The election of 2014, which recorded unprecedented voter turnout despite vigorous boycott campaign mounted by the separatists, was held in a peaceful atmosphere attracting worldwide acclaim as a democratic exercise in the trouble-torn state. Interestingly, however, the poll mandate threw up two arch-rivals in the state politics – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – as leading contenders for power with 25 and 28 seats in a hung Legislative Assembly of 87 effective seats. That such political adversaries would become allies and form the government, was largely viewed as impossible. But it happened. Perhaps inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ethos of ‘Sabka sath, Sabka Vikas’, the BJP went ahead and forged an alliance with the PDP after two months of sustained negotiations steered by Shri Ram Madhav and the PDP supremo Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Understandably, it raised public expectations but scared the separatist lobbies.
The Hurriyat leaders whose diktats to boycott the elections was spurned by the Kashmiri electorate had once seemed to have been consigned into oblivion – but only until the release of Masrat Alam. Pakistan proxies and the separatists in Kashmir suddenly seem encouraged and emboldened as Masrat Alam started spewing anti-India venom right from the moment he was released from jail. Flagrantly misleading and provoking the Kashmiri Muslims against India, he sang eulogies in praise of Pakistan and, surrounded by the Pakistani flags, declared. “I am not a citizen of India. Nor do I believe Kashmir to be part of India.” Now, put behind the bars once again, hopefully he will be tried for his audacious anti- India activities including treason.
Unlike other states of the Union, governance in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is uniquely complex. Firstly, being a border state it acquires special geo-political significance, which is heightened even more with Pakistan having ceded Shaksgam Valley to China and the latter launching massive infrastructure development including multi-lane roads in the area. Secondly, the state is also demographically divided with Jammu-Udhampur having predominantly Hindu population, the Kashmir Valley predominantly Muslim and Ladakh having a mix of Budhists and Muslims. Thirdly, India’s relations with Pakistan and China directly influence politics and happenings in these areas. Fourthly, Article 370 of the Indian Constitution bestows ‘special status’ on the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which distinguishes it from the rest of the states of the Union. This weird constitutional proviso makes the state look like a ‘nation’ within a nation.
Thanks to these outlandish physiognomies, successive governments have been consistently smug in running affairs of the state in a status-quoist manner engendering a privileged class of self-righteous politicians and protected elite of bureaucracy, insulated from the people. The proxy war unleashed by Pakistan against India in this region has been fuelling chaos in the state. More lives – military as well as civil – have been lost in the last quarter century of violence here than the combined total death toll of last three Indo-Pak wars. Development has been another serious casualty while official corruption has thrived reducing civil administration to a self-serving mechanism largely denied to the people. The carrot dangling approach of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to placate and win over the Hurriyat and hard core separatists has not yielded the desired dividends as seen by the release of Masrat Alam. The brief drama he so diligently enacted with Hafiz Sayeed from Pakistan assuring Jehadis (proxies) in J&K every kind of support – “Government, military and moral”– has once again opened up the wound that has festered for over a quarter century now.
The Bondage of Article 370
Over the years, placating tactics and dithering have only led to worsening the situation rather than solving the problems in J&K. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the J&K government are today faced with a serious challenge, which they can convert into a grand opportunity to usher in new era of peace, prosperity and genuine ‘azadi’ by integrating the state of Jammu and Kashmir into the mainstream of sovereign India. The socalled ‘special status’ under Article 370 actually promotes ‘separatism’, inter-se rivalry and mistrust because the distinguishing constitutional provisions treat the state of J&K differently vis-à-vis the rest. It also kills the fundamental principle of ‘EQUALITY’ enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of India. No public interest has been served by it so far. On the contrary, those in power use it from time to time for personal gains by blackmailing the Central Government under its shadow.
To the international community too, continuance of ‘special status’ for J&K gives an impression of ‘some final decision about J&K still hanging in the air’ – an impression Pakistan and the Kashmiri separatists have been cashing on to bolster their claims. Viewed from any angle, the provisions of this Article have proved to be a silky noose in the J&K neck. The principle of equality entitles the people of J&K to be liberated from this royal bondage, which has only hampered their development and has deterred Indian investors and multi-national corporates from investing in J&K. While a permanent solution to a problem as ticklish as this cannot be easy, the time has come to consider repeal Article 370, if the state has to progress and peace has to be restored in full measure.
Fighting the Proxy War
India has been telling the world what Hafiz Sayeed has audaciously owned up now. In an interview to a media channel he recently admitted that he and his apparatus including Jamat-ud-Dawa has been “aiding the jehadis in Kashmir with full support from the Pakistan Government and the Army”. India has information about a number of terrorist training camps running in Pakistan under the aegis of ISI, Hafiz Sayeed and his associates. The Indian Army hunting and fighting terrorists in the hinterland has been troublesome for the civil population who are frequently subjected to frisking besides facing a host of other hardships in the endemic violence in the region.
The Indian Army should change its tactics for fighting this war. The Army should mind only the areas of its war time responsibility along the border/Line of Control (LoC). Violence in the interior should be handled by the state police and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). The local government authorities must assume responsibility for peace and intelligence in their area of responsibility. As a strategic shift, the war should be carried to the enemy territory, if required, as the Indian Army has the capability to carry out special commando missions against designated targets deep inside Pakistan with a fair degree of success.
Despite being aware of India’s higher nuclear potential, Pakistan has never felt deterred from hurting India anywhere, anytime. India, on the other hand remains visibly deterred not only from proactive offensive strikes but even from delivering punitive strikes as reprisal against audacious terror attacks like Mumbai 26/11, Parliament attack, Red Fort attack or beheading of our soldiers at the LoC. We can no longer afford to be swayed by nuclear blackmail. The time has come to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. Only through strong deterrence and a willingness to act, can Pakistan be dissuaded from continuing acts of hostility against India.
Col Karan Kharb is an author of two bestselling books on leadership (Made to Lead and Lead to Succeed) which have been translated in a few foreign languages too. Currently, based at Noida, he is on the advisory panel of a number of NGOs and business firms.