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Thursday, August 19, 2010

ipcs.org
INDIA’S COIN POLICY: ‘PEACE PRECEDING TALKS’?


It is no secret that India does not have a written national strategy document. While well known in respect of its external security situation, this is true for the internal security context as well. For instance, it is nearing ten years now since the CRPF was designated as the lead internal security agency by the GOM report. Yet there is no counter insurgency pamphlet with MHA imprimatur. The effects are visible in the CRPF’s showing in both Kashmir and in Central India.

Absence of an official document makes divining of India’s COIN (Counter-Insurgency) policy difficult. The policy needs to be traced instead from statements and actions, making the exercise resemble the ‘Blind men of Hindustan’. Nevertheless, it can be taken, contrary to expectations, that India’s attitude to return of normalcy in disturbed areas is not dependent on talks. For instance, the action of killing of a Maoist, Azad, apparently interrupted a ‘talks initiative’ of Swami Agnivesh. From statements, such as the PM’s recent two speeches on Kashmir, it is quite clear that India’s policy is one of ‘peace preceding talks’. This article questions this policy.

Delhi’s past record on the political approach to insurgency is not heartening. In Kashmir, George Fernandes, KC Pant and NN Vohra failed as interlocutors. Talks with separatists, initiatives of Advani, the PM in UPA-I and the Home Minister in UPA-II have made no headway. The autonomy report and reports of the five working groups to the three round tables lie neglected. The dialogue with Pakistan got nowhere and is not getting anywhere soon.

Elsewhere too, Delhi has not been able to reach political solutions to insurgencies. Though the offer of talks has been made, the Naxals are required to first cease violence. The Nagaland ceasefire is in its second decade for want of a political solution. Other insurgencies have simply been outlasted. In the Mizoram case, it took two decades for the conversion of a District Council into a UT and thereafter into a state to end the insurgency.

This record along with the PM’s recent statements spells that no political moves are in the offing. The PM has indicated as much in his meeting with the All Party delegation. He said: “…But this (talks) process can gather momentum and yield results only if there is a prolonged peace.” He repeated this formulation, of ‘peace preceding talks’, in the same speech and it should be noted unmistakably: “Let us recognize that repeated agitations whether violent or otherwise only obstruct this process. The cycle of violence must now come to an end.”

Problems in advancing political solutions no doubt exist. For instance, in the Naga case, the demand for Nagalim holds up the solution. In Kashmir, the insistence of separatists for tripartite talks involving Pakistan can hardly be conceded by the government. But can these problems not be taken as a way to legitimize procrastination by the government, in the hope that the militancy would exhaust itself eventually?

The attitude of placing peace as a prerequisite to talks betrays a lack of understanding of peace dynamics. Peace elides any military template, as the military continually warns. Talks are the vehicle for peace. Solutions need to be advanced through talks. With respect to Kashmir, though the PM says that the intent exists, there are no talks ongoing, either on its internal or external planes.

The agitations in Kashmir, over the past three years failed. The earlier militarization of their movement also failed. They will be more innovative in future. What has not happened so far may yet occur, a radicalization of the movement. Praveen Swami, a Kashmir watcher, warns that younger Islamists have taken over the movement in Sopore, displacing separatists who were known quantities. While earlier Kashmir was sought to be linked with the wider Islamist project at the global level, this had amounted to no more than point scoring against Pakistan. Even while some terrorists were inspired by the jihadist ideology, the people were not. The danger lies is in this occurring, should the Indian democracy fail them.

Avoiding this eventuality requires the Center to be politically innovative. If today it is not in a position to deliver, tomorrow it may be less so and it might get too late. For instance, in case the situation in AfPak shapes up negatively, India would have lost time and opportunity. The PM’s words require to be seriously followed up: “I believe that India's democracy has the generosity and flexibility to be able to address the concerns of any area or group in the country...” The reality is that this has not been in evidence in India’s COIN engagements.

The wider point is that the expectation of ‘talks preceding peace’ is insensitive to the plight of the people in disturbed areas. The government, having greater power and sense of responsibility, needs to exhibit it by engaging insurgents through the medium of talks, rather than being reactive militarily. Its COIN policy should instead be ‘peace through talks’. A written document to that effect emanating from the MHA may be a useful first step.

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