|Can Kashmir be saved?
The Kashmir issue has been mishandled by successive governments and if the NDA’s explicitly ‘muscular’ approach has not paid dividends, the UPA government conducted itself even worse, allowing the army to run amok, senior officers even collecting cash awards for deaths of deemed militants in fake encounters. The NDA started on an auspicious note by trying to punish these officers engaged in the wanton killings of civilians but since then its record has been tarnished. In the first place the targeted killing of militantsbased on intelligence is evidently not having the desired effect, if those joining the militants are more in number than those liquidated. It is here that a soft touch is also needed and Kashmiris must be made to believe that the Indian state means well.
There will evidently be those who question India’s moral right to Kashmir but it can be argued that the Kashmir issue has so heated up the populace that it is impossible for any elected government, regardless of its ideology, to make moves that could be seen as compromising India’s position. Across the border in Pakistan every government needs also to keep the Kashmir issue alive. The ‘non-state’ terrorist agencies in Pakistan, for their part, raise finances based on the Kashmir issue and they will continue to do so. The Pulwama attack came under the scrutiny of the opposition and allegations over its ‘authenticity’ made. A question asked was how it benefitted the JeM to kill 40 Indian soldiers. But we must also recognise the existence of internecine rivalry between militant groups. If all of them depend on funders and financiers, we may suppose that the militant groups showing the most spectacular results will also steal a march over the others. It thus seems ludicrous to question the involvement of the JeM in the attack since it claimed responsibility; that it also gave NarendraModi the opportunity to hit back and improve his electoral prospects cannot be enough reason.
There are two qualities that an Indian leader must have if he/she is to sincerely tackle the Kashmir problem. In the first place he/she must (privately) recognise that the Kashmiris have genuine problems with the Indian state. The qualification ‘privately’ implies that it cannot be openly admitted by politicians of any hue, who must continue to strategically mouth sentiments about India’s moral right to Kashmir. The second is that he/she must be strong enough to take big decisions without destabilizing his/her own position. Modi is perhaps the only leader strong enough but he leads a following that believes that attacking Kashmiris outside is the way to resolve the Kashmir issue.
Kashmiris are a public questioning India’s right to rule over them and an entire public cannot be made ‘patriotic’ through open hostility. It is like expecting a colonial power to win over the native populace through brutal means. India’s position is even more precarious than Britain’s was since Pakistan is waiting nearby in the expectation that such hostility will drive Kashmiris farther away from India and into their own welcoming arms. The ‘patriotism’ of Indians over Kashmir may be just the thing that Pakistan desires but BJP leaders seem oblivious to the danger when they also advocate the boycotting of Kashmir by consumers and tourists. Instead of trying to get Kashmir into the national mainstream ‘patriotism’ will drive it away.
This may be a difficult decision for any leader to take, but one move that can be made is to push for the conversion of the LOC to an international border, or at least allow a neutral force to police it. Indian leaders are so caught up in their own rhetoric that they do not see the advantages in it. When India’s position on Kashmir is so shaky, what chance is there for it to take POK as well? An international peacekeeping force could perhaps bring some respite to Kashmir and it might even prove an impediment for militant/terrorist groups operating across the border.
But there are perhaps far too many ‘patriotic’ Indians to win over; they have little political sense and even less emotional investment in the issue- to look at it pragmatically and welcome a fair solution. But perhaps Imran Khan was right when he said that Modi’s victory in the 2019 elections would be good for peace between India and Pakistan. All Modi has to do to turn the LOC into an international border will be to convince the RSS. Since his is the ‘nationalist’ side there cannot be too much opposition. But if Mamtadidi or Rahul Gandhi is in the same position, she/he will need to convince the nationalists and Modi about it, an evidently impossible task.