By Sanjay Jha
( DISCLAIMER: I have not yet visited Kashmir. This article is written purely based on my interest in history as a student , growing up and hearing the words “ Kashmir crisis” from time immemorial , and now as an active observer of current political events).
As I drove past the seedy-looking dilapidated single-screen Edward theatre near Princess Street, Mumbai , sometime ago the irony was not lost on me. It was playing the classic romantic film Kashmir Ki Kali, even as India remembered the fallen martyrs of the Kargil war exactly 11 years ago. In the meantime, Kashmir has dramatically succumbed to it’s familiar sporadic internal conflagration. What next?
India-Pakistan bilateral relationship is mired in a complex intractable web since 1947. But despite the woebegone progress in 63 years ( please ignore those celebrated cricket matches, frequent photo-ops in international summits, fanfare-ridden bus rides and numerous cosmetic gestures ) and three hostile wars later, both countries continue the same ham-handed , appalling job in bridging the cavernous divide. Honestly, what really has changed in our acrimonious relationship, shrouded in a permanent pernicious haze since the time Jammu and Kashmir become part of India?
As India and Pakistan take a deserved hiatus after the Islamabad altercation, and Srinagar hits the daily headlines, it is time to introspect and do some soul-searching. And plain speaking.
THE ISLAMABAD FIASCO
The rigorous examination of External Affairs Minister SM Krishna-Foreign Minister SM Qureshi’s ill-fated press conference in Islamabad is singularly unwarranted . Actually it was a sure-shot misadventure from the word go. Sure public opinion matters and nervous politicians are justifiably worried about electorate perceptions but media management cannot overtake subtle nuances of managing serious diplomatic equations, can it? What was the compelling urgency to have a press conference, when a simple well-drafted innocuous joint statement expressing good intentions alone would have sufficed? You would expect a standard FAQ check-list handy and pure banal responses to anticipated grilling. Which strategic analyst expected a miraculous “ breakthrough” anyway? It was pure tactlessness especially when you know you are treading on treacherous ice. What were the famous aides doing, please?
THE PRESSURE TO BE ONE-UP BOOMERANGS
Qureshi is not necessarily the personification of nastiness, but he sure possesses the charisma of a flat tyre. Frankly, Qureshi needs intense media lab sessions as he fails to realize that body language is three-fourths of effective communication particularly in a Truman Show’s world. Also in these bilateral media interactions there is humongous competitive pressure to score brownie points over each other, as if it is a quasi-presidential debate. Media cursorily evaluates— “ who won?” Qureshi’s irrational exuberance ensured that both Krishna and he lost.
WHY HAS INDIA FAILED TO OSTRACIZE PAKISTAN ?
India scores huge brownie points for engaging in diplomatic dialogue with a recalcitrant neighbor despite the wishy-washy handling of 26/11. The despiteful masterminds of that orchestrated attack today live in Pakistan. 26/11 was not just a sporadic terrorist attack by a handful of misled, malevolent macho young men wearing backpacks on a suicidal mission but a planned attempt by splinter militant outfits to wage a proxy war against India. David Headley’s testimony of ISI involvement is a trenchant indictment of Pakistan’s tacit institutional abetment of that attack. Global terrorism is the new modern warfare replacing cross-border conflicts of the World War II kind, where deadly killers destroy civilian lives and predetermined sensitive targets in a guerilla operation. There are no UN sanctions, no international condemnation either. But a wounded India needs to emphatically tell the world that despite frequent provocations it has resisted the mounting urge to counter-attack .India has not been able to successfully ostracize Pakistan by building a strong international lobby, essential to keep Pakistan under constant surveillance. Thus, Pakistan plays cross-border games in Kashmir at well-punctuated intervals with contemptuous indifference of international opinion.
NON-STATE ACTORS OR A NON-ACTING STATE?
26/11 attack was promptly repositioned by the much under-rated President Asaf Ali Zardari as an act carried out by “ non-state actors”, an ambiguous term wrapped in a fuzzy foil. . Non-state actors has given Pakistan a convenient pretext to walk away scot- free from both the moral and criminal responsibility it otherwise would have faced. In fact, it unwittingly legitimizes cross-border terrorism. Quintessentially, Zardari insinuates that if another 26/11 happens, so be it. But why should India pay such a mammoth price for Pakistan’s internal domestic challenges? And in any case, how can Pakistan thereafter put up such a ludicrous laughable pretension that it needs conclusive evidence despite being presented several dossiers? Perhaps Pakistan’s cocky demeanor emerges from its peculiar stranglehold over the world’s sole surviving superpower , the blundering United Sates of America . But then that is another story altogether.
SM KRISHNA WILL NEED TO BUCK UP
The External Affairs portfolio needs a savvy sangfroid politician with deft negotiation skills, not an old party faithful awaiting political resuscitation. Is SM Krishna the right man for the job? He was resurrected from semi-retirement and offered a high-profile sensitive portfolio despite the delicate geopolitical environment confronting India. It is one thing to manage Reddy brothers and Silicon Valley investors but altogether another to handle artful, seasoned, even crafty adversaries from across the border. SM Krishna is a decent, distinguished well-intentioned honorable man but he will need to buck up quickly given the explosive ground realities.
WHAT MAKES US A SOFT STATE? “ FEAR”.
It is about time we stopped living in denial, in a land of dazzling illusions. Pakistan is pathologically obsessed with Kashmir, and three decisive war defeats has not waned its contumacious intent to sustain its vigorous territorial aggression. Maybe Bangladesh also hurts deeply . Hence, beneath that rehearsed feel -good pretense lies a disgruntled adversary in permanent sulk. That concealed antagonism frequently takes vicious forms, like periodic Kashmir infiltration, a Kargil and casual decontrol of non-state actors. It is the latter that Pakistan knows can create havoc in India’s essentially tranquil existence.
In India, it is an effortless task to create complete maelstrom , hence the spasmodic terrorist attacks to remind us of our unchanging vulnerability. Our intelligence systems and disaster preparedness are riddled with bureaucratic inefficiencies. This is sadly enough not a state secret. I believe it is this undeniable susceptibility that makes India a soft state , and invariably forces us into the dialogue table. India needs to replicate the Israeli security model, no matter how Herculean the task of defense readiness. We desperately need a Minister of Internal Security. It is futile to stick to the flimsy pretext that terrorists can strike anywhere, anytime. I agree, they can. But should modern urban India live in constant fear of lurking death? I think our canny neighbors know that very well. It creates a lopsided advantage if your belligerent opponent knows how unguarded is your backyard. It finally impacts diplomatic negotiations
INDIA MUST STATE THE OBVIOUS: KASHMIR IS NON-NEGOTIABLE
Despite administering over Jammu and Kashmir for over six decades we have steadfastly refused to loudly proclaim the obvious; Kashmir is non-negotiable. But a lot of water has now traveled under the bridge since that famous October incursion of 1947. Period! It is about time India cut out the politic pussyfooting on Kashmir, and explicitly stated: Lets have great bilateral relations , but there will be no further talks if Kashmir is bought into the fore. As long as Pakistan feels Kashmir is a convenient hobgoblin that that they can opportunistically raise, they will. To any and every act, they will raise the issue of the Valley, and we are always made to sound apologetic about it. Also, we need to make a categorical declaration on azadi and self-determination to the militant groups who provoke local disgruntlement , and this needs to be communicated by the entire political mainstream India. Ideally, we need political leadership that can convince Kashmiris that actually Article 370 prevents them from realizing their full potential. The issue of “ limited autonomy “ can at best be a short-term strategy , when complete amalgamation should ideally be the pragmatic long-term objective. I think we miss the woods for the trees.
Territorial disputes are usually convoluted long-lasting stumbling blocks unless there is visionary leadership on both sides, a statesmanlike disposition. Just think, both the countries are spending exorbitant resources in defense expenditure they can ill-afford. The much touted ploy of assuaging domestic vote banks reveals a myopic vision, determined by short-term political expediencies. That is the reason why the Israel-Palestine dispute also remains an interminable problem.
The most bizarre aspect is Pakistan’s allegation of Indian human rights violations in Kashmir and a subtle admonishment that we should “ exercise restraint”. . India’s retort should be obvious; yes, there have been occasional indiscretions, and in some cases rather serious blunders , but if Pakistan were to stop its flagrant militant incursions into our territories India would gladly withdraw/reduce its security forces, and then even the random unfair assault would dramatically drop.
CHINA HAS LEVERAGED ITS ECONOMIC POWER, INDIA NEEDS TO DO THE SAME
In 1947 , India was a poor Third World developing country just overcoming the nightmare of foreign subjugation. In 2010, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the first foreign head of state invited to the White House by US President Barack Obama. They also confabulate in G 20 Summits. Six decades later, we are no longer a bankrupt nation going around with a begging bowl. India is a gigantic trillion dollar economic force, the emerging labor-supply chain of global manufacturers and service companies and along with China, the biggest consumer market of the future. But we must convert our great commercial expanse into measurable political gains. It is time for hard bargaining . We are a country that intrinsically does not know how to “market itself”. Our lobbying skills are pedestrian, our confidence in building alliances woefully lacking in diplomatic finesse and skilful stratagem. We are constantly “ catching up”. By contrast, China uses a judicious mix of its military prowess and gargantuan economic size to extraordinary advantage. UK Prime Minister’s David Cameron’s “ export of terror” statement was a massive shot in the arm for Indian diplomats usually struggling to get vocal support from key world powers.
THE PRINCIPAL AGENDA: BUILD KASHMIR TO MAKE IT STRONG
If there are gross terrifying acts of human rights excesses , they need to be severely condemned and swiftly corrected. Bitterness is a long-lasting bug. Security forces are equally vulnerable though , and honestly, are highly susceptible to over-reaction if frequently attacked , killed and threatened by hostile forces. It is part of their professional training to be ferociously disciplined in attacking a known enemy. In Kashmir, the enemy, is unfortunately usually wearing a deceptive mask, and is ingeniously concealed. It makes killing a guessing game, with disastrous consequences.
What can the impressionable Kashmiri youth do if they are not gainfully employed and looking forward to a secure future with bright sanguine expectations? What are India’s leading political parties doing to create livelihood options? That should be our prime national agenda. Frankly, the state government of Omar Abdullah has a splendid opportunity in the forthcoming five years to bring about a radical transformation. But for that, it will have to move out of traditional political tactics and bring about an “ on-ground, in-home contact” with the common Kashmiri. It will be a humongous challenge, but an in-the-box solutions approach has clearly backfired. What are the options ?
Kashmir also needs to benefit from India’s own cultural diversity, as it is excessively cocooned in a security maze and sundered from the rest of India. The issue of local identity cannot overtake the larger national character, irrespective of earlier promises made in peculiar political circumstances. Large-scale investments are virtually impossible unless we allow a transparent integration of Kashmir with India.
Why can’t we truly make Kashmir the Switzerland of the East, a tourist haven like no other ? It is a Catch-22 situation. Unless the security climate improves, Kashmir will suffer from the fear psychosis it emanates and the consequent forced isolation. On the flip side, we only deny Kashmir its full economic potential by delaying its inevitable integration into India which in turn can neutralize militancy by nipping its growth in the bud. A big push from all stakeholders is the need of the hour.
INDIA DESERVES SALUTATIONS FOR ITS SECULARISM
Despite a few serious setbacks, India should be proud of its secular credentials. We are home to 10.3% of the worlds’ Muslim population. Of our 138 million Muslims in India actually only about 5% live in Jammu and Kashmir. It is grossly unfair to believe that the Indian political establishment treats 95% of Indian Muslims with kid gloves and those in the Valley with a rough iron rod.
We cannot be wrongly perceived as a ruthless military regime suppressing dissidents , reminiscent of Eastern Europe in the Cold War era every time there is stone pelting in the streets of Srinagar. It is frankly ridiculously impracticable to believe that Kashmir will not have disaffected elements attempting intimidation. It is time to accept that stray incidents of violence happens in every city and town of India and the world; but the Valley cannot be equated with the West Bank and Gaza strip because of its scattered incidents. In Kashmir every minor instance is hurriedly escalated to alarming levels, drawing international coverage and giving Pakistani intransigence a kick-start. Sure, local police force needs to gradually replace military presence and human rights violations need to be promptly addressed, but it will be naïve for us to believe that 100% normalcy should be our ultimate goal. That is being both optimistic and naïve. We need to give Kashmir some breathing space, and we will get there. The current crisis manifests Kashmir’s easy vulnerability.
INDIA PLAYS DIPLOMACY AND PAKISTAN, POLITICS
The truth is that Home Secretary GK Pillai’s statements on ISI engagement in the 26/11 attacks was factually correct and publicly known, so how is its “ timing” at all germane? Krishna’s open rebuking of Pillai is a manifestation of how India lives in some strange state of renunciation of realities. Pillai committed no diplomatic gaffe, only Qureshi masterfully politicized it.
Qureshi forgot that diplomacy is the art of jumping into troubled waters without creating a splash. The ripples are still being felt.
WHO WILL BLINK FIRST ON PAK-OCCUPIED KASHMIR?
I now enter a hitherto forbidden zone, the sacrosanct territory (literally) of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir ( PoK). Both Pakistan and India have actually arrived at a convenient status quo of sorts but are unwilling to publicly acknowledge it as they apprehend a domestic public backlash. PoK remains an unsaid, unwritten but quietly unchallenged line of control despite its “ illegal status”. But for heaven’s sake, aren’t they actually holding elections in that “disputed zone” for decades? Who are we fooling? In effect, India believes that it is making a significant territorial concession to Pakistan (a quid pro quo for the remaining Jammu and Kashmir) by letting the cease fire line become the new border , virtually ensuring PoK as a reality. It is time Pakistan reciprocated by accepting the inevitable, that the rest of Jammu and Kashmir is rightfully Indian , and keep a long distance from Srinagar and stop instigating trouble.
Willy-nilly, political leadership in both countries will have to one day pass the litmus test on this; the delay is costing a humongous resource-drain in both nations.
THE WAY FORWARD
Finally, the politicians on both sides who spew virulence and pseudo-nationalism need to realize that they represent the common man on the streets of Karachi and Kanyakumari, Rawalpindi and Ranchi. And I strongly believe that as people neither the Pakistani nor the Indian really hate each other. Given a choice, they would love to move on. Ask one of India’s “ demographic dividend” Gen Y generation and you will know.
Both the countries can take inspiration actually from two fairly unheralded tennis players; Aisam Qureshi of Pakistan and Rohan Bopanna of India. They are a wonderful doubles combination, partners in one of the most competitive sports in the world. They play together as a team, travel from one city to another, even as their political leaders squabble away. Neither come from countries that have good tennis playing facilities. And yet they have won titles in the ATP tennis circuit and even entered the Wimbledon quarter-finals this year, not for once allowing the inimical relations between their nations to derail their friendship, partnership and faith in each other.
Therein lies a story. Of hope. Of opportunity. Of a tomorrow. Of what is possible.
The views expressed here are the author’s own.