The author is former director general military operations, and currently director, Delhi Policy Group
The prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in his independence day speech, declared the Kashmir issue to be on a “decisive crossroads”. How are we to interpret that resounding phrase' Does it portend a new strategy on Jammu and Kashmir, or is it merely a rhetorical flourish from our poet prime minister' The speech came a day after Pervez Mush- arraf, on Pakistan’s independence day, dismissed the elections to Jammu and Kashmir assembly as a farce.
The general has set his terms, which are primarily military in content and concept. He has indicated that unless New Delhi engages him in a serious dialogue he would do little to reduce the armed action being waged by militants based in Pakistan. The Vajpayee government, on the other hand, is committed to the political process of conducting elections, even as the military dimension of keeping peace in Jammu and Kashmir will remain the highest priority. The politico-military dynamic of Jammu and Kashmir is part of India’s flawed policy of dealing with longstanding internal conflicts.
The Indian political leadership has, since independence, steadfastly de- monstrated a colonial mindset on managing internal conflicts. This mindset was inherited through wholesale adoption of the colonial apparatus of governance. The bureaucratic structure and its culture of deciding what is good for the masses was taken over by the political leadership which replaced colonial rulers. Police and paramilitary forces were utilized no differently than by the colonial masters.
The principle of ruler and ruled was, and still remains, the bedrock of governance. Dissent and strife were viewed as an inconvenience at best and as an intolerable interference in governance. The people’s aspirations for social and economic justice and political equity were viewed as anti-national acts. The leadership felt it was enough to have replaced colonial rule with an Indian mirror-image. The notion of the sovereignty of the people being supreme never did take root. This was as true in India as it was in other dominions which came into being in south Asia after 1947.
The application by the state of its instruments of coercion against its people has remained the abiding principle of governance in south Asia. The Indian leadership did not quite fathom that people in Indian states on the periphery mattered as much as those in the hinterland. Such states and their people were thus treated as peripheral to the issues which were the driving force in hinterland states. Thus even as new states were being created in the hinterland on the basis of language, that principle was not applied in the northeastern states. In fact, the opposite was attempted through the use of military force for decades. Peace talks, a place in the political mainstream, and integration in the larger Indian economic state took a long while coming.
Jammu and Kashmir was special from the time of its accession to India. There was an overwhelming military dynamic to its governance. There had been a war in 1947 to 1949 which had led to a ceasefire line. That line had to be held and defended against Pakistani aggression which required a permanent and substantial military presence. The wars of 1965 and 1971 and the following decades reinforced that need. That should have been offset by a sagacious policy of economic and political integration. Instead, Jammu and Kashmir was made a target of political interplay and opportunism.
The assumption that states on the periphery were marginal to national interests was, and remains, the singular failure of the political leadership even now. On a state as critical as Jammu and Kashmir to India’s existential values of democratic rule and a secular polity, there is a continuing absence of consensus in national political parties on the status of Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian Union. Other than repeating ad nauseum that Jammu and Kashmir is an indivisible part of India, little has been done to integrate the Kashmiris in mainstream national activity. To make matters worse, poor governance and venal politics were sustained through the colonial model of application of force against political dissent.
The inability to understand the security implication of misgovernance, the continual presence of security forces, and absence of representative political system caused five decades of conflict in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir. The creation of new states and integration of the militant cadre into the political and economic system greatly alleviated the problems in the Northeast.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the presence of Pakistan and the existence of a Kashmiri entity in territorial and political terms across the line of control led to the politico-military dynamic of a unique kind. Armed conflict and its support from Pakistan became a reality from which the political and military aspects could not be separated.
New Delhi is making a bold attempt to separate the military and political dimensions of the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. It has unfortunately left critical initiatives too late to make an impact. The demands of the unyielding Hurriyat, and even of those who wish to hasten the political process, are therefore all related to the political dimension. They want the military dynamic to be reduced by withdrawing special powers given to the security forces. They want political prisoners released. They seek time to do political work amongst the people free from the overwhelming role of the National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir’s governing machinery. In the absence of such demands being met, the much used phrase “free and fair elections” is unlikely to find credence. New Delhi must, however, make the electoral process work.
The burden of the political-military dynamic will remain a major one for New Delhi to carry. Musharraf having shown his hand, it would be safe to assume that there would be no smooth sailing in the Jammu and Kashmir elections. India is also now clear about the limits to the United States of America’s leverage on the general to make him change his course on Jammu and Kashmir. Looking beyond the elections, New Delhi and Washington have to reckon with an intransigent Musharraf continuing a turbulent Kashmir policy for five years and possibly more. New Delhi cannot but conclude that from now on there can be no easy going in Jammu and Kashmir. Its only hope lies in Musharraf being hemmed in by a new global perspective. The strategic picture has changed forever after September 2001 and the Afghan challenge. Musharraf will have to play his Kashmir card with circumspection.
One therefore comes back to separating the military and political dimensions of the Jammu and Kashmir problem. Political work in Jammu and Kashmir will have to receive the greatest push from New Delhi. The primacy of the political engine over the long used but counter-productive military measures would have to be re-established. That requires a new mindset which jettisons colonial approaches to internal security. Essentially, it requires security to be viewed through prisms other than the military. The day the political leadership grasps the fact that political and economic security is more important than its military dimension, New Delhi would embark towards the successful ending of the tragedy of Jammu and Kashmir.