Kashmir: The present crisis too can be overcome
By Hiranmay Karlekar
There is no reason to panic while dealing with the present unrest in Jammu & Kashmir. The situation is by no means irretrievable. In 1947, Pakistani troops and tribal irregulars were beaten back from the outskirts of Srinagar. The Kashmir Valley was in flames in 1989-90 and the utterly inept and weak-kneed Union Government of the day seemed to be clueless and foundering. Slowly, however, the level of violence and Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism began to subside. Things had improved vastly, with secessionist leaders like Ali Shah Gilani isolated, the level of violence declining and tourist traffic picking up, until the present crisis exploded.
The present crisis too can be overcome. The upward curve of every mass movement has three stages: Gestation, growth and peaking. It then carries everything before it if the response is weak, but levels off and declines if resolute action bars further progress. Arguments over the best way to forge ahead then begin among the movement's leaders and become increasingly acrimonious. Personal rivalries come to the fore and lead first to factional tension and then to strife. Supporters become demoralised and, slowly, the movement loses steam and peters out. In the past, many Governments have used growing contradictions within a movement to hasten its end.
It is best to squelch secessionist movements in the gestation stage by combining firmness with redressal of genuine grievances. This was not done in Jammu & Kashmir when the present stage of the secessionist movement was getting under way with terrorists setting up their infrastructure for violence the 1980s following Sheikh Abdullah's death. The first step toward turning the tide of the agitation in the State will require making it absolutely clear that it will remain an integral part of India, come what may, and Jammu and Kashmir will not be separated.
Apart from the blunders by the Jammu & Kashmir Government -- which have been discussed too threadbare to require reiteration -- one reason why the violent movement in the Valley has snowballed is the belief that the Government of India is losing the will to fight indefinitely to retain the State as an integral part of the country, and that a prolonged, massive upsurge will undermine whatever resolve it still has and force it to give independence to the Valley. This belief, which has to some extent been reinforced by some Indian eminences favouring independence for Kashmir, must immediately be shown as totally delusory.
This must be followed by effective steps to suppress the violent agitation in the State by enforcing the law even-handedly in both Jammu and Kashmir. Secessionists must be isolated and, where it is unavoidable, incarcerated. As important, the flow of funds, arms, explosives and ammunition -- and the trickle of terrorists -- from Pakistan across the Line of Control and via Bangladesh, must be stanched.
The present strategy of interdicting these at the border and acting against terrorist modules within the country, has not worked well. The border with Bangladesh is thoroughly porous and the country's present caretaker Government combines cosmetic anti-terrorist gestures with avoidance of action which will put the extremists out of business, and prevent Pakistan from using the country as a base for terrorist strikes in India. But most important, India must compel Pakistan to stop sponsoring cross-border terrorism against this country through the instrumentality of its Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and jihadi outfits like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jaish-e-Mujaheedin and Hizbul Mujaheedin.
The argument that the present democratic Government in Islamabad should be given a chance to settle down and curb terrorism, merits a summary dismissal. The escalation of terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir began in 1989-90. Mr Nawaz Sharif, whose first stint as Prime Minister lasted from November 1, 1990 to July 18, 1993, did nothing to halt it. Nor could he, during his second stint as Prime Minister from February 17, 1997 to October 12, 1999, prevent Pakistan's incursion into Kargil. Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister when the ISI and the United States' Central Intelligence Agency jointly created the Taliban in the summer of 1994. Whether the democratic rulers were unable or unwilling to curb cross-border terrorism against India is irrelevant. What is relevant is the fact that terrorism waxed during their tenures.
The present Government in Pakistan is teetering on the brink following the withdrawal of support by Mr Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League. Even if the latter makes up with Mr Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan People's Party, their Government is unlikely to have the steel to take on the Taliban and the Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan. Going by present indications, it is a matter of time before Pakistan becomes Talibanised as the United States and the West appear increasingly unwilling or unable to mount the kind of military action required to stop the process.
We must be ready for the worst -- the emergence of a Talibanised Pakistan, where the Al Qaeda calls the shots as it did in Afghanistan during Mullah Omar's rule. India, which, along with the United States and Israel, features in Osama bin Laden's list of the three principal enemies of Islam, will then have to bear the full brunt of an all-out jihad through unconventional (terrorism) and (perhaps also) conventional war. Apart from other solid juridical and historical reasons, this makes it absolutely imperative for us retain Kashmir as an integral part of the country. The Taliban will overrun an 'independent' Kashmir perhaps even before they triumph in Pakistan. This will rob us of our first, and critically important, line of defence in the North-West and give jihadi hordes easy passage to the plains of northern India.
Besides maintaining firm control over the whole of Jammu & Kashmir, we have to engage in hot pursuit of infiltrating terrorists across the LoC and also conduct covert operations against terrorist infrastructure within Pakistan. Unfortunately, the apparatus that we had built up for striking within Pakistan was dismantled during the heyday of the Gujral doctrine from 1996 to 1998. This was an act bordering on treachery.
We need to rebuild the apparatus without delay and retaliate in kind if Pakistan continues to sponsor cross-border terrorism against us. We must also intensify operations against terrorist outfits within our country and either re-enact POTA or let State Governments like those of Gujarat and Rajasthan have their own tough anti-terrorist laws. Nothing else will do.
Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi