The mounting tension between India and Pakistan that followed the heinous suicide bombing of a CRPF convoy at Pulwama on February 14, Valentine’s Day, killing over 40 paramilitary jawans and provoking India’s airstrike at Balakot, Chakothi and Muzaffarabad on February 26, a bold political decision executed by the Indian Air Force superbly without suffering any casualties and its success in foiling an attempt by 12 Pakistani fighter jets, including F-16s, on February 27 to bomb several military installations in India was de-escalated thanks to India’s deft diplomacy and through international pressure on Pakistan.
Though Prime Minister Imran Khan sent back Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman as a “peace gesture” and Pakistan detained some terrorist leaders and proscribed their organisations, Masood Azhar, the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, still roams around freely. A strongly worded resolution by France, the United States and Britain in the Al Qaeda sanctions committee of the UN Security Council, otherwise known as the 1267 Committee, to designate Masood Azhar as a “global terrorist” failed once again thanks to a veto by China. With neither any real change on the ground nor a fundamental shift in its policy towards India, and with token gestures, Pakistan has been projecting herself as a peace-loving country favouring a dialogue and has been accusing India of opposing it obstinately. Is Prime Minister Modi’s and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Wuhan bonhomie dead? Not really, according to China’s ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui, who claims the Masood Azhar issue will be “resolved soon”. Only time will tell if, when and how.
The fragile national unity shown by all political parties after the airstrike and the funerals of CRPF victims has evaporated; accusations and counter-accusations are flying in all directions amid the politicisation of the airstrike and its outcome. While some ruling party leaders rushed to claim the deaths of anything between 250 to 400 terrorists in the attack and their overenthusiastic supporters carried the pictures of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman prominently on posters, the Opposition parties and the media found themselves at the receiving end, accused of being “anti-national” and playing into Pakistan’s hands by asking about the number of the terrorists killed.
In the aftermath of these recent tumultuous developments, India should adopt a three-pronged strategy:
* India’s airstrike at Balakot across the Line of Control has sent out a strong message to Pakistan and the terrorist groups that India will not hesitate to repeat it in spite of both neighbours possessing nuclear weapons. We must maintain this threat without escalating the situation to a flashpoint.
* De-escalation was facilitated by the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China for their own reasons. While retaining this international pressure on Pakistan, we must not delude ourselves in believing that it is severely isolated. Islam is the strongest glue for several Arab nations to support Pakistan. Saudi Arabia and the UAE recently pledged billions of dollars in investments. Saudi Arabia has reportedly been cajoling Pakistan to share nuclear technology to counter Iranian nuclear ambitions. But the OIC’s invitation to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and the absence of “Kashmir” from the Abu Dhabi declaration marks a watershed in India-OIC relations. America notwithstanding, some strong condemnation of Pakistan by US President Donald Trump would make it realise the limits of its power. For fruitful negotiations with the Taliban and a smooth exit from Afghanistan, the US needs Pakistan. Russia’s interests also don’t converge with ours. China wouldn’t like to derail its CPEC and strategic access to the Gwadar port, and so stands behind Pakistan solidly.
* We must work compassionately and holistically to bring back peace and normality in the Kashmir Valley. A bold, imaginative and frank dialogue without any preconditions is a must between New Delhi, Srinagar, Jammu and the Valley. How Nagaland and Mizoram, which once not only raised anti-India slogans but demanded secession from India and pursued the path of violence and insurgency, have been brought back into the mainstream could be a workable template.
Pakistan’s complicity in planning, supporting, directing and executing terrorist attacks in India is well documented. That some separatist Kashmiri leaders have been hobnobbing with the Pakistani government as well as with terrorist leaders and receiving funds is also an open secret. But to claim that the militancy in the Kashmir Valley has no internal dimension is simply untrue.
With the presence of lakhs of soldiers, most of the time with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in force, pitched battles with stone-pelters, sometimes with the use of live pellets, taking around a Kashmiri youth tied to the bonnet of a jeep, dire warnings of elimination if found in possession of a gun and booking some youths under the sedition law for raising anti-India slogans, have we succeeded in winning the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri youth? Their sharp alienation (in the Valley) is a reality. The following steps might help in salvaging the deteriorating situation:
First, the old generation of Kashmiri leaders have lost credibility. The new generation doesn’t trust the Centre. We need a non-political, non-bureaucratic person of international repute who has no baggage of the Partition nor associated with the mis-governance of the state whom the youth could trust and listen to. The only person who has the moral authority, the stature and unblemished compassion is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. But will he agree to exhort the youth to shun violence and pursue the path of dialogue to have their grievances redressed?
Second, the establishment of a Peace and Reconciliation Commission like in South Africa after the fall of the apartheid regime which invites all aggrieved citizens of Jammu and Kashmir, Muslims and Hindus alike, to record specific instances of excesses/harassment/intimidation/molestation/physical assault/unlawful incarceration by the state. This cathartic process can lead to the lessening of hatred and bitterness and open a narrow window of reconciliation.
Third, to identify persons of impeachable credentials who could dare the protesting youth to come forward for an open debate without any threats of arrest and disarm them with the strength of sound arguments that neither an independent Kashmir nor embracing Pakistan was a viable option. The first will never happen and the second option will make them the new Muhajirs who are treated as second-class citizens in Pakistan. A large number of youths are likely to come around to accepting the reality that remaining in India was the best possible option.
Fourth, young Kashmiris with a clean image like Shah Faesal, the topper of the Civil Service Exams 2010, who has since resigned and launched his own party, should be co-opted as ambassadors of peace in Jammu and Kashmir. Frequent visits to the Valley by celebrities from Bollywood, from the world of music and dance and sports icons with a pan-India appeal might draw the Kashmiri youth closer to India.
One wonders if the revocation of Article 370, already considerably eroded, and attempts to change the demographic profile of the Valley will help in the restoration of peace and normality?
Finally, the radicalisation of the Kashmiri youth is a reality. But what have we done to de-radicalise them? Why can’t we beat the jihadi recruiters at their own game by offering a narrative powerful enough to counter the jihadi narrative and wean away the misguided youth indoctrinated by terrorist masterminds? But do we have a counter-narrative?