The situation in Jammu and Kashmir is clearly taking a turn for the worse, and yet the Central government does not still seem to have arrived at a coherent policy. Although officials from the Union home ministry have signalled that a special strategy is being worked out, it is not all clear if this new approach will be different from the ad hoc and expedient policies followed in the past. As any informed observer of Jammu and Kashmir recognizes, there are two wars that New Delhi is fighting in the state: the proxy war unleashed by Pakistan and the war for the hearts and minds of the people of the state. On both fronts, New Delhi’s response has been neither decisive nor imaginative. The successful conduct of elections to the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly last autumn created a climate of rare opportunity. There was a chance to address the real problems of the people of the state, and weaken the support for separatists and militants.
It was important for this reason to strengthen the new government, led by the People’s Democratic Party, and support moves to provide succour to all those who had suffered during the last twelve years of troubles. Instead, New Delhi has consistently sought to undermine the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed regime. The “healing-touch” policy of the state government, which is part of an effort to reach out to the people, has been castigated, and the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership has held the policy responsible for the escalation of violence in the state. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Central security forces remain almost totally in charge of fighting terrorists and the insurgency, and the state government’s role is largely symbolic. And this underscores the failure of New Delhi in developing a decisive strategy to tackle Pakistan’s support and sponsorship of terrorism. It is clear that neither international pressure nor India’s coercive diplomacy has made Pakistan give up using violence and terror as essential elements of its policy in Kashmir. It is this failure of India’s Pakistan policy that may result in the large scale infiltration of jihadis into Jammu and Kashmir in the next few months, and thereafter the state may witness heightened violence, especially against soft targets like minorities.
Instead of recognizing this failure, senior Central government officials talk loosely about a pre-emptive strategy against Pakistan and the possibility of waging a limited war. This, quite obviously from past experience, has virtually no effect on Islamabad, but it does make the international community nervous that yet another crisis in south Asia may be about to happen. The unfortunate reality is that New Delhi does not learn the right lessons from the past. If it intends to act decisively against Pakistan, there is no sense in broadcasting its plans before they take shape. The impression created, however, by this senseless verbosity is that India really lacks the will, and perhaps even the capability, to inflict costs on Pakistan for its destructive policies in Kashmir.