By Lt Gen PR Shankar (R)
Abrogation of Article 370 has evoked national level discussion. The public debate has been of the history and at best the present. The valley has been shut down and understandably uncommunicative. However, the deed is done, and it is time to look ahead. What is to happen in the future is something we must think of. For a starter, things will never be the same again. In one stroke, the state of Jammu & Kashmir has transmuted from being disputed territory to undisputed territory sovereign to India. It is easy to predict the run up to a nuclear explosion, but how the fall out will pan out and what the consequences will be – intended or unintended are quite unpredictable. It will be no different here. To a large extent, India has entered uncharted territory with the abrogation of Article 370. As it charts a new course forward, everyone will have to find a new normal. The opportunity and threats it will encounter and handle in finding a new normal in sync with the aspirations of people of India including those in the Valley will largely be a political challenge much in the same way that the problem has been essentially one of political failure.
Let us see how the cards are stacked up at present. The first fact which comes to mind is that the initiative has been taken by the Government of India and it should be an endeavour to retain it and set the narrative. For long, the initiative and narrative has been set by the extremists, separatists, terrorists or from the other side of the border. The second fact which comes to mind is that the centre of gravity of the problem lies in the Valley and that must be addressed with single minded focus. Jammu region and Ladakh will normalise in a jiffy. Despite this being a no brainer, it must never be lost sight of.
Other Countries. The reactions from the international community have been cautious. Some like Russia, Sri Lanka, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and United Arab Emirates (UAE) have clearly stated that the issue is internal to India. The United States (US) has been non-committal with just a statement to the effect that they were not consulted and urging “all parties to maintain peace and stability along the line of control”. Even Taliban has said that it does not want to get hyphenated with the Kashmiri problem. UN has ruled out any intervention saying that things must be settled by peaceful means. The unspoken reaction and opinion which appears in analysis is that this is a gamble which can fail. If it fails it will not be because of Pakistan but because of India’s internal factors. That is something which we need to heed to. The ball is squarely in our court.
China. The Chinese statement is Ladakh centric. It has termed the change in status of Ladakh as “unacceptable”. Nothing on the rest of the region. No overt / comforting statement to support Pakistan. It has asked India and Pakistan to resolve the dispute through dialogue and negotiation when the Pakistani foreign Minister went to Beijing to solicit support. In any case, it is my opinion that China has its hands full with a slowing economy, a full blown and hurtful trade war with the US, a stagnating China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and to top it all it has its own Kashmir in Hong Kong which is seeing some unprecedented protests. Add Xinjiang and Tibet. The Chinese cup is overflowing. One should also not forget the fact that China needs India for its own economic recovery. The Sino Indian equation on this issue is in equilibrium.
Pakistan is in shock. Its reactions have been predictable. They have condemned and rejected the scrapping of Article 370 in no uncertain terms. They have downgraded diplomatic ties, cancelled trade and communication links, etc. As per certain quarters Pakistan has been rendered helpless and reduced to hand wringing. Imran Khan also outlined his limitations in formulating a response strategy in a joint session of Parliament. He was reduced to asking the opposition “Should I go to war with India“? With the current state of its economy, Pakistan has been militarily end played presently. If it resorts to the Jihadi and terrorist options, it will expose itself to Financial Action Task Force (FATF) action. The diplomatic option is not working. Heating up the Line of Control (LoC) is a self-goal. As a result, it can only wait and watch for an opening given by India. In the meantime, it can spew rhetoric through a tirade. It can at best funnel some funds into J&K to provoke street reactions. Notwithstanding all this the proxy war will continue. The existence of Pakistan is presaged on being Anti-India and that DNA cannot change. However, the major Indian card in this is to highlight to the people of J&K the inconsequentiality of Pakistan to do anything and abandoning its followers in the Valley. The second major card available for India is liberation of Pak-occupied Kashmir (PoK). I feel this is an issue which should be now taken up seriously. Take the battle to the other side. There are enough opportunities in Gilgit, Baltistan and Baluchistan to exploit this line of action. KEEP PAKISTAN ON THE BACKFOOT. Going ahead, Pakistani behaviour will be a barometer for the success or failure of our gambit. In any eventuality destruction of the DEEP STATE must be a national military and strategic priority.
People Centricity. My interaction with Kashmiris over a period is that they are quite nationalistic in their outlook and are good Indians as any other. Long back I took my unit into the CI Grid (post Kargil). We were to camp in the woods, and we had no water and it was getting dark. A PHD employee came running up to me and said, “Sir teen admi de do aur main pani ka bandobast karunga”. I told my SM to assist him and within a couple of hours he got my boys to lay down a pipeline temporarily. Bingo. We had piped water. I thanked him and told him that he was a godsend for us. He replied “sir aap log aaya ho aur humara 2 litre khoon bad gaya hai”. That sentiment was stunning and revealing. Build on this ground level sentiment which exists subsurface. The Kashmiris are our Center of Gravity. If one sees beyond the façade, it will emerge that most of them have got used to the “special status” business which they will let go in due course since it has not made any material difference to them. However, some of them won’t and they need to be helped. It will be a long-drawn affair. Foremost, they need to understand that Abrogation of Article 370 de ghettoizes them. They are now as good as any other Indian to go where they want and do what they want. Barriers to integration will have to be broken. Separatists will have to be dealt with a firm hand. There is no doubt about that. Overall the outreach must be political and people centric and that should never be lost sight of.
Political Revival. There must be political revival in the Valley. The so-called mainstream politicians have been taken out of the equation in this act of the play. How will they manifest going ahead is something to watch. The separatists who have held the nation and the state to hostage all these years must not be allowed back. The shape of things in the future will depend on how the political process evolves. What will the shape of the new leadership be? In any case the political process must be kick-started immediately. After all the state cannot exist under President’s rule forever. Reverting the new UT to a statehood has to be on a time bound schedule.
Mainstreaming J&K. There are several steps to be taken to ensure that the state is mainstreamed. It must be a multidimensional approach. It involves focusing on the youth, their education, what they learn about religion and so on, so that there is a mainstream connect with India. It also involves highlighting the symbols of pride of J&K like Sufism. While some system of Kashmiri identity must be retained a lot of it has to symbolised nationally. This needs a balanced approach. It involves a control on the mosques and their funding; maybe by the Government. If Tirupati, the richest temple in India, once totally a private entity can be taken over by the Government and run with an IAS officer as the Executive Officer, I do not see any issue in taking over a few mosques and running them on Sufi lines. It involves gender related issues including giving pride to women. How about each district of J&K being adopted by a state to form a relationship with them on a long-term basis? It also involves mainstreaming their financial system. Many more things can happen. Imagination is the keyword.
Strategic and Local Communication. The government must evolve a clear policy and line of strategic and local communication with the people and its legitimate organisations. It should be two way. A good system of “Sunwai” must be instituted. Our communication with the people must be firm, compassionate and clear, all in the same breadth. Difficult ask but feasible. Honest and transparent communications will go a long way in establishing a good two-way channel. The pulse of the people must be known. Of course, initially there will be lot of barriers to this approach since there has been a loss of trust, sustained over a period. However, given time, the sullenness will wear off and feelings will come to the fore. It is then that the balm of Good Governance must be applied.
AI Based Big Data Approach. I personally think that an AI based big data approach will bear results. Many will scoff at this idea. However, many who have operated in the Valley will know that there are established patterns. Post this mega event, new patterns will emerge. These patterns if analysed will pay handsome dividends. However, this must be built from the scratch and sooner the better.
Security Actions. The security forces have a huge role to play both on the LoC and the hinterland. Their initial role will be antibiotic in nature to keep things calm. However, soon boots on the ground will have to reduce. The major issue is that the LoC must be kept on constantly strong to ward off any Pakistani designs, which will come as day follows night. Additionally, the security grid must be leveraged to provide Good Governance. It has been done before and should be done again. A major factor for consideration is a review of the system of Honours and Awards. Do we need to reduce Honours and Awards when we are handling our own people? A psychological issue well worth considering.
Economic Actions. The Prime Minister has lined up and outlined a whole lot of economic and developmental actions. They should be put into action as per a plan. However, the important thing is that these plans should relate to the people and for the people. Job creation for the populace is integral to the economic and developmental activity. On the other hand the people should not see it as a system of systematically depriving them of their lands and livelihood. Environmental issues should be kept in sight. If corruption which is deep in the society is not rooted out, we will be back to square one. Of course, a major issue in all this will be to keep a tight watch on terror funding and choking it off. Money is the lifeblood of any insurgency today. Check it and results will flow.
Legal Actions. I was struck by an opinion in a discussion – possession is 90% of the argument and the case. That is true in this case also since India irrevocably possesses the area in the manner India wants. Notwithstanding this, there will be legal challenges to the Government action in abrogation of Article370 and in reorganization of the state. That is to be expected. It will continue well into the future. I am confident that the Courts in India will exercise their wisdom in handling these cases. So far, if the past is anything to go by our courts will uphold the wishes of the people of India.
How Will Kashmir Go?
Will Kashmir once again become the heaven on earth? Not soon. The near future will be all about containing the outpouring of angst and probably heightening of violence. Given time it will subside, and some degree of rationality will be sought by a system which will settle into a new equilibrium. The acid test of Abrogation of Article 370 will commence then. Can we live up to the promises made by the PM to the People? Can we revive a relatively clean political process with leadership from grass roots? How fast can we restore J&K to statehood as promised by the PM during his address to the nation. Will the Pandits ever be able to set foot in the Valley? As said earlier, the ball is squarely in our court. Personally, I am confident things will pan out. I have faith in people, and they will sort things out given a reasonable chance.
Tamil Nadu went through virulent Anti Hindi Demonstrations in the 60s period when in many quarters it was felt that the state could even secede. Those days for a girl to wear a salwar kameez in Chennai was an anathema and she could be targeted by lumpen elements. Kendriya Vidyalayas were known as Hindi schools and often targeted. Students there were mentally assured and reconciled to the fact that they would not get seats for higher education in the state. They moved on.
Today, after five decades ladies across all strata of society wear salwar kameez with practical abandon and merrily ride two wheelers or go about their daily chores. Designer suits costing a bomb are being sold in Chennai in swanky showrooms. Every second eatery promises you a tandoori option! Things have changed notwithstanding the fact that imposition of Hindi rears its head once in a while politically. Give time to people and be honest with them, they will always choose the sensible option. The Kashmiri is as sensible as the next Oriya or Malayali. He is a good Indian and he will be a better one in times to come.