastly attack on the CRPF convoy on last Thursday has once again stirred the debate around the ways to tackle the complex political, social and security issues that surround the valley, influenced by sociological composition of the valley, the involvement of non-relenting, militantly ever-intrusive neighbours and a straiten Union whose actions are potentially susceptible to public opinion. In order to have a fruitful discussion regarding the future of the valley, one requires an accommodative acceptance of certain actualities surrounding the conflict as mentioned below.
First, no matter how shaky the security situation in the valley become, there is never a possibility of it seceding from the union of India. Second, if such secession were to ever take place, it would only be de jure secession and not a de facto one. There is hardly a state that is not influenced by its neighbor; strong states like Russia and the United States are still concerned with the affairs of Ukraine and Cuba respectively. To imagine an independent Kashmir is a futile exercise. It will continue to be a pawn in the South-Asian geopolitics with invasive intrusions from all the three states it shares a boundary with. Third, the secession that so ever happens would not be an assimilating one. It will not be a democratic and harmonious state. The nature of conflict has aged from appeal to separate identity of Kashmiris to an Islamic theocratic sentimentality. To imagine such a place to be an oasis of self-determinism and peaceful co-habitation, which usually captures the imagination of the left-centric populace, is delusionary. The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits with no sight of return in near future is the biggest example of such eventuality.
Fourth, contrary to what the general belief there is a significant population of Kashmiris in the valley are that is yet hopeful for conflict if a reasonable resolution is brought forth. The successful anti-terror operations are a testament to their cooperation, which can’t be done without a complete lack of reliable information being given by the locals. Fifth, any such resolution cannot be brought about if its basis lies in religious restructuring, the autonomous regions in the North-east have their basis in tribal rights recognition and not religious. It is, therefore, quite important that the pandits who have been forced to left the region get to have a say in the future of the valley.
Sixth, the people of the valley are indeed discontent with the ways the Union has historically handled the conflict. The continuous undermining of elections, the security and strategy failure of the 90s and the subsequent blanket bans of communication in the valley have allowed the general public trust of the government to recede. It is, therefore, important that their trust is regained again. It can’t happen overnight and setbacks such as the attack that happened on the CRPC convoy cannot become obstacles to reach out to people. Seventh, for this, to happen the also government needs to capture on the narratives. Terrorism, as the word suggests, is more of a psychological battle than a physical one. The Government hasn’t yet allowed the unfortunate demise of soldiers from the valley such as Lt. Ummer Fayaz and Aurangzeb, who happened to be kidnapped from Pulwama itself, capture the popular imagination. The valley needs an alternate role model beyond the apologists like Shah Faesal, who like Kejriwal, suffers from Service Incapacity Syndrome wherein opportunity for bringing about a change is treated with contempt for the individual effort it seeks.
Eighth, the calls for an all-out war are understandable, justified and offer an appealing possibility to bring about a complete obliteration of the source of the conflict. But it is undoubtedly the most costly, uncertain and blood shedding prospect. More so, it is undeniable that we have more to lose in terms of economic progress, international standing, and material well-being. Our neighbors, on the other hand, have given up their place in this race a long time ago. They took their irreversible turn to ruin economic when they started seeking international geopolitical economic aid instead of building their own infrastructure. Pakistan’s constant solicitations for bailouts from IMF are a testament to it. In that sense, Pakistan cannibalistic mentality of self-destruction so long as it damages the enemy can’t become our own national policy. The Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s commitment to Nuclear weapons even if it meant eating grass, is essentially how Pakistan continues to guide its perspective with respect to India. In the meantime, the geopolitical situation has changed a lot over the years and India needs to be more cognizant of it. The USA has long ceased to be the source of influence over Pakistan, the negotiation for peace in the subcontinent is now paved through China, which incidentally seeks to come across as a responsible superpower. Any pressurization to be exerted over now needs for us to have leverage over China, a bigger adversary with more resources, but with a lot more enemies in the South-China Sea. In the longer run, our influence in the region will determine our capacity for coercive diplomacy.
Ninth, the most admired politician from the Union in the valley has been Bharat Ratna Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji, from whom the political class can imbibe a very important lesson. On the dawn of his stable government, he made an appeal to the collective consensus on certain issues of national importance, matters related to defense and foreign policy among others. He himself was steady upon this consensus throughout his political life, most exemplary of his commitment was when he went as the opposition leader to advocate the stance of India in the UN on Kashmir. Such consensus seems to be dwindling in today’s political class, whether it is the Rafale deal or discussion on Kashmir. On Tuesday, a novice yet influential South-Indian film star-cum-politician made a statement regarding India’s non-acceptance for holding a plebiscite in the region. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the intelligence or the zeal of actually reading up of the UNSC resolution that calls for the plebiscite requires de-militarisation of the area starting with Pakistan. One might be tempted to ask whether he would go to Pakistan and seek such de-militarisation. Such half-informed public statements are equally destructive as a bomb, plurality of views can be accommodated but pernicious cannot.
Lastly, security forces cannot be treated to be some kind of impenetrable and opaque force which does not have a sense of individual morale, emotions, and perspective. Their inputs, demands, welfare is as important as the de-escalation of conflict. The political class needs to carve out space for the checked area of function where armed forces have considerable say in carrying out its operations that is sealed from the politicization of their actions. The elimination of terrorist Burhan wani was one such example, where the political class let the army down by allowing it to be a matter of national headlines; such operations need to be contained and shared according to the operational instructions of the forces.
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