Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Kashmir: What Next?

Continued lock down in the Kashmir Valley, has started raising concerns in sections of Indian media and civil society groups, even though criticism from most opposition parties has remained somewhat subdued. What appeared an interim measure on August 05, when special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was abrogated and the state was bifurcated into two union territories, has extended even after seven weeks.  Of late, several retired General and Counter Insurgency security experts have conveyed their apprehension that sustained curtailment of liberty may alienate local citizens in the valley. It can damage years of hard work by security forces towards weaning the local population away from subversive radicalization by the proxies of Pakistani military establishment.

Most market places in the valley continue to remain shut, amidst heavy deployment of security personnel. Easing of security restrictions, withdrawal of curfew and resumption of normal schedules in government offices and schools have not made any significant difference. Vehicular traffic and pedestrian movement remain thin and so does attendance in most institutions. To the credit of Indian security forces, no serious incident of violence has been reported until now.  

What worries people most, is continued detention of most mainstream political leaders. Many of their colleagues as well as civil society activists from rest of the country who attempted to visit them were turned away from the Srinagar airport. Continued clampdown on internet services and satellite TV channels has invited the epithet  that “people in the valley had been pushed back into medieval era.”

On the other hand, life appears normal in both Ladakh as well as Jammu. They together accounted for nearly 4/5th of the territory and 46% of the population- Mostly Hindu and Budhists as well as few Shia sect of Islam-  of the bifurcated state. However,  even here, initial euphoria over “liberation from self-seeking Valley-based politicians milching separatist sentiments for their own bargains from New Delhi”, has given rise to apprehensions. Many fear their neighbourhoods being swamped by outsiders and picturesque landscape losing their sheen if the development works remain as poorly regulated as in rest of the country.

Nationalist government of India shall have to soon find answers and reassure people. Prime Minister Modi has done so through his speeches and public utterances. A substantial progress in this direction would test capacity of governance institutions.

People of Jammu & Kashmir have traditionally enjoyed a privileged position in the union of India. Over the years, almost entire state budget has remained heavily subsidized by the rest of the country.  Locals were not only exempt from direct taxes but a few among them made a fortune by cornering most of the benefits. This section is likely to struggle more to reconcile with loss of special status, howsoever nominal and symbolic. Some have already confided that a piece of their pride and identity had been taken away.

Meanwhile, military controlled Pakistani state has upped its rhetoric on the so-called breach of human rights of Kashmiris. They have found some murmurs of support in the Chinese media but none from the Western world or even West Asia have paid any heed. Its sole claim to Kashmir has been Muslim identity of majority population in the valley. Global leaders at this juncture realize that an inter-connected world cannot afford segregation of people in the name of religion and race. Besides, Pakistan’s own record has been horrendous in governance, rule of law and treatment of even non-Punjabi Muslims of that country.  Most stable West Asian states, being wary of Pakistani involvement in radicalization and terror incidents in their own territories, have maintained a distance.

Kashmiris, on both sides of the divide, have been aware that Pakistan had nothing to offer them, except for cessation of their support to terrorism and radicalization. However, this is not going to be easy. In pursuit of an all out war against India- through means including propaganda, deception, terror, subversion and Islamic radicalization-  Pakistani deep state is suspected to have raised a world-wide mega crime infrastructure. These have helped fund not only proxy wars in India, Afghanistan and Iran but also offered them world-wide clout.

Security agencies of developed countries have been wary of Pakistani involvement in funding of lobbying networks, support to political actors as well as few media and financial institutions in their countries. Episodes like Ghulam Nabi Fai or David Galloway could be tips of a huge iceberg.  Such clout has further helped them consolidate their grip over Pakistani state power to the detriment of the local population. Over the years, Kashmir has been whipped up as an emotive identity issue to an extent that compels people to forgive their state for all its mis-governance, misrule and lack of accountability.

I have always maintained that the traditional counter-terror and counter insurgency strategies require a major revamp. In India, it has been particularly difficult due to wider culture of hierarchical servitude in bureaucracy, coming from colonial legacy, dominating non-military security establishments. Senior leadership in this sector remains seeped in colonial values and outlook, resenting any new idea or even bona-fide intellectual dissidence. They have remained un-empathetic to the requirements of a modern democratic India. They forget that obtrusive and oppressive security counter measures may be unavoidable in certain circumstances but these cannot be justified in perpetuity.

A visit to the valley in May this year showed that the level of alienation in Kashmiri population was remarkably low. This was  despite three decades of violent militancy that had claimed nearly 25000 civilian lives, severely curtailed liberty of local people and exposed them to multiple provocations and inducements including jehadi subversion. Democratic Indian state is obligated to look at its citizens in Kashmir beyond the prism of proxy war with Pakistani deep state. India certainly needs a smarter security paradigm that protects its people and yet decimates subversive networks feeding all out covert Pakistani war. Smart security is a facilitator, and not an impediment, to collective well-being, liberty and dignity of citizens.

Prime Minister Modi  has been exhorting his Ministers and officials to quickly put in place measures for good governance to win hearts and minds of Kashmiris.  Intent appears insufficient in face of formidable challenges in this direction. Governance constraints of Indian democracy have remained its Achilles heels, constricting its overall output. This becomes particularly glaring when compared with similarly statured neighbouring China, which has forged ahead multiple times over the past three decades from a similar position. 

An endurable peace in Kashmir, a permanent victory in covert war and a decisive boost to India’s national security aspirations require serious governance reforms beyond Kashmir valley. What can convince the Kashmiris  that a closer integration with rest of the country was an opportunity that they needed to grab with both hands would be accelerated progress of whole of India towards economic prosperity, social harmony, rule of law to higher output on each of the parameters of Human Development Index. It can bury the two-nation theory forever and equip the Indian governance institutions with capacity to push for even de-radicalization of Pakistani society and democratization of Pakistani state. These are probably indispensable for peace and progress of the entire Indian sub-continent and resurrection of Indian civilizational state as the third pillar of the emerging global order, with the West and the China being the other two.

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