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Sunday, July 25, 2010

#3195, 20 July 2010
Jammu and Kashmir: Need for a Political Solution

Even as India was moving into a self-congratulatory mode in gaining the upper hand in Kashmir, the recent youth agitations reminded it that placing a military lid on the situation does not make it go away. This has been acknowledged by both the Kashmir Chief Minister and the Army Chief, calling for ‘political’ steps. The Army Chief has gone further seemingly to suggest that earlier opportunities having been frittered away; it is time for a political solution. Removing deep levels of disaffection can only be done by a political approach.

Promises have been aplenty and so have overtures. The last initiative of ‘secret diplomacy’ by the home minister has also been discontinued. Nevertheless, these actions indicate that intent exists. It begs the question as to why the state has held back. There are two sets of reasons: the first set comprising understandable reasons and the second those less so. Eliminating these reasons would help with the solution.

The first set gives the state the benefit of the doubt comprising fairly obvious reasons that the problem is complex, has a historical legacy and involves a territorial problem as well. But a significant reason is that India’s nation-building project is a work-in-progress. It is wary of the demands of its constituent sub-nationalities. It fears that setting a precedent may encourage the others through working of the ‘demonstration effect’. The domino theory in this case conjures up an unraveling of India.

The second is more critical to the state, dealing with the vexed question of militarization. The ‘insurgency economy’ in terms of vested interests of all players including security forces having grown roots, now requires considerable convincing that it is time to draw down. A political approach necessitates reconsidering the AFSPA. The Army Chief has already indicated his aversion to removal of AFSPA; implying that in case it is removed, so should the Army. Counter intuitively, removal of a division would do more for peace than a division deployed.

The political risk in proving this paradox could have been mitigated by getting Pakistan on board. With talks having collapsed last week at Islamabad, little progress can be expected on the Kashmir front. Absent any effort at selling the necessity of a political agenda to shape public opinion, a political approach is apparently not on the cards.

Who gains from another wasted summer in Kashmir, for both Kashmiris and India, provides the answer. Pakistan has kept the issue alive over the last three summers, deflating Indian complacency resulting from military dominance of the internal security situation. The low ebb militarily in Kashmir can be explained by the fact that Pakistan is keeping its powder dry for a post-AfPak situation.

Waiting for the situation to get worse in Pakistan, so that it falls out of the radar screen on the Kashmir question, has not worked for India. Indeed, it is questionable if India should have such a preference in first place. Getting Pakistan on board is the key. This means not missing opportunities at the mid-month meeting in Islamabad. The only gain of the meeting of setting the date for the next one needs to be capitalized on. India has six months to implement a fresh strategy.

The proposal here is to mesh the external and internal dimension of the Kashmir issue. Progressive demilitarization of J&K is necessary. Doing so would have a salutary effect in entrusting citizens and incentivizing them to preserve gains made. A sense of ownership, of return of peace can be brought about. Perhaps later, a Nagaland model ceasefire can be worked out, even as constitutional modalities of devolution of powers are worked through for a political approach.

Clearly, this internal dimension would require Pakistan ceasing support to terrorists. Negotiations involve a ‘give and take’. Pakistan would get a return to normalcy in Kashmir through autonomy of sorts. It would be willing to settle for this, given that it has not been able over the last twenty years to make India budge. Stable Kashmir may not be enough for Pakistan in case it wants to keep India off balance for reasons of perceived insecurity. A ‘grand bargain’ may perhaps help. India could permit political space for a return of a Taliban willing to reform itself. A stable backyard would end Pakistani insecurities that among other reasons, prompted interference in Kashmir in the first place.

Selling this agenda internally against skepticism of the strategic community, intelligence fraternity and the military is what politics is about. The domino theory is correct, but only in reverse. The more accommodative India is internally, the less it will be challenged. Even if the AFSPA is deemed necessary, meaningful self-regulation can be imposed under threat of liberal grant of central permission for prosecutions under its Article 7. As for vested interests, budgets can compensate.

This is a tough political call. Nothing can kill an idea better than the levels of political will and risk necessary for its implementation. But, in case of India’s twin Kashmir and Pakistan problems, there is no escaping the status quo without a political approach.

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