An unacknowledged vested interest in a disturbed Kashmir

The expansionist agenda
That Kashmir remains disturbed suits several otherwise competing interests. Counter intuitively then, there is cooperation between these forces with stakes in Kashmir for keeping it simmering. While vested interests in the conflict are well known in certain quarters, such as for instance in the ISI and Jihad, Inc. across the border, this article deals with the less easy to find that are unfortunately much closer home and on that account are probably more significant. The thesis here is that north Indian ethnic groups have developed an economic stake in the military’s expansion, which makes them unwittingly amenable to continuing military commitment in Kashmir, mirroring in a manner the better known Punjabi-military nexus in Pakistan and its well recognised stake in a disturbed Kashmir. 

In the popular narrative, much furthered by army veterans, the army is merely doing a distasteful piece of work foisted on it by a hapless administration. It would much rather be in its cantonments in training for its primary task of guarding frontiers rather than manning an unforgiving Line of Control (LoC) and chasing down foreign jihadists and assorted Kashmiri nationalists. The inability of the diplomats of the two states to arrive at an agreement, minimally on a peaceable LoC and maximally on turning it into an IB, results in a military necessity of guarding it all along its often hostile length. Internally, the politicians and bureaucrats having messed up and unable to clean up thereafter results in the army’s retaining of its hold despite in its view having created the security conditions enabling a political resolution. Therefore, it is not a ‘vested interest’ but is instead merely fulfilling its obligation. 

There is little to argue over the fact that the LoC continues to defy final settlement despite the passing of over half a century. It is also true that the security situation has been under enough control for most part of the preceding quarter century – not necessarily due to military means alone but also due to diplomatic and political measures – for India to have hammered out a political resolution. That it has not done so is not only due to a deficit in political strength, with Delhi perceiving, largely mistakenly, an inability to sell any ‘solution’ internally to the rest of the country. It also owes in part to the interests at play in Kashmir that have little to do with the conflict configuration but with dynamics elsewhere, including within the social composition of the security forces in general. 

The Kashmir problem has served as a windfall for uninhibited expansion of security forces. The momentary Khalistani insurgency of the eighties has brought home that changes in the social composition of the army, in particular, was necessary. Even as this was being proceeded with discreetly in terms of reduction of Sikh percentages within the military, there was an expansion in the army owing to its multiple counter insurgency commitments in the nineties ranging from the North East to Kashmir. Since the conventional deterrent needed to remain in place lest the proxy wars escalate inordinately, troop strength needed expanding. This necessity gave birth to the Rashtriya Rifles.

With Pakistan becoming more venturesome under its overt nuclear capability by its mounting of the Kargil misadventure and the parliament attack, further expansion was needed to be able to deliver it a quick, but not lethal, blow through what was termed the ‘Cold Start’ doctrine. The LoC fence that came up in the same timeframe also required more regular troops to man. Thus, another round of expansion took place of the army over last decade. China, and the latest ‘two front’ ‘threat’, provide a limitless rationale for expansion into the future, limited by the economics of it. 

While the army, a professional force that it is, can be expected to be cognisant of the strategic dimension informing, and in its view necessitating, its expansion, the issue is anchored not in the strategic coordinates as the army prefers to believe and the popular narrative would have it, but in the wider societal factors. In particular, the ethnic groups that have stood to be advantaged by such expansion are the ones propelling it. In the absence of statistics, these groups can be said to reside within a 100 km from the Jaipur-Delhi-Chandigarh-Jammu line. In the case of Kashmir, the advantaged groups are rather easy to spot. It is no wonder then that given a choice security force members would prefer postings in Kashmir rather than in the North East, positioned as they would be within a night’s journey from their leave destinations. Therefore, a restive Kashmir as now – but not with a full blown insurgency as earlier – is not such a bad proposition. 

In the straitened times of liberalisation, the only sector that has expanded continuously is the security sector not only in terms of employmentbut also the monies devoted to it. These groups do not have the advantage of certain other Indian nationalities, such as those on the western sea board who can look towards the Gulf and certain others on the Deccan plateau and southwards who have leap-frogged on the back of the IT sector. Therefore, the security sector’s expansion has enabled these groups to keep up. Additionally, the largesse of the Sixth Pay Commission has channelled a majority of army’s revenue budget into their ‘pinds and mohallas’. 

These groups are the ones that keep New Delhi frightened of its own shadow when it deals with Pakistan. With a collective memory marred by Partition, suffering a hangover of the martial race theory and influenced by cultural nationalism, these groups have a stake in continuation of an unacknowledged subcontinental civil war. This keeps them wary of Pakistan and at odds the liberal conception of security in which the alternative security approaches, such as prospects of economic engagement in diluting animosities and creating new power centres, are based. Therefore, even if India succeeds in forcing a penalty corner, for instance in entering into a dialogue with Pakistan, it is, quite like its hockey team, unable to convert it, in this case into a substantial and meaningful round of talks. 

Given this, it can in summation be said that the army is right in saying that it not yet another ‘vested interest’ in Kashmir; but only by its lights. As pointed out here, these lights are both narrow and dim. Expanding the theoretical template from military sociology to the ‘military and society’ plane helps identify more consequential vested interests that lie elsewhere. 

Identifying this is merely the first step. It begs the question: What’s to be done? 

The national security question needs revisiting afresh. Challenging the popular trope, hung out to dry by veterans with Goebbelesian regularity in op-eds in the ‘nationalist’ press, is useful. But the intellectual battle also needs taking into the academia, the government’s policy rooms and back rooms of political parties. Security has for too long been held hostage to ‘strategic’ thinking, fixated without. It requires instead a lens more sensitive to social and political forces within society. That way China and Pakistan would fall behind as ‘threats’ and instead forces, closer home, that unwittingly masquerade as ‘answers‘ to security problems, would rise to claim their space. A redefinition of security will help India’s peripheral population groups overthrow what in their perception might amount to an internal colonial yoke attributable as hypothesised here to its ‘heartland’ groups. 

(The author is a blogger at