Towards a lasting peace
Another ceasefire, and glimpses of hope. This time around, however, there is apparently a greater dignity attached to the conduct of many of the players, and more modest expectations. Pakistan has also found it expedient to go along in some measure, with an effective restraint on the cross border exchanges that have been a daily occurrence for years now. Nevertheless, in the first three weeks of the ceasefire itself, 131 persons were killed in J&K and, disturbingly, if inevitably, given the unilateral nature of the ceasefire, the ratio of terrorist to security forces’ casualties had worsened radically, with 32 security forces personnel and 44 terrorists killed during this phase. A look at the figures for those injured, including more than 76 security forces personnel and 4 militants, lends an even darker hue to the picture.
It is a fact, however, that the Prime Minister’s announcement of the ceasefire and the events that followed, have significantly altered the ground situation, forcing Pakistan (in combination with a variety of other circumstances and pressures) to take a conciliatory line, and creating deep divisions in the rank and file of the militant and separatist leadership in the State. How far will these developments go? The most frequently asked question today is, will the ceasefire lead to a ‘solution’ to the crisis in Kashmir?
This question reflects a distorted, if dominant, perspective on the issue. There is not a crisis in Kashmir, but a multiplicity of crises. The prevailing impression appears to be that once a particular problem – specifically, violence – has been addressed, a resolution will materialize, and this is the sentiment that appears to be driving the current ‘peace process’. But terrorism is only one part of the problem. There is, equally, a crisis of governance, of political leadership, of the economy and of development at large; there is the crisis of the alienation of the local populations, of communal polarisation, and of the virtual ethnic cleansing of the Valley of its non-Muslim populations. To think that a single process of resolution can lead to any permanent solution is to misconstrue the problem itself. Each of these crises will have to be addressed, and in the present, if a lasting peace is to be secured. Unfortunately, there appears to be no visible initiative in this direction. We cannot wait till the problem of terrorism has been resolved, and then look at, for instance, governance or of corruption. These are integrally linked to terrorism. A great deal of the flow of funds from government treasuries through the corruption mechanism gives sustenance to the terrorists and supports their organizations and activities. This is a characteristic of the dynamics of the underground economy of terrorism, and its disruption through the restoration of at least a degree of accountability and transparency would contribute to the resolution of the problem of terrorism.
There is, equally, the problem of political leadership. The absence of credible political alternatives in the State is one of the main obstacles to the restoration of peace. The collapse of the judiciary, the failure of the institutions of civil governance, the emasculation of the State Police – each of these needs to be addressed, and any improvement in these parameters will lead to an improvement in the ground situation, making counter-terrorism policy and peace initiatives more effective.
This said, however, as regards terrorism itself, it must be understood that there is only one solution as far as the hard core of terrorists is concerned – and that solution is ‘military’. These terrorists will have to be confronted and defeated. As long as you try to compromise with them, bargain with them, appease them, the violence will escalate.
A distinction must, however, be made between the hard core of terrorists and a number of political, quasi political or sympathetic organizations and individuals, who may share some of the objectives of the terrorists, and the sentiment behind their violence, but who have themselves not resorted to the use of criminal force for political ends, and whose ultimate goal is not integrally linked to such violence. Such groupings may presently feel that justice cannot be secured without the use of force. They need to be convinced that justice is a possibility without violence. And that the force of the state is not being directed against the people of Kashmir, or against their political organizations, but that it is directed against those who use indiscriminate violence against civilian populations and targets, and whose victims are – in Kashmir – overwhelmingly Muslims.
There is, in contemporary rhetoric, enormous emphasis placed on the initiation of a ‘peace process’ in every conflict. But a peace process can commence with any two people sitting together. It is essential to discriminate between a fruitful peace process, and one that is ineffective, or just a shot in the dark or a desperate effort by one party or another to take the processes forward in any direction whatsoever. I do not think that any peace process can be fruitful until it is demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt that violence will not pay. And that is to be demonstrated not only to one group or another, but to a very large international agenda today, which is located not just in Kashmir, or in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but right from Eastern Europe and the Caucuses, down through Central and West Asia, through South Asia and as far as South East Asia, where the influence of a multiplicity of extremist Islamic terrorist movements is gathering force. If we talk peace to just Kashmiri militants, that is, the militants of Kashmiri origin alone, there will always be this international agenda and its mujahiddeen, who will persist in violence.
In this context, Pakistan’s case is complex. In many ways, Pakistan is at the heart of extremist Pan-Islamic terror, and has used terrorism in Kashmir to further its geopolitical ambitions. The fact, however, is that Pakistan is not in control of the terrorists. As long as the interests of the fundamentalist organizations operating from Pakistan coincide with the interests of the Pakistani leadership and the ISI, they will go along. If they find that their ‘global vision’ is being compromised, they will turn against Pakistan itself. And I do not see the time as being very far off when the violence of the mujahiddeen will turn against Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan is directing the violence against India at least in part because of the awareness that, the moment it relents, the jehadis will push their own creators beyond the brink.
These factors are substantially ignored in the efforts to secure peace. Unless the ground situation in the larger region changes, the possibilities of success are limited. This does not, of course, mean that we must dispense with the peace processes. The very announcement of a ceasefire by the PM has altered the context and contours of the conflict. It has put Pakistan under enormous pressure, compounding that country’s crises of near bankruptcy and loss of international credibility. These are conditions that favour the advancement of a peace process.
The focus of such a process, however, should be to create an effective political agenda for Kashmir. But this cannot mean negotiations with or the appeasement of the terrorist warlords operating out of Pakistan. The leaders of terrorist groups will all have to be, and must be, dealt with as terrorists and criminals. If you appease them, you will reward terror. If you reward terror, it means terror is succeeding. If terrorism succeeds in one place, it will be replicated in other theatres. This will impact not only on Kashmir, but on the entire nation, and, indeed, on the world at large. I have said this before, but it bears repeating: a victory for terrorism anywhere in the world is a victory for terrorism everywhere. Terrorism in the world today is founded on the successes of terrorism in the late sixties and early seventies, when some terrorist leaders were transformed into world statesmen in the Middle East. The message was communicated that, if you resort to these methods, you can become a world leader, you can carve out your own little nation, speak in the UN, find a place in history. Because some terrorist leaders in West Asia and Ireland have been given a place in the history of the world, every criminal ganglord thinks he can also become a world leader by murdering a few hundred or a few thousand people. The world needs to consistently tell the ambitious and impatient groupings in various areas of conflict that they should try to resolve their problems by peaceful and democratic means, and that if they resort to terrorism, irrespective of the validity or legitimacy of their cause, the world will stand against them, and will defeat them.
This said, there is urgent need to make an objective assessment of the potential of the present ceasefire, so that realism guides our expectations. As far as Pakistan is concerned, it must be clear, its current ‘cooperation’ is a merely tactical measure. Indeed, even for India, not just in the military but also in the political sense, this is substantially a tactical initiative, because we know that this ceasefire cannot provide a ‘solution’, but only the possibility of a political alternative emerging, even as, at the same time, it creates some internal divisions among the extremist groupings. It may also catalyse a certain disjunction between hardcore elements and some of their front organizations, and each such disjunction creates new possibilities.
In the evaluation of all such initiatives, the time perspective is crucial. When the last ceasefire was announced by the Hizb-ul-Mujahiddeen, there was this whole euphoria, as if peace would be restored over the next weekend. Despite the significance of the Prime Minister’s initiative, it must be clearly accepted that the problems in Kashmir are not going to be solved just because a peace process has been initiated, or a ceasefire hammered out with some militant groups. Indeed, peace is not going to return to Kashmir in the near future. What may happen is that some violent groups may choose to participate in the peace process, and this may result in the diminution of violence (though other groupings would certainly act to secure an escalation). Given the geopolitics of this entire region, however, the probabilities that an effective peace in Kashmir will be secured in the foreseeable future remain small.
This is also a consequence of the very character of Pakistan’s politics. Pakistan has been created out of a philosophy of hatred and exclusion that claims that, where two communities have some basic differences of belief, faith or culture, they cannot co-exist in peace. Successive regimes in Pakistan, moreover, have sold the idea to the people of that country that, without Kashmir, Pakistan is incomplete or cannot exist. As long as such thinking survives in the power elites of Pakistan, no permanent peace is possible. You will have tactical and strategic withdrawals, but, eventually, hostilities will be resumed, sometimes by a successor regime.
Peace is, consequently, possible in Kashmir only if the peace processes are based on a very realistic appraisal of the intentions, the motives, and the strength of the various actors. Just hankering after peace, just saying we are desperate to have peace, only takes war further forward, because it is seen as a sign of weakness. Never, for a moment, must the world forget the example of Neville Chamberlain, and the devastation of the Second World War that followed his unrealistic efforts to appease Hitler.
There is a strong – indeed, dominant – lobby that insists that the government must negotiate the terms of the peace in Kashmir with terrorists. This is incomprehensible in a democracy – albeit an imperfect democracy like India – and within a liberal democratic ideology. Unlike Pakistan and unlike a number of other Third World countries, and unlike almost all the countries that claim the title of ‘Islamic’, India does have mechanisms for the resolution of legitimate grievances, though these may not be particularly efficient. I cannot see how the interests of democracy can be served by handing over the population of Kashmir to terrorist warlords. How can mass murderers bring justice to a people? These are men who say they fight for Islam. Yet, close to eleven thousand civilians have been killed in J&K, and 85 per cent of these are Muslims. Are we to hand over the population of Kashmir to the perpetrators of these crimes? The problem of terrorism cannot be resolved by negotiating the destinies of the people of Kashmir with their murderers. That is an unacceptable solution, whether it is Kashmir or any other part of the country, or of the world, for that matter. You cannot hand over a democratically administered region – however imperfect its democracy – to extremists of this character.
The advocates of a ‘soft’ attitude towards terrorists insist that there is bound to be a compromise. I do not believe that there can be a compromise here. That is because of the fundamental nature of Pan Islamic extremism and Pakistan’s politics. There may be a temporary compromise, but any such compromise can only result in a temporary deferment of conflict and an inevitable resurgence or extension of violence, though this may be five years or fifteen years ahead.
Does this mean an unending war? That is not the case, because if this war continues, Pakistan cannot survive. Pakistan may have made this war the raison d’être of its existence and its national politics, but it will die because of this politics. From a geo-strategic perspective, as far as India is concerned, Kashmir is now a holding operation. If the forces defend existing lines within Kashmir for another fifteen or twenty years (on the outside), Pakistan will destroy itself. India will not have to do anything to secure this end. Frankly, Pakistan is a country without a future, unless it completely reverses the character of its politics and civilizes itself. And that is a very remote possibility.
The current ceasefire, consequently, must be assessed, not as a resolution of the problem of Kashmir, but as a tactical initiative, and its success or extension be evaluated as such. Such tactics may result in some measure of a strategic shift, but we must not forget the circumstances that created the disaster that was the last ceasefire. It is imperative that ‘peace initiatives’, at least in the near term, should be highly secretive. A ceasefire can be openly declared, but any negotiations that take place thereafter should be completely secret, and must not be conducted in the glare of the media. The moment you bring the media into the equation, you bring in the pressure of jockeying for media attention; you bring in the pressure to strike certain postures, and the simultaneous pressure on at least certain groupings to take progressively more extreme positions. The ‘photo-ops’ and media melas can wait till after something concrete has been secured, at least with several major groupings.
Another crucial point that needs to be made is that we have had any number of ‘Accords’ with various groups in various parts of the country. None of them has secured a permanent peace. So the signing of an accord or the beginning of a peace process cannot be thought of as an end in itself. It is only one measure of policy that can from time to time be explored, and its impact will have to be evaluated in terms of concrete gains on the ground, not on the basis of some paper signed by some group leaders, who by those very signatures, might render themselves irrelevant to the conflict. These are not governments or nation states that are arriving at an agreement. Recall that when the JKLF chose to give up arms, this simply created scores of other groups. Where is the JKLF today? Tomorrow if the Hizb comes to an agreement with the Indian State, who will control the Lashkar-e-Toiba, or the Jaish-e-Mohammadi? Even if all these join the negotiations, there will always be another group that will rise to fill the vacuum.
Piecemeal measures and responses to the ongoing terrorist movements may contain, but cannot resolve the problem and often have an unpredictable destabilising effect on the general situation. It has been the case in the past that, despite dramatic gains, both military and political, most advantages secured by the Indian state have been cancelled out by contradictory and ad hoc policies and initiatives. It is essential to understand that the search for quick solutions without establishing clear dominance on the ground is counter-productive. All haste will only result in the cycle of gains and reverses that has characterised the last decade of militancy in J&K. It is essential, therefore, to work on a comprehensive three-year plan for peace in Kashmir, and it is entirely realistic to target a complete resolution within this timeframe if such the plan is well conceptualised and consistently implemented.
Even if such a plan is defined and implemented, in the short term, a worsening of the situation can be expected, before there is any improvement. This is because wherever you confront terrorism, you see that when the problem reaches a stage when a majority of people is seeking a peaceful settlement, the terrorists invariably escalate their violence. There is only one successful example of a counter-terrorism campaign in India, and that is Punjab. If you see the numbers there, you find that the peak of terrorist violence was achieved just before the collapse. As things start approaching a resolution in Kashmir, there will first be a radical escalation in violence, a desperate rearguard action by all extremist groups, and then, hopefully, a defeat of terrorism. And only after terrorism is defeated, and is seen to have been comprehensively defeated, can we hope for a lasting peace.
(Tehelka.com, December 20, 2000)