Missing the moment in Kashmir - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 19 March 2013

Missing the moment in Kashmir

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Mar 13

At midnight on Saturday, Pakistan's National Assembly completed its five-year term, the first time an elected government has completed its term in that country. If a caretaker government holds elections within 60 days, in accordance with Pakistan's Constitution, it will mark the first democratic transition of power. Outgoing prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf overstated things in his farewell speech when he declared: "Democracy is now so strong, that nobody will stage an ambush against it." But from such tender shoots does democracy flower.

The many Indians who believe that a democratic Pakistan is the key to better relations should share Mr Ashraf's satisfaction; but, in fact, most Indians seem miffed rather than satisfied. That is because Pakistan's outgoing National Assembly, in its last act on Thursday, passed a resolution criticising the hanging of Afzal Guru for his role in a suicide strike on India's Parliament that had sparked a near-war between the two countries. India's Parliament responded the next day with a unanimous resolution condemning "Pakistani interference" and calling upon Pakistan's National Assembly to desist from "support for extremist and terrorist elements". Apoplectic New Delhi insiders say the dialogue process is in deep freeze. So much for democracy as a facilitator of good relations!

Realist watchers of the on-now-off-now India-Pakistan relationship suspect that there will be no more than a three-month interregnum in talks unless Pakistan ratchets up support to cross-border militancy and terrorism. But they may be wrong because a combination of factors suggests contentious days ahead for the Delhi-Srinagar-Islamabad triangle. In the run-up to the American troop drawdown from Afghanistan, the next two years were always going to present a serious challenge to India's diplomatic and security establishment. Any strategist would have foreseen that a positive situation in Kashmir would have freed up New Delhi to shape events in AfPak to its advantage. Sadly, New Delhi will end up fighting fires in Kashmir with one hand while juggling the AfPak playground with the other.

When future historians look back at the last two decades and the ongoing one, they will surely identify New Delhi's most inexcusable strategic folly as its failure to establish a compact with Kashmir (assuming that an even greater blunder does not lie ahead!). During the two and a half years since September 2010 when three years of widespread street violence died down, New Delhi has had the most propitious conditions for devising long-term measures to drain the swamp of resentment in Kashmir. The populace was sick of violence; tourist arrivals, burgeoning year on year, gave them a glimpse of what peace offered; a separatist leadership, worried by the glimpse of new and more radical leaders, was amenable to a settlement; the army, led by a visionary corps commander, was trying to establish a new relationship with Kashmiris; concessions on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in concert with the army presented an easy way to strengthen the nationalist leaders, particularly the chief minister, Omar Abdullah; and a trio of interlocutors produced a report that could have been the basis for a sustained dialogue with a spectrum of Kashmiri opinion. Finally, the Pakistan army, preoccupied with insurgency in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, had little appetite for problems on the India border. As a result, Kashmir also enjoyed an unprecedented lull in militancy.

New Delhi failed to capitalise on these fortuitous circumstances and now several of them have faded away. New Delhi - with a flat refusal to review AFSPA, its inability to establish dialogue, and its insensitive handling of the Afzal Guru hanging - is providing the fuel for resentment to flare. The recent fidayeen attack on a CRPF camp shows that militants retain their capability to strike once popular support rekindles. And with no dialogue initiated with the "moderate separatists", the hardest-liner leaders will command the attention of the street.

Complicating that inaction in Kashmir, New Delhi's relations with Islamabad (and Rawalpindi) are also spiralling downwards after the beheading of an Indian jawan on the Line of Control and the National Assembly's provocative resolution on Thursday. Without a doubt, Pakistan's politicians - all with one beady eye on the forthcoming elections - went too far in passing that resolution. But the public tit for tat now threatens to introduce India into Pakistan's election campaign as everyone's whipping boy. That would generate long-term fallout, leaving Pakistan's new government with a poisoned legacy of having promised to show India its place.

New Delhi must keep in mind that even as trade with Pakistan grows, visas are liberalised and Islamabad insists that "all parties" (a euphemism for the army) are on board the peace process, the Kashmir issue has not faded --- nor ever will --- into insignificance. For Pakistan, Kashmir's symbolism and strategic value - in terms of national and emotional identity, military value or as an upper riparian for waters - will keep bringing it back as a "core issue" whenever circumstances become vitiated between New Delhi and Srinagar.

Highlighting the need for structurally stabilising the Delhi-Srinagar relationship is the ongoing drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan, heading for a minimal presence in 2014 that could even be, as it was in Iraq, a zero presence with a full pull-out. While that would depend upon how Hamid Karzai the brinkman negotiates a Status of Forces Agreement with Washington, India must start preparing for an Afghanistan where its interests are guaranteed not by US troops but by self-sustaining structures in an environment in which Pakistan seems set to play a larger role. I am close to certain that the Pakistani establishment, with its domineering, colonial mindset on Afghanistan, will be unable to consolidate what a needlessly insecure New Delhi considers a winning hand. Either way, India must prepare for ripples from a new AfPak environment washing up in Kashmir.


  1. bird of same feathers... flock together... kurshid gave a grandoise luncheon... at jaipur... for what... to discuss afzal guru... resolution... ???... khurshid and those people... cannot be trusted... birds of same feather... residing besides us... spying for the enemy...

  2. India's pacifist stance w.r.t Kashmir and Pakistan needs to be reviewed. We need to learn from Chinese in this regard. We need to do demographics management in Kashmir by truly bringing Indians into Kashmir and Kashmir into India by removing the controversial Article 370 in Constitution of India.

  3. What can you expect when all the rotten apples are in the same basket? Kashmir valley needs to be separated from rest of the state, as the other regions like Jammu and Laddak are not rotten like Kashmir valley people. What's the point of calling Kashmir valley a part of India, when Indians cannot own land there and Hindus from the Valley were ethnically cleansed by Muslims? Maybe Hindus have a right to ethnically cleanse Muslims from the valley before there can be any reconciliation. Why can't Hindus become militant via-a-vis Muslims, the need of the hour demands defense of Hindu people against the many nations of Islam. Hindu still don't have a nation of our own. Indian Secularism has caused nothing but tragedy and betrayal of Hindus at the hands of minorities in India, which are slowly bleeding and choking us off to extinction. This conspiracy needs to be stopped and reversed. Kashmir needs to be liberated from Muslim strangle hold. For that to happen, Congress party needs to be done with.

  4. The moment I saw Kashmir in the heading, I know you would come round and round on AFSPA...


  5. cent percent... kurshid hasn't... taken up... beheading of Indian soldiers... forget about... returning the same... kasi at ajmer... is more patriotic Indian... than gadhar salman...

  6. Ajai,
    How long do u think the democracy is going to last?? The moment the american gun held on the head of paki army goes down, so will the democratically elected govt in the land of pure. So lets not get all tangled up hoping that the democratically elected govt is going to last forever.

  7. @ Anonymous 13:20

    It's actually spelt "M-O-R-O-N". If you want to call someone a name, it might be a good idea to learn how to spell it.

    Also, you might as well learn how to spell "U-N-E-D-U-C-A-T-E-D". Because that's what you are.

  8. Calling others as morons and uneducated is very easy

    And what have you become Mr Shukla


    Change your name to JAICHAND or better convert to Islam

  9. I do not understand what option our parliament had other than passing the condemning resolution, that very well considering where (and how) we are good at retaliation.

  10. you should understand why indian govt hanged afzal guru,the plan was to keep him in prison till he dies of old age.killing him early would mean providing a martyr to their cause.unfortunately the congress party had to take some measures to stem its unpopularity,thats why they killed afzal guru.you are wrong to think that we havent done anything.the recent outburst by chuck hagel saying india does not want the situation to improve in afghanisthan could be partially true.logically it makes sense.the pakisthan army would be tied up cleaning the situation on the afghan border,chaos in afghan border helps indians

  11. Those calling Ajai "morones" and "gaddars" are pathetic. The reality is that Indians, which includes Hindus, are thriving and rising to a global status but the whiners of the RSS and their ilk want us to believe that we are being cleansed and made extinct in our own land. Perhaps they need to be made extinct instead.

    Sadly my belief in freedom of speech forces me to be exposed to their drivel. Go bugger some shakha member while panting at a photo of NaMo, losers. The rest of us will get on with building this country.

  12. Don't dignify stupidity!Ajay..

  13. Kashmir is by its people and they are all sects and ethnicity. They clearly see the merits of peace and development. Some mistakes from Indian side viz. Internationalising the issue, indecisive nature and delay in Peace Negotiations, Delay in Implementing Interlocuters report, Charging Army personnel in civilian offenses of rape and repression, Non inclusive dialogues and inadequate importance to Track II Diplomacy are major reasons. From Pakistani Side, ordinary pakistani knows better the value of peace and now election manifestos are bringing promises of peace with India as a policy. Mistakes from Pakistani side are not due to political leadership which has understood now the hegemony of Army will lead the country nowhere but due to some fanatics in the Security machinery who still want the India and Pakistan to remain destabilised. -- Atul

  14. Very nicely written post. Your blog is very beneficial for every reader including me. Keep doing the great work so that people like me can learn some nice and new things.
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