No room for sentimental Peace-peddlers
"Where there is no vision, the people perish."
The Bible, Proverbs 29:18.
A great sense of relief, even euphoria, enveloped the land when the Hizb-ul-Mujahiddeen announced a cease-fire on July 24 last. There was talk of 'light at the end of the tunnel', of a 'return to peace' in the Valley. The pattern is dangerously familiar. We have, over the past year in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), been swinging constantly from elation to despair, and back again.
The first wave of exhilaration came in the trail of the victory at Kargil. It was short-lived. Within weeks, a succession of concentrated attacks on Security Force (SF) camps and personnel provoked a rising panic. The SFs fought back, and, as the supply of suicidés ran out, the virulence of the militant attacks diminished.
Some two months ago, in an act that appears to have been little more than an impulsive gamble, the Centre released the leaders of the Hurriyat Conference, and there was, again, despite the constant doublespeak, much talk of a breakthrough, a 'way forward'. Shortly thereafter, Farooq Abdullah corrected the perspective by engineering his own little crisis by raising the demand for Autonomy and an ambivalent reference to a return to the pre-'53 Constitutional arrangement. Even as the frenzy on this issue was peaking, the Hizb upset all existing calculations with their unilateral cease-fire, and all else swept aside in the ensuing celebrations.
The difficulty here, as I see it, is that our perspectives never seem to extend beyond the events of the current week, and every little ripple is seen as a great and momentous tidal wave. But terrorism in Kashmir has been a reality for over a decade. The dispute with Pakistan dates back to the very moment of its creation more than five decades ago.
Leaders in Pakistan have spoken constantly of a 'thousand year war', of inflicting on India a 'death of a thousand cuts', of repeating the Afghan experiment in Kashmir. Avenging the ignominy of their defeat in 1971 and the loss of their Eastern Wing, is a fundamental postulate, an article of faith, for Pakistan's Army, and an unshakable principle of state policy. A widening arc of terror inspired by a fundamentalist and distorted Islam threatens to envelop not only South Asia, but virtually the entire region extending deep into Central Europe, and it is this ideology that motivates and sustains much of the violence in J&K.
So what is it, precisely, that has changed with the Hizb's cease-fire? A sober perspective would immediately encounter and recognise the disturbing reality. Other militant groups immediately rejected the Hizb cease fire, and proof of their power and vehemence came within the week in attacks on an Army post that killed at least six soldiers and injured another seven, and a couple of days later, on a group of pilgrims on the Amarnath Yatra, which killed 23, and injured 37; and then another 100 killed in a single day of carnage. This bloodletting notwithstanding, the giddy rhetoric on a negotiated peace in J&K is still strong, and the Government shows every sign of placing all its bets on hammering out an 'Accord' with the Hizb.
Is the Hizb all that significant for the restoration of peace in J&K? It is, no doubt, a substantial group, and more importantly, the only one currently capable of mobilising tangible local support. But it has, over time, been marginalised by its Pakistani sponsors, even as it had marginalised the local and relatively secular Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in the past. The JKLF had also declared a cease-fire in 1994 - and was immediately relegated to irrelevance within the militant ranks. In seeking a 'solution' through the Hizb, the state is probably negotiating with an exhausted and progressively irrelevant rump of the terrorist movement in J&K.
The cease-fire does, of course, represent a radical development, and the situation could be worked to India's advantage. The Hizb's action has certainly put a wedge between the pro-Pak hard-liners and the local Valley militants, and this can prove useful, though only if rightly handled. On the other hand, if it is botched up, it may just give Pakistan the opening it needs, and a legitimacy in the negotiation process that has, so far, been entirely elusive.
The point to focus on at this juncture, moreover, is not just on the fact of the cease-fire, but on the circumstances of its announcement. The Hizb's decision was not forced by any dramatic reverses or by extraordinary pressure from the Security Forces. It was not the result, despite the smokescreens that are now being constructed, of any sustained process of negotiations, or any initiatives on the part of the Government - both the Centre and the State were very obviously taken by surprise. Indeed, to this point, there is no clear explanation why the Hizb chose this path, beyond conjectures regarding 'fatigue' and the ideological divide between the local and the foreign militants. The essential consideration, however, is that their decision was unilateral. We were not and are not in control - and do not appear to be heading towards a situation where the initiative will pass into our hands.
Of course, the shift in posture and rhetoric of any significant party in the conflict has an impact on the ground situation. Changes in the language and pattern of discourse often reflect deeper shifts in both politics and the hostilities. It is, however, essential to distinguish between the real quantum of such a change, and the images aroused by our extravagant and unrealistic fantasies.
A brief review of the facts, in this context, is edifying. The first seven months of the year have already seen nearly 1,700 killed in the conflict. There are an estimated 4,000 foreign mujahiddeen and mercenaries active in J&K, and a majority of the most devastating terrorist strikes over the past year have been engineered by them. Another 4,000 are reported to be massed in training camps along the border, ready to cross over into India on command. Over a score of terrorist outfits are known to be active in the State. Critically, no armed group has been able to establish its hegemony, and to make others submit to its mandate. No political grouping, moreover, can claim to represent the people of all the communities in the State. There is, finally, still no clear knowledge of what the Hizb's precise motives are - whether its cease fire is a tactical ploy to recover and gain strength, a game to seize the overground political initiative, or a strategy to further strengthen the secessionist movement by diversification of activities and by facilitating the involvement of Pakistan as a direct or implicit presence in negotiations with the Indian Government.
The Government has, nevertheless, chosen to invest immense significance in the Hizb's initiative, and in the proposed negotiations with this group. SF operations throughout the State have been brought to a virtual halt, despite the near certainty that there will be an escalation in violence by all militant factions now opposed to the Hizb.
I see in all this, a great deal of credulity, combining with an uncertain longing, even desperation, for peace. But no strategic vision, no clarity of concept or policy. No long-term perspective based on a clear idea of what J&K, indeed, India is to be a hundred, or even ten years, hence. The Kashmir situation is tremendously complex, and the present stop and go, ad hoc, faith-and-gamble approach can only worsen the situation as it inevitably relinquishes all initiative to the enemy.
There are parallels here with the experience during some of the phases of the Punjab conflict. Each time the Centre began its 'negotiations' with militant groups there, or reached a settlement - including the ill-fated Longowal Accord - with unrepresentative political groupings pretending to represent the 'popular will', the violence escalated and the situation worsened drastically (those who would like to contest this description should first see my paper Endgame in Punjab: 1988-93 at www.satp.org).
Indeed, each unintended change in prevailing equations in a situation of widespread terrorism, with a large number of relatively autonomous players, tends inevitably to deepen the chaos, as every vacuum, every element of instability provokes a desperate jockeying for power and dominance. Even the most cursory examination of the historical record of terrorism, both within J&K and in other theatres of conflict in India, will demonstrate this inflexible principle.
A 'political solution' to terrorism - when it is to translate into anything beyond populist and dishonest rhetoric - is possible only under very specific circumstances, and as a cumulative achievement through an extended sequence of systematic advances. You cannot suddenly strike a deal with a particular player and hope that the problems will all vaporise. In real terms - and divorced from the politically correct rhetoric of 'empowerment', 'real representation' or 'real democracy - the 'political solution', by and large, comprises a process of simply purchasing the loyalties of the militant leaders and the local elite, and of marginalising or suppressing those who demand a price that cannot be paid. This 'politics' has played an important role in the resolution of the militancy in Mizoram and in the limited gains in Nagaland. But in each of these States, a single militant group exercised near-unquestioned hegemony over the movements there. In a fractious movement such as the one in J&K, striking deals with any one militant group will only raise the stakes and catalyse an escalation of violence by others.
The problems of J&K cannot be solved by good intentions, pious rhetoric and weak knees. A clearly conceived policy must first be conceptualised within the context of an unequivocal national perspective on Kashmir that places both the Constitution and India's sovereignty and integrity beyond the scope of any negotiation. This policy must then be translated into an unrelenting campaign that transforms terrorism into a strategy that does not pay. The solutions we seek - whether these are to be discovered in bribery, corruption, conciliation or democracy - will then fall automatically into place.(Tehelka.com, July 7, 2000)