Badla for Bangladesh
The country wishes our foreign minister well when he meets his Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) meeting in Islamabad on July 15. It is not easy to put down the historical baggage of bitter cynicism regarding Pakistan, but, for some reason, India seems to have discerned some kind of a game — changing breakthrough at Thimphu through arcane interpretations of "personal chemistry" and "body-language" between the Prime Ministers of the two countries.
Dialogue, howsoever interminable and frustrating, is always preferable to artillery fire. India and Pakistan are no exception, even though public opinion in both countries has hardened into a subconscious state of mutual hostility almost since Partition. It is not surprising therefore that the eager peace overtures to Pakistan initiated at Sharm el-Sheikh and elsewhere have been summarily smacked down with such vehemence that further perseverance seems almost masochistic.
"Trust deficit" is the latest buzzword on Indo-Pak relations parroted in India with a dreary simplemindedness which has started bordering on the tiresome. But even as India's external affairs minister piously intoned, "We feel Pakistan will not encourage terror-related activities any more", Pakistan's disdainful counter-battery came crashing right back, "India's approach is self delusional".
While maintaining open attitudes, India's discussants at Islamabad must always keep in mind that Pakistan's requirement for peace with India is more urgent than is India's for "peace at any cost" with Pakistan, all the more so because now, for the first time since Independence, the Pakistan Army finds itself caught in its own "two-and-a-half front" strategic nutcracker: between the Tehrik-e-Taliban in the west, and a perceived threat from "Hindu" India in the east, coupled with a half-front of internal instability with Punjabi Taliban and sectarian Shia-hunters ripping the Pakistani heartland apart. Such contingencies had hitherto been engineered exclusively for India by the Pakistani military and covert operations establishments and it is surely some kind of poetic justice that these have now appeared within their own compounds. That is why peace with India, howsoever opportunistic or cynical, is what the Pakistan Army requires for itself in its own interest, even though it is very likely to be transitory. Nonetheless, it has to be factored into the backdrop as both governments begin planning for the talks, incorporating political parties and other national constituents within their own countries, all perfectly normal, except it cannot escape notice that Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reported personally to the Pakistan Army general headquarters in Rawalpindi to meet the Chief of Army Staff, as well as Pakistan's chief covert operations executive Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha, the director general Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The increase in the intensity of the separatist intifada and the return of the Indian Army to the streets of Srinagar at this exact moment cannot be a coincidence. It is just too precise and calibrated to be anything except enemy action. The implications are clear — the leopard is disinclined to change its spots just as yet.
For India, part of the problem is the blanket appellation of "Kashmir" as shorthand for the entire state of "Jammu and Kashmir" which obfuscates the ground reality of three separate and distinct sub-regions in the state — Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh, all quite diverse and divergent in their outlook and mindset. Amongst these, Jammu and Ladakh are wholeheartedly Indian, and only in the sub-region of the Kashmir Valley (aka "the Valley" to generations of Indian soldiers) do substantial sections of the population demonstrate their strident hostility towards an Indian identity. They demand instead either a merger into the Promised Land of Pakistan, or "Azaadi" as an independent state which, by inclination, would be a natural ally of Pakistan and enable it savour a successful strategic end-state in its plans for "Badla for Bangladesh".
Though Hindu pandits and other minorities have been forced out of the Valley and into internal exile in other parts of the country, the Valley region alone does not represent the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. It is important that Indian public opinion is educated and informed that even within the Valley there are fairly substantial non-Kashmiri speaking Muslim segments — Gujjars and Bakarwals in the upper reaches nurture a long-standing disconnect with the dominant Kashmiri-speaking mainstream because of economic and social marginalisation. The Gujjar and Bakarwal constituencies are not inimical to India and, given focused political empowerment in an inclusive manner, can form significant political counter weights to separatist forces.
Meanwhile, in spite of best efforts at political and economic outreach, there is little prospect of change in the foreseeable future in the traditional adversarial mindset of the Kashmiri-speaking majority in the Valley. "Hearts and minds" will remain a distant goal here, no matter how many political or material inducements may be offered in terms of Article 370, "free and fair" general and state elections, or special subsidies and other facilities. Anti-India actions by Pakistan-sponsored jihadi terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and others will continue to find resonance within the Valley, periodically bursting out as stone-throwing intifada in downtown Srinagar, political violence in Sopore or Baramula, and support for "mehman" mujahideen from across the border wire.
Democracy has many manifestations, each appropriate for a particular environment. For Jammu and Kashmir and particularly the Valley, preservation of India's parliamentary democracy requires a large and visible police, paramilitary, and military presence along the Line of Control as well as in disturbed regions in the interior. Faux-intellectuals and liberals who often deplore the large military presence in Kashmir would do well to comprehend the stakes involved, because the larger Indian community will not accept under any circumstances a "political resolution of the Kashmir issue" based on either merger of any portion of the Kashmir Valley with Pakistan or its secession from India by "azaadi".
- Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament