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Tuesday, 28 September 1999

India's Kashmir Policy: Separate Wolves from the Sheep

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)


The hostile reaction from Pakistan-financed organisations to the 
proposal to hold elections in Kashmir should be reason enough 
to go ahead with them. Islamabad is aware that even if the voter 
turn-out were poor due to fear of violence the very replacement 
of central rule with an administration run by local Kashmiris  
could well bring down the "hate level" to a degree that would 
be sufficient to undermine popular support for militancy. This is 
exactly what happened is Assam and Punjab. Thus, the fact that 
many Kashmiris are not favourably disposed to elections is not 
reason enough to abandon the idea. That such hostility exists is 
beyond doubt. A poll on Kashmir recently in the inaugural issue 
of a weekly magazine found that the over-whelming majority of 
the respondents favoured a solution to the state’s problems 
outside the Indian Constitution.


What the magazine’s poll demonstrates is the wisdom of
those who framed the Indian Constitution and who made the
covenant with itself indissoluble. Had there been a secession
option, divisive tendencies in many parts of the country would
have been strengthened and might perhaps have led to the
breaking up of the Indian state. In the absence of secession as an
option, such tendencies have been contained, albeit with varying
degrees of success. If India with all its diverse cultures and
languages has held together, it is only because the option for any
part to secede was clearly ruled out from the beginning.

Link Ignored
The link between Kashmir and the very survival of the Indian
state has been ignored by many in the Clinton administration.
The agenda of those like Robin Raphel on Kashmir is to
internationalise the issue and hopefully secure a result in
accordance with the wishes of the Pakistanis. However, policy-
makers here need to recognise that the appointment of an
assistant secretary who is openly pro-Pakistan as the head of the
South Asia section of the US State department is a consequence
rather than the cause of the Clinton administration’s
subcontinental policy.

US diplomats are well aware of the fact that their every
expression of doubt on the finality of Kashmir’s accession to
India provides oxygen for the terrorist movement in the state.
The fundamentalists in the Valley appear convinced that the US
and other western countries will secure azadi for them eventually
provided they continue their guerrilla tactics against India.
Western governments know only too well Pakistan’s role in
fomenting terrorism in Kashmir but choose to look the other
way. For example, the US overlooks the flouting of its own non
proliferation laws by Pakistan and ignores the fact that Islamabad
has outstripped Tripoli and Teheran as centres where fanatics
are trained in such accoutrements of "moderate democracy" as
RDX explosives and the use of Kalashnikovs. The fact that this
policy will rebound on US interests as surely as India’s help to
the LTTE boomeranged on New Delhi appears to have been
overlooked.

Little Comfort
However, this will be of little comfort to India if, in the meantime,
it follows the Clinton administrations prescription of scuttling
important defence programmes. Narasimha Rao's policy has
been to speak softly on security issues. However, the Prime
Minister appears to have forgotten the second part of the adage,
which is that the individual who speaks softly needs also to carry
a big stick. On the contrary, India has consistently given in to US
demands such as capping Agni and refusing to deploy Prithvi.
This has served to encourage Islamabad to believe that it will not
be punished for continuing its covert war against India.

What is needed in the near future is a parliamentary
commission of inquiry to determine the reasons why this country
has neglected its defences since 1989. After the collapse of the
USSR, a substantial quantity of defence equipment could have
been purchased from there at comparatively low prices. This
included tanks, aircraft, frigates and spares. For reasons that are
not clear, this opportunity was not utilised, leaving the field
open for other countries, including Pakistan. And although
reports regularly appear in the Indian press about
"breakthroughs" in defence research, the fact is that most projects
have either been put on hold or shelved for lack of funding.
It is this weakness that renders India's policy of making
concessions owing to western pressure on Kashmir dangerous.
Transparency in methods needs to be matched with firmness in
policies if the militancy in the Valley is to be extinguished. While
there should be no bar on foreign human rights organisations
visiting Kashmir, this should be in the context of a clear policy
that the state is a part of India, and that terrorism there will be
fought with the same vigour shown by France and the US against
equivalent acts in Paris or Oklahoma.

In contrast, the ministry of external affairs continuously
repeats the mantra that it is ready to discuss "any issue" with
Pakistan. Does this mean that it is ready to discuss the secession
of Kashmir? If not, this should be made explicit. Should Pakistan
refuse to come forward to normalise ties unless India agrees to
such a condition, then so be it. In the future, as its defence burden
further destroys the Pakistan economy, popular anger may lead
to a strengthening of separatist tendencies in that country. Surely
Benazir Bhutto, with her touching concern for the rights of self
determination, will not then deny such a privilege to her own
citizens.

There is a certain deja vu about the developments in Kashmir.
On January 1, 1948, India complained to the UN about the
danger to peace as a result of Pakistan’s sending irregulars into
the Valley. On January 15, 1948, the Pakistan government
officially denied that it was providing aid and assistance to the
"so-called invaders". Forty-seven years later, the same round of
allegations and denials continues. Thirty years ago—in 1965
Bhutto sent irregulars into the Valley from Pakistan while
denying that he had done so. Today another Bhutto is doing the
same. India's "achievement" in Kashmir diplomacy from 1948
onwards can be compared to a man going round and round in
circles.

Not a Strong Point
Learning lessons from history does not appear to be a strong
point with lndia's policy-makers. Whether in 1948, in 1952, in
1963 or now, the western powers have attempted to tacitly
influence India into handing over the Valley to Pakistan. There
has been a long list of diplomats preceding Robin Raphel,
individuals eager to carry forward the process of India's
disintegration that was begun in 1947. And yet New Delhi
continues to entertain illusions that "this time", western reaction
will be different. The only factor that will make it different is not
the masochistic "diplomacy" we are seeing now, but significant
accretions in India's economic and defence base.

The terrorists in the Valley cannot be countered with the
bland diet of autonomy. Rather, they need to be met by methods
they respect, even while the rest of Kashmir is given —through
the ballot box—the same rights and privileges enjoyed by other
Indian states. Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Bihar or Jayalalitha's Tamil
Nadu show that apart from defence, income tax, internal security
and foreign affairs, almost all other functions have been usurped
by the state governments. Farooq Abdullah or Shabbir Shah, the
prospective Wazir-e-Azams of Kashmir, will soon recognise this
post-liberalisation reality if they are brave enough to face the
electorate.

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