KASHMIR: AS THE ARMY SURVEYS THE NEXT FIVE YEARS

Now the right wing is at the door-step. With mainstream parties outflanked, the field is left to the separatists and the insurgency.
A trial balloon at the very outset of the new innings of the Modi sarkar had it that his newly ensconced home minister and right-hand man, Amit Shah, was contemplating delimiting constituencies afresh in Jammu and Kashmir. It drew the expected reactions on either side of the Pir Panjal. The good part is that the statist cat is now out of the bag, helping civil society strategise for what follows over the next five years.

A prospective scenario that could unfold begins with the delimitation exercise. It would provide a more plausible cover to postpone elections than the currently-pending postponement, attributable to the Amarnath Yatra taking precedence over returning the state to democratic governance. The exercise can be expected to turn in constituency boundaries and identify constituencies for scheduled caste/tribe candidates that will foist the Hindutva vanguard, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), to its Mission 44. A little help from those waiting in the Valley for a dividend dating to their participation in spiking, last November, a promising move to return to an elected government.

This would enable Amit Shah to fulfill his campaign promise of being rid of Article 370, Article 35A having been wrapped as an outstanding issue by then by either judicial verdict or ordinance. This is a well trodden route having been adopted to dilute Article 370 ever since compliant legislatures were deployed after incarcerating Sheikh Abdullah in the early fifties.
This will have predictable security fallout, warned of by the mainstream parties in the Valley. The last time the right wing had bestirred itself in Jammu, led by their icon Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, even the Lion of Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah, had feared for the future of Kashmir. Fearful of the steps he was taking such as an outreach to the Americans – as per intelligence input – the government put him away and out of the way. Now the right wing is at the door-step. With mainstream parties outflanked, the field is left to the separatists and the insurgency.
Anticipating as much, Rajnath Singh – who functioned as the soft face of the government in its last innings – has been displaced from North Block. Amit Shah, who reputedly has a photo of Chanakya behind his desk, has advisedly been made de-facto deputy prime minister. In one description, the musical chairs has turned up a ‘fearsome four’ – strongman Modi, hatchet-man Ajit Doval, good-cop Rajnath and a political novice Jaishankar. The ‘fearsome four’ thesis has it that they are to collectively put the fear into Kashmiri backers, Pakistan, with Kashmir then falling dutifully into the bag. The pieces are in place to face the outcome.

What does such a scenario signify for the army? The answer is predicated on the validity or otherwise of the three assumptions behind the yet-to-unfold Kashmir strategy. The first is that security forces having obediently put away some 600 militants, including a proportion of Pakistani terrorists, over the past three years, they would continue with same gusto into the future. This year’s figure is already into the lower three digits. The second is that having administered a telling blow to Pakistan at Balakot, it is almost pleading to be let off the hook, so much so that its military has already started disbanding itself, with a budgetary cut this year as a good beginning. The third is that the current tenure will see Amit Shah positioning to take over from his mentor and earning his spurs to do so by coming up with the ‘permanent Kashmir solution’ that his predecessor promised but was too empathetic to deliver on.

Taking the second assumption first, that Pakistan is on the ropes is read from its second missive to India begging for talks. Taking no chances, India is buying another 100 spice bombs to hurl across safely from own side of the border. It has speeded up mating the Brahmos to the Su-30. Since the last crisis ended on the note of missile exchanges, that in the event were aborted by American intervention, India is shopping for an American air defence cover to complement its Russian one, over and above the missile shield its own defence scientists have ‘conferred’ on it. Seeing all this, Pakistan is liable to extend the Bajwa doctrine, placate the financial action task force, be bailed out by the international monetary fund and have the conditionalities of the loan rein in the military. Besides, the Pakistanis have been served notice by the Americans that the onus to repair relations with India is on them. Not to forget, the Americans have already given India the green signal on the right of reply by military means to terror threats.

With the wind stolen from Pakistan’s sails, the Kashmiris would be left high and dry. Their replenishment rate for lost youth is stalling. The Zakir Musa funeral witnessed a lower turnout than it should have, even if Musa had a falling out with his compatriots over which ideology to die for. Admittedly, the state was better prepared this time to preempt a turnout. The rate at which youth participating in the militancy are being dispatched bespeaks of considerable information flow networks, for which the army takes care to credit the intelligence agencies and the police. It is no wonder then that – ‘in frustration’ is what we are told – militants are going after ‘informers’, including the territorial army’s home and hearth Kashmiri soldiers visiting families and possible love interests of militants.

As for the radicalization afoot, it is not all bad since it provides India with alibi to continue the killings, human rights coming a distant second to the Islamist threat in the era of populism. Nothing else can be inferred from the release of the 560 page long human rights report listing some 432 cases by the two do-gooder organizations in the Valley and India’s turning a blind eye to 58 communications and 20 requests for visits from UN special rapporteurs in relation to their mandates there.

The third assumption is that voters have retained Modi to have him implement Hindutva. Since HIndutva is intelligible only in relation to its position on the Other – internal and external – Muslim. Besides, putting the national minority in its place – a task already done over the past five years and demonstrated tellingly in election results having no trace of a Muslim vote – this entails a hardline in Kashmir and against Pakistan. With liberal voices left dumbfounded in wake of the election victory, the home-front stands taken care of.

The army can therefore be unleashed. It need no longer be bothered as traditionally with a hand being tied behind its back. A BJP government in Srinagar run by a Hindu from Jammu will keep soft separatists off its back. One of the reasons the previous government was shown the door – in one reading of events recounted in the book Majoritarian State – was because it was somewhat unsettled by the unending killings. Apparently, the decision to withdraw support was foisted on the Jammu based ruling party honcho after meetings in Delhi which included one with Doval. (That the high official was moonlighting in a political capacity is no surprise. He was at it yet again late last year, reportedly briefing the ruling party at its headquarters immediately prior to the national elections being called.)

What is the army to make of this strategy and its role in it? Traditionally conceived civil-military relations would have it that it must take its orders and populate the martyrs’ graveyards. The politics surrounding its orders are not within its ken. The unspoken advantage of sticking to the traditional is that it keeps the army at the forefront, enabling turf protection and protecting privileges that are otherwise threatened such as the put/let downs just received over limits to cars purchased under the canteen arrangements and the denial of non-functional upgradation.

Can the army’s role over the coming five years be appreciated differently? As the primary security agency, it has a duty to input decision making. Its professional advice must be tendered forthrightly. In a circumstance in which the political level is creating the conditions for instability – and looking to the army to clear up the mess – the army needs pushing back on the inadvisability of the situation being unhinged in first place. It has only recently returned the situation to a modicum of stability since its deterioration after the Burhan Wani killing. It would be back to square one – for perhaps the fifth time since troubles began – in case the politics in the scenario plays out.

As for whether the second assumption holds, it must remind its civilian bosses that nuclear weapons are not meant for Diwali. Crisis can go to conflict in short order. Militaries in the nuclear age are better used for deterrence and not the real thing. Power drunk security minders believing their own propaganda pose a greater threat to national security if the army plays truant.
Finally, the third assumption is entirely false. The ruling party has not been returned to power to wage war against Indians. In any case, the army is patently not an instrument of Nagpur. It must insist on procedural rigour in policy and decision making. It should not be cowed by the ‘fearsome four’, but play the bureaucratic politics game deftly, perhaps relying on Jaishankar’s wise counsel from within to moderate decisions. It can so prove that the army remains the only institution still standing.
(Ali Ahmed is visiting professor at the Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia.)