KASHMIR: CALLING OUT STRATEGIC IRRATIONALITY

By now it is clear that the legal hocus pocus by way of which the constitution was subverted in broad daylight risked internal rebellion and war simultaneously. Externally, the government deployed the defence minister to convey a veiled nuclear threat in dilating on nuclear policy. His reference to the no first use tenet of policy was both egregious and untimely; therefore was more of a threat than a policy statement. The conventional level threat was left to the army chief, who chimed in on cue that the army was ready to follow up the Balakot air strikes with a limited war. He was perhaps referring to the then ongoing exercise by the Western Command, wherein it testing the integrated battle group concept. As with Exercise Brasstacks, it was perhaps carrying live ammunition and all that was needed was a twist to its exercise axis by ninety degrees. As for internal rebellion of proportions warranting imposition of undeclared emergency, the governor’s statements on a lockdown being necessary to save lives provides the hint. Since an emergency is legitimated by an internal rebellion, undeclared emergency measures in place are being legitimized by a preventive rationale. That India has got by so far without either an external or internal security challenge is by the strategic sobriety of its adversaries, Pakistan and China, and, internally, by its preventive suppression of the anticipated internal revolt.

In their appreciation of the external fallout, official strategists were perhaps surprised by the Chinese, who not only were averse to the change in the status quo over Ladakh but also organized for their strategic partner, Pakistan, a revisitation for the first time in half century by the UN Security Council to the Kashmir issue as a discussion agenda item, albeit in an informal, closed door forum. Even so, timely diplomatic management during a preplanned visit to China of the former diplomat and foreign minister helped tide over the matter.

The upshot of the UN meeting, acknowledged as much by India’s permanent representative, is that Kashmir remains on the UN agenda a dispute. India’s long standing position remains that it is committed to talks once terror is ceased by Pakistan. Clearly, the defence minister’s second intervention in the ongoing crisis, this time to say that during talks only the Pakistan side of the Line of Control will be on the table, can only be for an internal audience. For the Jammu politician moonlighting in the prime minister’s office wishing to get Pakistani occupied Kashmir back is no different.

Triumphalism in the air, led by the governor, has it that internal rebellion has been nipped in the bud. There should therefore some-day be an accounting on the undeclared emergency. It might have to wait out this government. The courts have been rather slovenly in stepping up as the last bastion of the constitution. The constitutional law expert, Faizan Mustafa, has in an interview with Karan Thapar blown the lid off the contrived legalese with which the government has sold its constitutional sleight of hand. The supposed watchdog of democracy, the media, has exercised self-censorship, endorsed by its press council in a unilateral letter to the court seeking to intervene negatively in a case lodged by the editor of this publication asking for easing of media restrictions in Kashmir. The opposition was turned back from Srinagar airport in order that they don’t smell anything amiss.

Even if internal rebellion has been ruled out for now by the incarceration of some 200-600 political personages and some 2000-4000 high-on-energy stone throwers, the jury is still out on the internal disturbances that are to follow. Even political leaders missed out in the initial dragnet, such as Shah Faesal, now have their emergency story. A civil services officer has elsewhere already resigned in shame over the manner his compatriots have buckled.

This has likely begun with the government admitting to over 230 confrontations with stone throwing mobs in which over 55 troopers have been injured and media reports of over 130 pellet injuries sustained by participants and bystanders. The separatists have moved beyond ‘azadi’ – that can variously be implied to be freedom within the constitution – to secessionism. Thanks to the Shah initiative, the separatists now have the company of mainstream parties. It can only be an ideology tinged political analysis that believes that the political terrain is now easier for the Indian state to navigate. For the moment, efforts to get to the UN peacekeeping mission compound in Srinagar will likely culminate to render vacant Narendra Modi’s words from the podium of the General Assembly next month.
As for a revived insurgency and proxy war, the government has let on that some 100 terrorists re-vectored by Pakistan from the Afghanistan front are now poised to infiltrate. While this is clearly part of the propaganda offensive against Pakistan, and its sidling up to President Trump’s side, it is the face of a plausible future. For now, Pakistan is unlikely opening the tap. It would prefer the Indians first burn their fingers in suppressing an internal uprising, using it as a legitimating cover. They are also warding off a financial action task force scrutiny two months down line, one rendered difficult by adverse findings in a separate look by the Asia Pacific grouping on their terror financing record. Once the FATF is off their backs they will use the window before snows to pump in their fighters. If they fall at the FATF hurdle, they have nothing more to lose. If they pass it, they have a window.
It is with reason that Imran Khan has chosen to go for continuity in the military high command though he was once against extensions to serving army chiefs on principle. Holding their powder dry for now will enable Imran Khan to look the more credible of the two at the General Assembly. No verbal dexterity thereafter – even if of the caliber of inimitable Eenam Gambhir – would put India ahead in the annual faceoff. While Modi in a bit of televised handholding has managed to keep Trump out of the India-Pak quagmire, Trump will also stay out of staying Pakistan’s hand since they are more consequential to him getting his chestnuts out of the Afghan fire.
Alongside, it is pertinent to reflect on the country-wide polarizing hay the ruling party seeks as the sun shines on Kashmir. As part of the diversionary tactics immediately preceding the early August maneuverings in parliament, intelligence agencies had it that there was to be a seaborne terror attack/infiltration in south India. An analysis on the website of the staid United Services of India glibly has it that Pakistan will spark communalism in India’s minority, resulting in terror expanding across India.
This has culminated – at the time of writing – in a terror alert across multiple state borders, even as Amit Shah heads to Hyderabad to hoist the tricolour on the eve of that state’s accession to India. His visit is patently not so much to commemorate the event as much as to have right wing penetrate the politics of the state through its usual polarizing route, beside rubbing Muslim noses in the dirt for good measure for disloyalty to Bharat Mata. While Muslims have no issues with allegiance to Bharat, they can arguably on grounds of belief have a beef with the elevation of Bharat to Mata. This explains the rumour abroad that Hyderabad’s head is on the block as the next union territory, since – in the words of Amit Shah’s junior minister and parliamentary member from the twin cities – that it is a terror hub. Ostensibly to preempt Pakistani meddling, the intelligence inputs are instead to malign the minority and increase surveillance. It sets the stage for the national register of citizens to be unfurled, providing an anti-terror rationale.
Clearly, Modi’s second innings is off to a good start. It remains to be seen if his opening pair, Shah-Doval, get run-out. With the spin doctor, Arun Jaitley, out for the count, the government is in for challenging times. The military’s showing may yet bail them out. Even so, it should not be that a fortuitously arrived at outcome justifies the security appreciation that presumably preceded the trashing of the constitution. The envisaged outcome must be apparent and achievable by intrinsic means and capacities at the security appreciation stage itself. The result must not be outsourced to the good sense of adversaries, in this case Pakistan supported by China. This yardstick of strategic sobriety is not visible in India’s ongoing Kashmir caper. Analogy from the demonetization shenanigan causing India’s economic slowdown today suggests that the security analysis that preceded the assault on Article 370 was ideology laden. While the political decision maker shall pay electorally when the economy-security ravaging converges, the Doval-led strategists involved – and their strategic community cheer leaders – must be called out.
(Ali Ahmed is visiting professor, Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia)