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Why India needs a hard-line policy on Kashmir

August 27, 2014 14:39 IST

A soldier in KashmirIt is imperative that we deconstruct the current narrative and rewrite the storyline. To this end we need to alter the basic premise of the controversy, eliminate the obstructionists, home in on the true stakeholders and redefine the rules of engagement, says Vivek Gumaste.

The Kashmir imbroglio is a complex, multi-faceted, hydra-headed monster; a perplexing quandary of intersecting ethnic, religious and international differences that seemingly defies solution; and without a doubt an ugly fracas kept alive by Pakistan’s malicious intrigue and intransigence.

Equally relevant, however, is the assertion that the Kashmir conundrum is a quagmire of our own volition; a monstrosity engendered by our naivete; a pot that is kept simmering by our befuddled national persona: a bizarre cocktail of mawkish idealism, jittery pusillanimity and misguided magnanimity; and an issue that assumes superlative intractability by our dithering attitude.

The Narendra Modi government’s unequivocal decision to cancel India-Pakistan bilateral talks as punition for the illegitimate contact between the Pakistani high commissioner Abdul Basit and Kashmiri separatists is the first salvo in what could be a paradigm shift in our Kashmir policy; a much needed course correction that sends out a no-nonsense message.

To denigrate a call for a hard-line policy as jingoistic sabre rattling is to be unrealistic. Civil dialogue has failed to deter Pakistan. In fact Pakistan exploits dialogue as a devious strategy to shackle India to restraint even while it carries on its diabolical campaign. For India the cost of this fruitless approach has been enormous: over 40,000 deaths and over a quarter million Hindus ethnically cleansed from the Valley. Can there be a stronger argument than this?

It is imperative that we deconstruct the current narrative and rewrite the storyline. To this end we need to alter the basic premise of the controversy, eliminate the obstructionists, home in on the true stakeholders and redefine the rules of engagement.

First, the prevailing axiom of the Kashmir problem must be turned on its head. Pakistan’s claim to Kashmir is merely a fantasy of its fundamental religiosity and lacks legal, popular or historical sanction. This is not a bilateral international conflict but a domestic issue; unfortunately we made it one.

In 1947 in the aftermath of Pakistan’s treacherous bid to usurp Kashmir, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in a fit of indignant righteousness sought the intervention of the United Nations. It was a blunder incarnate that allowed Pakistan to weasel itself into the conflict.  Highlighting this faux pas, M J Akbar writes in Nehru, The Making of India:

“By referring to the United Nations, Nehru allowed what was legally a domestic Indian problem to become an international issue. If there was any argument over the ratification of the accession by Hari Singh then the only parties to the argument could be Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah; how did Pakistan have any locus standii? The reference to the UN gave Pakistan a place in the argument. It was perhaps the most serious error of judgement which Nehru made….”

We are not obligated to remain wedded to this ‘blunder’. Pakistan is a spoiler and needs to be deleted from the equation.

To give teeth to this altered premise, we need to challenge existing practices. Reacting to India’s stance, Pakistan responded that it was ‘a long-standing practice’ for its officials to meet with Kashmiri separatist leaders. True. But there is a new government in Delhi and the new dispensation is signaling a change of tack.

Free access to separatists may have burnished our democratic credentials, but it is an act of stupendous folly that contradicts every dogma of hard real politik; a self-destructive gesture that violates our sovereignty and confers legitimacy to an unholy nexus. It needs to be curbed to cut down Pakistan’s role.

Next we need to reign in Pakistan’s crony, the Hurriyat, a self-appointed representative of the Kashmiri people and another spoiler whose influence is vastly overrated; despite a boycott call by the Hurriyat, 60.5 per cent of Kashmiris participated in the 2008 assembly elections. The Hurriyat sustains itself in the spotlight by orchestrating unruly street protests at the behest of Pakistan. Deletion number two: the Hurriyat and all separatists.

That leaves only two genuine stakeholders: India and the Kashmiri citizens of India. And there is a robust ongoing dialogue between the two. Barring a few glitches, India has successfully conducted elections at frequent intervals with the active participation of the Kashmiris -- a testimony to a two way interaction. This needs to be enhanced.

Is there a flip side to a hard-line policy? Citing harsh international repercussions of disengaging Pakistan, nervous nannies among the political pundits have counseled caution. To them I say: let us cross the Rubicon when we come to it. In the ever fluctuating geo-political equation, Pakistan is no longer the blue-eyed boy of the United States. International response may turn out to be a whimper, not an outcry.

As to the spectre of a nuclear conflict, another concern voiced by the commentariat, it is a bogey and nothing more. Pakistan would be loath to exercise this deadly option knowing fully well that an all-out nuclear war would result in its complete extinction. From our perspective we have two choices: either we succumb to Pakistan’s blackmail and resign ourselves to a life of diminished existence that has seen our Parliament violated, our financial capital plundered and our citizens herded like sheep and massacred or we can call Pakistan’s bluff. The choice is entirely ours. .

India’s new and assertive policy should encompass three cardinal points. One, militancy must be delinked from dialogue and countered militarily. Two, Pakistan and its crony the Hurriyat must be sidelined and three, the bonds between the Kashmiris and people of India strengthened.

India is changing: an emerging global economic power brimming with hope. At the helm is a charismatic leader who embodies the aspirations of the youth and is confident of fulfilling their dreams. Will the silent majority of Kashmir take charge of their own destiny by jettisoning Pakistan and marginalising the cranky old men and their partisan fundamentalist propaganda to embrace a new and resurgent India? That is the million-dollar question which will decide the finality of the Kashmir conundrum along with a hardline Pakistan policy.

Vivek Gumaste