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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

a quarter century since the start of troubles in Kashmir

Looking Back a Quarter Century On

The night of 19-20 January is traditionally taken as the beginning of the uprising in Kashmir. However, it can also be dated to the earlier release of the militants in exchange for safety of the daughter of the then Indian home minister and current chief ministerial candidate, Mufti Sayeed. In the run up to the Republic Day, the fear was that there could be a unilateral declaration of independence either in the assembly or on the streets. To pre-empt this, the police launched what was perhaps the first crack down, of innumerable to follow in the decade. 

Some claim that the police was ordered in to herald the arrival of 'no nonsense' Jagmohan back into Kashmir. His autobiography of the period records that he was himself at the time in Jammu, preparing for moving to Srinagar. Others insinuate that the inexperienced DGP, recently back from a longish stint in Delhi, wanted to please his new boss, Jagmohan, due to arrive the next day in the vacuum created by Farooq Abdullah's resignation. In the event, the culmination of the events was in the killings at Gaw Kadal. 

The twenty fifth anniversary of the event finds that the situation in Kashmir, though much improved security wise, continues to be fragile. This is best indicated by the lack of return of Kashmiri Pandits to their homes in Kashmir. Discussion revolving around events of the period have centered on the departure of the Pandits. This has been variously attributed to their own sense of vulnerability brought on by prior killings of about 200 Pandits. The atmosphere of intimidation and anarchy prompted many to leave. 

There has been a view that Jagmohan facilitated this exit in order in this perspective to have a free hand to crack down on the militancy. Their presence would have diverted security forces into protective operations, besides making them vulnerable to backlash. Jagmohan himself has not taken responsibility for their departure, though it is possible that once the choice was made to upstake, the administration would have pitched in with assistance. This makes possible the impression to onlookers that the government hastened the departure as it prepared for the long haul of recusing Kashmir from militancy.

From a strategic point of view, it makes sense for removing the vulnerable minority in order to come to grips with a situation virtually out of control. Jagmohan records the atmosphere of gloom as he arrived in Raj Bhawan. In the presence of his adviser, Ved Marwah, he requested the be-medelled corps commander who came to welcome him from Badami Bagh to retrieve the situation. On being handed over the situation, the corps commander, General Zaki, proceeded to change into his combat uniform and marched off with a column of troops into the city. An army column had already deployed in the city earlier as part of aid to civil authority, but the major force was police and CRPF. After a few hours of fearlessly circuiting the city in his open jeep with his escort, he reported back to Jagmohan that the city was secure. 

The situation had deteriorated to this pass since the needlessly rigged elections that kept the MUF out. Pakistan's ISI, suitably enabled by its operation, the Bear Trap in Afghanistan, was ready to divert resources and expertise received from the Americans to it favourite hobby horse, Kashmir. The timing of departure of the Soviets from Afghanistan was just right for the ISI. Therefore, while it did not forge the subsequent insurgency, it did fuel it. The insurgency was primarily an Indian creation. Not to expect Pakistan to profit from the gross misstep would be to take a na├»ve view of international relations. 

While the Kashmiris went across largely due to India's doing, an equally surprised Pakistan's army and ISI took care to arm and hastily train them. It is doubtful Pakistan's government itself was much aware of what was afoot since it was relatively quiet through the period, in part because the pact that enabled return of civil government to power was that it forswore control of Pakistan's India policy, as much as the fact that its head, Mohtarma Bhutto was pregnant. It was only in early February, using the opportunity of marking of Maqbool Butt's handing, that Ms. Bhutto lent her fiery voice in support of the movement that had quite broken out by then. 

The 'uprising' caught India on the backfoot, resulting in it turning into a 'movement'. National elections had placed a minority coalition in power, marking the beginning of the coalition era that persisted through the decade. The government was greeted in its very first month by the Rubaiya Sayeed crisis. International relations were in the vortex of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the outbreak of the spirit of liberation. India's army had been exhausted by its foray into Sri Lanka and had yet to pull out of that island completely. India did not readily have the political and military resources necessary to over awe the movement carried equally on the backs of common people in Kashmir as much as by militants. 

The army did not have the formations to spare for Kashmir. It was not quite out of Sri Lanka, even as it prioritised stabilising Punjab, critical from a strategic point of view. Therefore, it continued for a time in 'aid to civil authority' mode and it was only in mid year, after incidents such as the killings at the funeral procession of the Mirwaiz in May, that the government imposed the Armed Forces Special Power's Act. To keep Pakistan from being any more venturesome than it was already, the army shifted formations from the eastern front. Their movement prompted the crisis of 1990 with Pakistan, taken in strategic literature as the second crisis of the nuclear era in South Asia (the first being Exercise Brasstacks/Operation Trident of 1987). This was to prevent the long anticipated scenario in which Pakistan, under cover of nuclear asymmetry would exploit unsettled conditions in Kashmir by sending in regulars. 

Clearly, given this bleak picture, India did well to keep a hold of Kashmir and to progressively recapture the political high ground. A panicked Indian state could have done worse by presenting the 'international community' with a handle to interfere in South Asia such as occurred in the Balkans and later in East Timor. While India's record is not impeccable, in light of dark examples elsewhere in the world, including from the region for instance in Sri Lanka, it has managed both politically and military, credibly and, indeed, creditably. 

However, whether it has managed to retake the moral high ground is an open question. That the Kashmiri Pandits have not returned to their homes and hearths in the Valley testifies to the deficit in India's control over Kashmir. The ultimate barometer of return of normalcy would be the voluntary return of Pandits, incentivised by an irreversible security situation. This has not happened. The key question therefore at this observation of the twenty fifth anniversary of outbreak of the troubles in Kashmir is less belabouring the fact of their continuing internal exile, but as to why this is so. 

It would be too easy to attribute this to Pakistani chicanery and to leave it at that. Kashmir has enabled the military there to retain control despite the return of democracy in the nineties and in the subsequent decade to return to center stage by displacing it altogether post Kargil War. That said, introspection in India is equally in order. 

There are far too many gainers in unsettled security conditions in Kashmir, not least of which are political formations of the right which have continually prevented the political and moral reaching out necessary to win over the Kashmiris and to interface with Pakistan, recurrently acknowledged in all treaties with it as a legitimate party to the conflict, for a viable solution. Centrist governments too profited by using Kashmir to show they are not soft on security. Security forces have expanded incessantly using Kashmir as excuse. Ethnic groups advantaged by this expansion, including those in the Jammu region and immediately southwards till Delhi, have no complaints. India's great power claims have had a military boost, including from a nuclear capability, furnished by credible recourse to an uncertain regional security situation anchored on the hardy perennial, the Kashmir problem. 

The imposition on the people in Kashmir, including its minority Pandits, has therefore proven a windfall for many political, ethnic and institutional actors and groups, making for several vested interests in the troubles in Kashmir. By this yardstick, the unfortunate Pandits are in quite the same boat as the benighted Kashmiris.

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