Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s excessive obsession with Kashmir and a strong anti-Muslim streak in his personal chemistry have been obvious for quite some time. As the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014 elections, he promised to revoke Article 370 of Indian constitution if elected, even though the Indian Supreme Court had ruled against it on legal and historical grounds.
India under Modi first used ‘surgical strike’ phraseology in 2015 when it attacked two locations in Myanmar (with whom it has a hot pursuit treaty), after the death of 18 soldiers in Manipur by Naga militants. Interestingly, the Indian constitution contains provisions similar to Article 370 for Nagaland too. It was hinted at the time that India could take similar actions along the LoC in Kashmir which Pakistan dismissed by saying that ‘Pakistan is not Myanmar’.
Occasional forays across the LoC by both India and Pakistan have been a common occurrence for decades, but in the past the political leaderships on both sides had remained in the background. Hours after the recent Uri incident, Prime Minister Modi resorted to much public chest-thumping and shrill belligerence against Pakistan without incriminating evidence. Indian opposition parties were quick to see this as a ploy to gain political mileage for the 2017 elections in six crucial states, while Pakistan saw it as distraction from unprecedented atrocities in Kashmir and to cover up the Indian army’s glaring ineptitude. A former governor of West Bengal and a national security adviser to the Indian government has now acknowledged that there is no evidence whatsoever of the involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) as had been claimed by India.
India’s COAS General Dilbir Singh Suhag too has been more hawkish than his predecessor. Soon after the change of command ceremony in 2014, he boasted that when the army uses force, “the use is from tactical to operational to strategic levels”; such blusters are usually best kept for later. One look at surgical strikes in military history and it is clear that such operations nearly always achieved pronounced and sustainable ‘strategic effects’. The much exaggerated Kashmir ‘surgical strike’ has fallen well short in terms of achieving any tactical, operational or strategic objectives.
But it will be a mistake to altogether ignore the political and public ownership of the ‘surgical strike’. This new phenomenon under Modi’s watch has altered India’s geo-strategic orientation for the future. This change is likely to impact the threat quantum for Pakistan and needs to be watched carefully. Modi announced his exterior manoeuvre to isolate Pakistan diplomatically and fired the first shot by leaning on smaller neighbours to stay away from the Saarc summit. He has also invited the UAE’s ruler to the Indian Republic Day parade in New Delhi in January 2017.
According to former Indian army chief, General V P Singh, India has formulated a simple mechanism for ‘surgical strikes’ in the future against what it perceives as terrorist bases – where the army plans the military operation, informs the Ministry of External Affairs to manage the diplomatic fallout, obtains the prime minister’s approval (not a problem as long as Modi is in office) and launches the strike.
Pakistan’s political and military establishments lack a similar ‘simple’ mechanism since it is dogged by an unsavoury history of mutual distrust. In Kargil, the military ‘half-briefed’ the prime minister. This fault line has again surfaced in the ongoing row over a report published in a leading newspaper. With Indian penchant for blaming Pakistan at the drop of a hat, one can expect tough times ahead for which civil-military relations should get on an even keel as parliamentary resolutions and APC consensus are not enough to cope with the threat.
The Kashmir movement has entered a crucial phase which is evident from the fact that after almost a hundred days of daily protests, more than seventy days of curfew across the state, and very high number of Kashmiris martyred, blinded and wounded, there is still no let up in the protests. The vast majority of protesters are from ranks of the educated unemployed and some are as young as ten or twelve years old. This agitation is unique in the sense that there is almost spontaneous hatred directed against each and every symbol of the state.
India is unwilling to indulge in deeper introspection to understand the core causative factors leading to the present state of affairs in the Kashmir valley. The situation is exacerbated by India stubbornness to resolve the dispute through meaningful dialogue. If there was any external mix in past agitations, the present protests in Kashmir are purely indigenous and show the aspirations of its youth. The draconian ‘terror sub-culture’ of the Indian army has run its course. There is little sanity in Modi’s actions.
India’s efforts against Pakistan from Afghan soil to keep us in turmoil are very clear and expose its hypocrisy. Continued instability stunts economic progress and creates favourable environments for external interventions. We must, therefore, put our own house in order as soon as possible and fast track all actions on the implementation of NAP so as to root out all vestiges of terrorism within, and not permit our soil to be used for violence across borders into other countries.
We shouldn’t place much faith in external powers which are paying only lip service and are not interested in a permanent resolution of the Kashmir dispute. India and other such powers only wish the ongoing protests to subside so that they can focus on pursuing their agendas. Although Sartaj Aziz has ruled out talks sans Kashmir but we can expect to be ‘encouraged’ towards another such meaningless exercise with a clear purpose to push the Kashmir dispute back into oblivion.
War with India is not a solution for our mutual disputes and should be avoided as far as possible. But we have to watch the evolving security paradigm carefully and draw our own red lines. It should be known publically that if there is a repeat of mis-adventure across the LoC, our response would be swift and beyond the routine ‘silencing of Indian guns’. Likewise, if there is one more big act of terrorism, where the hot trail leads to RAW and the NDS in Afghanistan, we must not hesitate to engage terrorist launch pads across the Durand Line to create a protective zone for our population.
Far from revoking Article 370 in the Indian constitution, Modi has alienated the entire population of Kashmir by unleashing unprecedented terror on innocent protesters. As former chief minister of Kashmir, Omer Abdullah aptly observed: ‘Burhan Wani’s ability to recruit from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media’. The least his supreme sacrifice and that of nearly other 100,000 deaths should achieve is to unshackle the Kashmir dispute from moribund Indo-Pak bilateralism.
The ultimate resolution of Kashmir issue should from now on be sought exclusively in accordance with Security Council resolutions. That is not going to be easy but a long journey can only begin with a first few steps.
The writer is a retired vice admiral.