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Kashmir: Finding Lasting Peace

Col Vivek Chadha (Retd) is a Research Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • June 26, 2014

    The bustling boulevard around the Dal Lake is witnessing yet another peak tourist season. For a casual onlooker, the crowded markets could well be mistaken for any other hill station in the coun-try. Peace and prosperity seems to be an unmistakable reality, with gunshots and violence merely the reflection of a nightmarish past.

    There have been consistent seasons of relative peace since the large scale protests on the streets of Srinagar in 2010, providing hope for stability and predictability, both for the local people as well as the visitors. However, a careful look below the tranquil surface, reveals the fragility of reality, which can potentially be disturbed, as a result of misalignment of competing interests.

    Events in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) are not merely a product of local factors. Nor is the state im-mune from trends across the region and perhaps beyond. Separatists and terrorists have traditional-ly attempted to seek support for their cause not only from within the state, but more importantly, from without. The statement by Al Qaeda on June 15, 2014 to fight its jihad in Kashmir, was the first declaration, focussed sharply on the state of J&K. The attack on the Indian Consulate in Afghani-stan on the eve of Prime Minister Modi’s swearing-in, was yet another indication of the influence and control of terrorists, potentially supported by the ISI, which can impact the situation in J&K. Fur-ther, recent events in Iraq and the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) indicates that terror-ist groups with state support have the ability to change status quo, especially if the security and so-cial equilibrium of a region is already disturbed.

    J&K is impacted by a number of influences, exerting pressure to attain their respective objectives, which can often end up at cross purposes. While the Central Government in New Delhi, would pre-fer political status quo, a secure environment and an economic upswing in the fortunes of the state, for Pakistan, having lost out on Punjab, J&K is the last opportunity to wrest a face saving settle-ment. The possibility of war as an option to snatch Kashmir having failed on a number of attempts, an honourable exit strategy on the state, is the only option. This Pakistani strategy, abhors status quo as an end state, and therefore it will employ terrorism and civil disobedience as means and will be open to explore all potential ways below the threshold of war to keep the issue alive. Hence the potential for conflict between two nuclear powers remains.

    The state government balances the need to live up to people’s aspirations, through provision of good governance and managing local sentiments. Often, the failure of the former, in the form of inability to meet rising expectations for jobs, improved civic amenities and a political expression of grassroots democracy, leads to diverting the ire of the people beyond state boundaries. Managing this is becoming increasingly difficult, as the hardline space within the state is occupied by sepa-ratist elements like the Hurriyat Conference and other separatist outfits that have the luxury of con-solidating their estranged base on emotive issues and unmet expectations, without the challenge of delivering on hopes and promises.

    The most important factor in the equation is the local population of the state and the agencies im-plementing the security responsibility. The security forces are required to manage a fine balancing act, wherein, even as they ensure that no collateral damage takes place during operations, the strike capability of terrorists is steadily neutralised. The local people form the last and most critical factor in the final equation. It would be a mistake to consider them a monolithic voice or bloc with a unified view on issues, however, the recent past reflects a steady shift towards growing disen-chantment with status quo. This is especially visible amongst the jobless youth of the state.

    The vortex of these influences could well allow the successes of the past few years to fritter away if inaction is not replaced by concerted, focussed and bold initiatives in the near future. These initia-tives, just like the competing influences, must focus at addressing each of these areas. It is an in-disputable fact that insurgencies never end cleanly. Most take years to stabilise even after major combat operations cease, mostly because of ideological issues. This is true of J&K as well.

    Dealing with Pakistan

    Pakistan remains a spoiler in the pursuit of peace in the state of J&K. Its active collusion with terror-ists to keep the embers of violence simmering and obsession with proxy war as an instrument of state policy is unlikely to change, despite its blowback effect on the society. India’s response must therefore look beyond the obvious reactions to offset the sub-threshold advantage Pakistan enjoys at the moment.

    • The government’s response to Pakistani activities must be clear in its intent, guided by well-defined objectives and the means required to achieve them. The fact that the demand for merg-ing parts of the state with Pakistan has literally died out, due to the conditions prevailing in that country, must be seen as an opportunity to take Pakistan out of the equation.
    • Over the years, there has been a gradual hardening of public sentiment in India on the issue of dealing with Pakistan. It is primarily because of Pakistan’s proxy war against India. Any discus-sion with Pakistan on J&K, must be preceded by building consensus with the political establish-ment and carrying out the groundwork to shape public opinion suitably. The issue has been com-plicated by ceding of territory in J&K by Pakistan to China and in the recent past, as a result of in-creased Chinese presence in Pakistan. Therefore, a settlement must take a holistic view of the emerging security scenario, rather than viewing the state from the prism of Pakistan alone.
    • Pakistan has taken advantage of the nuclear overhang, its deterrence potential, the impracticality of a conventional war, while pursuing the proxy war route, even as India is clearly focussed to-wards building its economy. This leaves the option of putting international pressure on Pakistan to reject terrorism as a state policy, undertaking bilateral diplomatic measures and to punish bad be-haviour. However, as events in the past have proved, each of these options have limited gains. Therefore, even as each of these provides a choice to be exercised at an opportune time, it is the possibility of a precision military strike that must be developed to display the intent and capability of the Indian state. Unlike popular perception, this capability requires a cross-agency capacity, which remains questionable at present. First, any precision strike must be preceded by hard intel-ligence made available by not only electronic means, but more importantly by human assets with-in the target area. Second, a Special Forces strike to eliminate terrorist commanders requires ap-propriate air assets and a very high level of electronic warfare capability to execute such an op-eration. Third, the Special Forces must be trained for strategic targeting, which has been confined to limited tactical targeting in the past. Fourth and last, it requires the necessary political will to take the battle to the adversary, including the potential cost of failure.

    Political Initiatives

    The start must be made by the Central Government by a systematic introspection of its own role and measures adopted during the last decade. It would be evident that the hard fought peace divi-dend did bring in its wake a window of opportunity in 2012-13, which was ideal for initiating mean-ingful steps towards peace. Even as this was lost, the next opportunity would probably be available immediately after the next state elections, with new Central and State governments having the ad-vantage of beginning the process of reconciliation anew. Some of the recommendations for taking forward the dialogue with all parties in the state are:

    • Track two talks must commence immediately to prepare the blueprint for a devolution package in the spirit of “insaniyat” as indicated by Vajpayee and maximum autonomy by the UPA govern-ment.
    • The Hurriyat Conference must be taken on board to ensure a lasting settlement but equally im-portant would be the involvement of the mainstream political parties.
    • Actions that can potentially derail the positive sentiment, at the behest of fringe elements should be prevented at all costs. Discussions on contentious issues could continue at the track two level.
    • Successive governments have often been accused of lacking clarity on a road map for a final settlement on J&K. Even if making such a guideline public is considered counterproductive, dis-cussions can be initiated on suitable public platforms to gauge and mould public sentiment.
    • The final settlement in J&K is not about financial packages and high visibility developmental pro-jects alone. It is more about bridging psychological and emotional disconnect that has been creat-ed and in some cases nurtured over a period of time. It is critical for the government to address this trust deficit that continues to fester in some quarters.
    • Armed struggles are often focussed around an ideology and the charisma of a leader. This can only be overcome by an equally compelling counter narrative and leadership. In the case of J&K, the counter narrative can best be provided by the vision and reality of development and job op-portunities for the youth of the state. If this has to become a reality then decisive and determined central and state leadership must take back the space that has been occupied by hardline ele-ments who are selling emotionally alluring but unrealistic dreams to the people, who have been failed by the promise of peace dividends. The very fact that a large number of people in the state appear for Defence and Central Armed Police Forces recruitment rallies indicates that most peo-ple are not ideologically inclined against the country.
    • A final settlement on the issue is unlikely to favour status quo. At the same time there cannot be some strikingly different arrangement put in place without it affecting similar demands from other states, particularly in the Northeast. This requires a set of options available to the government that can fit within the framework of the Constitution. It is therefore better to clearly outline the options available for negotiations and red lines that must remain the basis for a final settlement.

    Recommendations for Security Forces

    The foreseeable future is likely to witness the presence of security forces in the state, even if read-justment of their locations is undertaken. They will therefore remain the most visible symbol of state authority. The security forces in general and army in particular tends to become the eye of the storm in a disturbed area. This is despite their admirable achievements and sustained hard work over a number of years, often with little in terms of emotional and psychological compensation. The sacrifices of the security forces can best be harnessed by measures that can be seen as a logical follow up of their efforts. As violence levels come down, there is a need to continuously refine the role of these forces to ensure that their presence causes least inconvenience and does not provide flash points that have come to define separatist calls for protests.

    • The reduced visibility of security forces has been a welcome sign in the past. This process must continue, especially from areas which have become symbols of unwelcome presence like in ho-tels and private buildings.
    • The focus of operations must shift from the populated areas to the Line of Control (LoC), as ter-rorist numbers dwindle in the state to ensure that infiltration can be handled better.
    • Previous cases of human rights violations must be proceeded against expeditiously and action taken communicated not only to the concerned families but also to the public at large.
    • Even as security forces are provided with the necessary protection and flexibility to operate, ex-isting laws must be amended to make them more accountable and transparent.
    • The evolving rules of engagement have ensured almost zero human rights violations in the recent past. These procedures must be strengthened continuously with emphasis on removing terrorism rather than merely terrorists.

    Meeting Aspirations of the Youth and Economic Rejuvenation

    The focus of efforts to bring J&K close to the national mainstream, must begin with the youth of the state, as it is this segment of the population, which can make or mar future peace efforts. Some of the steps that can be initiated in this regard are:

    • In pursuit of job opportunities, the initiative to setup industries in the state in areas which are peaceful can become the first step in this direction. This must be accompanied by incentives like tax holidays for the industry and lease of land by the state government.
    • Skill development initiatives must commence as a prelude to creation of job opportunities. This will improve the employability of the youth in the region.
    • Even as large industries might take time for establishing the necessary infrastructure in the state, interlinked medium scale industries, which are complementary in nature, can be established to best employ the resources of the state in field of handicrafts, canning of fruits, floriculture and sericulture.
    • Setting up of industries in districts which are peaceful can also serve as an incentive for collective efforts on part of the state and the people to reject extremism and embrace peace.
    • The curriculum of schools must be brought on par with that in other parts of the country to give competitive parity to students of the state.
    • Reservation of jobs must be provided to youth displaced as a result of violence from the state to help resettle them and rebalance the social fabric of the state.

    J&K has long suffered the festering wounds of violence. Much like any conflict, this has been ag-gravated by external support from Pakistan, as well as internal contradictions. The stability of cen-tral decision making, resurgence of democracy in Pakistan and the emerging threat of transnational terrorism dictates a renewed sense of purpose to bring peace to the state of J&K.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.