Thursday, July 28, 2016
Home Ministry failed in Kashmir, Defence Ministry now must be vigilant - By David Davadas
Some of the young people who met Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Srinagar last weekend were encouraged by his attentiveness and apparent openness. That might sound good but, sadly, it makes little difference. Those meetings were too little, too late. The bottom line is that the home ministry has failed in Kashmir. It has failed on several fronts over several years, but its worst failure was missing the crucial importance of catching Burhan Wani alive. They made the cardinal error of viewing him as simply another militant commander, rather than as an idealised youth icon the like of which Kashmir had not seen in a quarter-century.
Engaging with young Kashmiris at large is the right thing to do, but doing it at this point is like trying to reap a crop after birds and cows have picked the field clean. The minister’s meetings last weekend might deserve full marks for attitude, but also a zero for effectiveness – and the maximum negative for timing. If the country is lucky, there might be a re-test for this ministry in Kashmir at some point but that point seems distant. Nor, given its inefficiency over the past several decades, is there much hope that it will pass.
For the longest time, three ministries have dealt with Kashmir – unfortunately, spending more energy sniping at each other over turf than on problem-solving. Apart from home, these ministries are external affairs and defence.
Diplomacy over Kashmir has already faltered badly. Just a few months after the prime minister’s high-profile visit to Pakistan last Christmas, Pakistan declared that it had suspended talks with India. If the home minister’s visit was too little too late, the prime minster’s visit seven months earlier had been too much too late.
A statement from the external affairs minister the day after the home minister visited Kashmir blamed Pakistan. The focus ought indeed to be on Pakistan — but it should be the defence ministry’s focus, not the home ministry’s, the external affairs ministry’s, or the information and broadcasting ministry’s. To blame Pakistan for the unrest in the Valley is a convenient but inadequate explanation.
What might happen next is more to the point.
Policymakers need to urgently figure out what signals the Pakistan Army would have taken from the sharp and massive uprising that followed Burhan Wani’s killing. In light of those likely signals, the defence ministry ought to brainstorm, and draw up detailed response plans.
A good reference point is what happened in 1965.
The war and Operation Gibraltar that Pakistan launched that year to try and take over Kashmir, was a response to the signals Pakistan’s General Headquarters received over the previous couple of years.
The first signal was the extraordinarily volatile protests in Kashmir when the relic of the Prophet went missing from the Hazratbal shrine on 27 December, 1963. The second signal was Nehru’s death exactly five months later, and the succession to power of Lal Bahadur Shastri; Pakistan perceived Shastri as a pushover.
Another important signal was the government’s behaviour towards Sheikh Abdullah during 1964. He was released from jail in April, went to Pakistan in May with a peace proposal involving joint management (similar to the so-called 'Musharraf Plan'), and was jailed again after he met Chou en Lai in Egypt.
Intense shelling on the Ceasefire Line (now called the Line of Control) continued from the summer of 1964 until Operation Gibraltar unfolded between July and September the next year. For Pakistan’s army, the most important spur in that phase must surely have been the high-pitched public response while the relic was missing.
Let us compare this with the current scenario. Until 2008, Pakistan had all but given up on Kashmir. That summer’s uprising — kicked off by Governor SK Sinha’s insistence on land transfer to the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board, and reinvigorated by the RSS’s electorally motivated campaign in the Jammu region — signalled to Pakistani strategists that opportunity still knocked in Kashmir.
By the time the closure of the highway near Udhampur and Samba led to a 'Muzaffarabad chalo' march in Kashmir, Pakistan was back in the role of puppeteer — to some extent, at least. Its role increased during the uprising of 2010.
The period since 2008 has brought several ominous indications:
One, a fresh, highly motivated militancy is underway in Kashmir.
Two, there have been sharp attacks at security installations along the arterial highway to the state.
Three, large numbers of militant camps are once more bustling across the Line of Control.
Four, Chinese troops are stationed in parts of the state controlled by Pakistan.
Five, Pakistan has been furiously preparing battlefield nuclear weapons.
If the home ministry buried its head ostrich-like in the sands of illusion before Burhan’s killing, the defence ministry would do well not to follow that example in light of these indications, and the uprising that followed Burhan’s killing.