The Pulwama attack has yet again brought India-Pakistan relations to a new low. The hopes that the stalled dialogue will resume after Indian elections appear to be remote now. Unless there is a global pressure on both countries to resolve Kashmir issue peacefully through negotiations, it seems that both countries are heading towards a major showdown. And in this atmosphere of dubiety , a misstep here or there will be catastrophic for all of us.
Let us not forget that India & Pakistan came very close to a nuclear confrontation in the Kargil war of 1999.As Pakistan’s then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sought American help to prevent an escalation of the war, he admitted to US President Bill Clinton his country was ready to use their nuclear arsenal against their bitter rivals.“You’ve put me in the middle today, set the US up to fail and I won’t let it happen,” Clinton is reported to have told Sharif. He convinced Sharif not to use his nukes and to pull his forces out of India-administered Kashmir, before he was able to get India to agree to a cease-fire.
Tension again flared between the countries in 2001 and 2002 after an attack on the Indian parliament that was attributed to militants supported by Pakistan. Both sides began massing troops on their borders and along the Line Of Control in Kashmir. There were again fears of nuclear war between the two countries in a post-9/11 world. In October 2002 international diplomatic efforts led to the withdrawal of India and Pakistani troops from their borders and worst fears averted. In his book ‘The Clinton tapes’, Author Branch taylor records firsthand ,the statement of Clinton to have said “Skirmishes between two countries were much more serious than reported.If they called tonight and said I could end this thing by flying over there, I would have no choice but to jump on the plane’(page 556)
Militant attacks on CRPF inflicting high casualties on them is not a new phenomenon in conflict & Maosit infested areas like North east, Chattisgarh etc. In April 2010, militants killed 75 CRPF personnel in Dantewada (Chattisgarh) through a somewhat similar attack as the pulwama one but there was not much hue & cry as witnessed now. The Pulwama attack has brought such a backlash against Kashmiris living & studying in India that most of them had to flee their usual places & take shelter in safer zones. A Governor of an Indian State has openly called for Bycott of Kashmir & Kashmiri goods even exhorting his co-religionists not to visit Shree Amarnath Shrine located there. A serving police officer has even suggested change of demographic character of Kashmir & scrapping of article 370 (https://indianexpress.com/article
/opinion/columns/pulwama-attack-kashmir-conflict-indian-army-crpf-5591830/). A Kashmir Muslim Dean of a University in Dehradun had to be terminated on the demand of rightwing fascist brigade (https://indianexpress.com/article/india/pulwama-attack-kashmiri-students-asked-to-leave-mob-wanted-it-so-dean-was-suspended-says-head-of-dehradun-college-5590191/). The differential reaction to the attacks in Dantewada & pulwama is self explanatory.
Saner elements on both sides of the border have advised restraint and restart of dialogue between the two countries.But there are few issues here. One, if one finds some substance in India’s assertion that talks & terror can’t go together, there is also truth in Pakistan’s claims that India is deliberately avoiding a dialogue. Apparently Pakistan has made numerous invitations to India only to be ignored with disdain.
Secondly ,the institution of dialogue has been discredited by rare initiatives taken as fire fighting steps only to be abandoned later. There is a strong perception in Kashmir that such rare political initiatives were taken only to buy time till relative peace was achieved, only to be left midway and abandoned later. This has resulted in an atmosphere of skepticism and hopelessness – which makes the issue even more complex.
Thirdly and more importantly, India has to stop the horrible atrocities unleashed on defenceless people of Kashmir. Delhi behaves like a colonialist master in Kashmir ,where it is committing one of the most brutal genocides on earth without any accountability .Soldiers enjoy impunity under AFPSA.As Montesquieu, the French political thinker says “There can be no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of Justice”. This has to stop immediately. Removal of curbs on freedom of assembly & release of political prisoners must be on top of the Indian agenda to create a conducive atmosphere for talks. But Is India ready for that?. So far Indian administration has spoken only language of violence and brutality and in such a scenario it is difficult engage with her in a language of pacifism.
Another challenge is to restore faith in the institution and processes of dialogue and engagement. It is high time that the two nuclear-armed neighbours move on in their relationship. The more than seventy year-old trust deficit cannot be eliminated overnight. Many steps will have to be taken to make the atmosphere conducive to dialogue. In India, the military’s tough posture has emboldened the Hindu hardline and political far-right groups, especially ex-servicemen and retired foreign service bureaucrats who use private sector TV for massive propaganda against Pakistan. The discourse of most anchors and participants in the TV programmes is very hostile and some of them are openly talking of teaching a “lesson” to Pakistan instead of a dialogue .It will be childish to believe that the Pakistani political leadership or military establishment will be overawed by such Indian arrogance and vacate its position as a party to the dispute. India’s political leadership will have to reign them in and assert its primacy over them.
So let every party to the dispute understand that neither terror nor arrogance and crushing a whole population under brute force will throw out a solution. Only a dialogue will.
(The author is a practicing chartered Accountant. E mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)