Opinion: With Kashmir ceasefire, India walks a fine line

New Delhi, Delhi, India May 22, 2018, 11.24 AM(IST) Written By: Major General S B Asthana

File photo of Indian Army soldiers in Kashmir. . Photograph:( Reuters )

The developmental efforts initiated by Indian government in Jammu and Kashmir are a welcome measure for the state as well as for the country. These have been preceded by controversial measures of amnesty to stone pelters, and declaration of Non-Initiation of Combat Operations or NICO.

The details of the developmental activities have been covered in detail by all segments of the media in last two days, and these measures will have long term positive effects, more so in Ladakh and Jammu region. But the question whether it will bring peace in Kashmir valley, or otherwise, needs a dispassionate analysis beyond the optics and announcements.

What message does development initiatives convey

Development is a necessity to physically and mentally connect with people in far flung areas and demonstration of India's will to reach out to them. Initiatives like the Zojila tunnel, besides improving connectivity and ease of travel from Kashmir valley to Ladakh, indicate the effort to lift the mental barrier of isolation for people on both sides of Zojila pass. Other projects like ring roads around Srinagar and Jammu will definitely ease the traffic congestion of both cities, and the two power projects on Kishenganga and Pakal Dul will address the needs of the state besides creating surplus power to be put on national grid.

The social messaging of these projects indicates the Indian will of closer social inclusion of people of Jammu and Kashmir. Also, while Prime Minister's decision to attend the closing ceremony of birth centenary of Rinpoche in Leh amused the Buddhist population, the gesture of declaring suspension of combat operations by security forces, and Tarakote Marg and ropeway of Mata Vaishnodevi shrine was welcomed by almost everyone. In a nutshell, the social packaging covers every segment of society of Jammu and Kashmir, and an investment of approximately Rs 25,000 crore will help in changing their economic landscape and connectivity may help in boosting tourism.

Embracing the people of Kashmir: Risk analysis

The recent initiatives aimed to embrace people of Kashmir are noble, but high-risk ideas with rare chance of success. The idea of amnesty to stone pelters has failed, and given a new dimension to the terrorist actions through stone pelting, wherein almost similar damage can be caused to security forces or civilians, with reasonable expectation that they will be left lightly, even if apprehended.

The ideas like ceasefire and declaration of NICO were tried earlier in the year 2000, but failed. The present declaration although is a slightly improved version of the old one, wherein security forces' deployment and intelligence grid is not being disturbed. But they can take retaliatory action, only if militants fire at them. The fact that declaration was rejected by terrorist groups, who intend continuing their actions during the holy month of Ramzan, as well as separatist groups enjoying state protection, means that it is waiting to fail. Let me analyse the possibilities under the present model of NICO:

  • The announcement by Kashmiri politicians that the people can peacefully sleep is a misconception, because the militants, especially the foreign ones cause innumerable atrocities on innocent people of Kashmir, but no one lodges complaint/FIR against them, as they know that the entire family will be wiped out. Abu Dujana is a case in point. It is unfortunate that not many politicians of Kashmir criticise or highlight their atrocities, which gives an impression that either they are terrorised or sold out to the adversary propagating proxy war.
  • The announcement only restricts security forces, which is demeaning and misplaced, because security forces are not there by choice, but are performing their duty for the nation.
  • Under present model of NICO, the militants can move freely, kill some informers and terrorise the rest. The incidents of killing one civilian, looting of bank, and snatching weapons are minor incidents, but can be an indication of testing the waters, as they know that security forces cannot do anything till they actually fire at them.
  • Terrorists are free to extort, launder money and muster enough funds for subsequent operations.
  • They can carry out recruitment of young boys into their outfit by luring them or terrorising their parents.
  • NICO has no connection with the firing from across the border, hence border villages will continue to remain under threat.
  • There is no guarantee that militants will behave during Amarnath Yatra with this political overreach, hence all precautions will have to be taken.

                 
Is the prescription suiting the ailment?

The development in Jammu and Kashmir, like any other state, is an encouraging step and will definitely ease lives of our people. But the fact is that the per capita GDP of Kashmir is higher than many states. There are many states in India, which are less developed but have not resorted to firing guns or stone pelting. This indicates that the ailment of Kashmir is not limited to poor infrastructure. The problem of Kashmir has external and internal dimensions, which have to be dealt with together, as they are closely interwoven.

In external dimension, the Pakistan army and ISI are the main players. Their influence and relevance is due to 'Indian threat' and a 'Boiling Kashmir valley', hence a peaceful Kashmir does not suit them. With radicalisation and Wahhabism on the rise, Pakistan has witnessed a change in psyche and ideology. Kashmir remains an obvious target to avenge 1971.

The internal dimension is the perception that separatists are involved in arranging funds and organising protests against the Indian establishment. While the development of Kashmir will reduce the numbers of unemployed youth, the glamour of quick money with minimum efforts and belief in concocted radicalised narrative would need some more efforts.

What should India do?

As the problem has persisted for so many decades, there are no easy answers. As an Indian analyst, let me attempt to suggest some:

  • Internally, the decision makers need to have an honest intention to resolve it. The allurement of vote bank politics has to be subordinated to national interest.
  • War with Pakistan is not a worthwhile economical option, but India can look at covert options against militants.
  • While India expects the entire world to declare Pakistan a terror state, it has not yet scrapped the 'Most Favored Nation' status accorded to its neighbour.
  • India should also take up the issue of Baluchistan in all world forums.

The development of Jammu and Kashmir and embracing of Kashmiri population is a welcome step on India's part. But amnesty to stone pelters and announcement of NICO (rejected by terrorists and separatists) is marred with danger. Some strategists will read it as a message of peace to Kashmir and the international community, while others may call it as a message of a weak state, running out of options. This will invite criticism, should this initiative fail. Protection and mercy on separatists needs to be stopped if the decision makers are really interested in having peace in Kashmir.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Major General S B Asthana

Major General S B Asthana had been an Infantry General with 40 years of defence experience at national and international level.