Like many others, I have watched events following the Pulwama tragedy with mounting stupefaction, not to mention rage and disgust. Rarely have I seen such a disingenuous response, and that is saying a lot considering we have been unable to deal adequately with Pakistan-based militants for decades.
We are told that this is not the time to ask questions. In fact, this is precisely the time. Forty of our security personnel have been killed in what appears to have been a preventable tragedy. We are told there was little or vague intelligence, but in fact the Jammu and Kashmir police advisory, sent a week prior to the attack, was specific that the Central Reserve Police Force deployment would be targeted. What is being done to ensure that operational lapses do not occur again? Moreover what about long overdue security reforms for troops that are sent into harm’s way, such as properly fortified vehicles and installations, not to mention adequate protective gear and shorter terms of duty? Will these basic safeguards be provided this time?
Far from improving security, casualty figures within Jammu and Kashmir have mounted to levels far above what they were in the years preceding 2014. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad says that 475 militants have been killed between 2015 and 2018 as against 249 in the three prior years, but omits the fact that the number of armed youth was below 200 from 2008 to 2013. This number shot up after 2016 and continues to rise. Nor does Prasad mention the figure of security forces killed. It stands at 358 killed between 2014-18, a rise of 93% over preceding years. There have been more than 1,700 militant attacks in the same years; and infiltration too has continued to rise, reaching 400 between 2016 and 2018. Are we not owed some explanation for this deteriorating security situation?
Bad as this is, what followed the Pulwama attack was even worse. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given the Indian Army the green light to respond as and when they consider appropriate. That is fine, and we will wait and see what the Army does. In the meantime, we are told, New Delhi is engaged in ‘coercive diplomacy’ to make the Pakistan government suffer diplomatic and economic consequences. Either they don’t know what coercive diplomacy is or they think we the people do not. Removing the Most Favoured Nation status is meaningless and raising tariffs on Pakistani goods is equally so given that the balance of trade with Pakistan is heavily in our favour. A threat to divert the surplus waters of the Indus’s eastern rivers, such as the Ravi and Beas, is again disingenuous, since it is anyway India’s right and will take over four years to materialise, without significantly hurting Pakistan. As for denying sports visas or pulling out of the World Cup, the former has already rebounded against India, with the International Olympic Committee downgrading the event. One point the government has missed is with regard to Russia. We are currently negotiating to buy Kalashnikov rifles from Russia, surely necessary for our security forces. But have we asked Moscow to cease, or at least freeze, arms sales to Pakistan until the Imran Khan government take credible action against the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM)?
So what is Modi’s National Democratic Alliance government doing? As far as one can see, it is mostly following in the steps of the United Progressive Alliance. Getting JeM chief Masood Azhar proscribed as an international militant under UNSCR 1267 was an initiative launched by the Manmohan Singh government, supported by France, the U.S. and the U.K. (and consistently blocked by China). The present government is right in persisting with this effort despite the move having had little impact on Pakistan, though it has gained a strong statement from the UN Security Council. What is wrong is the failure to acknowledge that it was his predecessor’s initiative and represents continuity of government policy. Such a recognition would go some way to justifying Mr. Modi’s demand for unity. In its absence, his demand appears hollow.
In fact, the only step an Indian government took with serious consequences for Pakistan — including last week — was under the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which placed Pakistan on a grey list in 2012, making it difficult to get aid or loans from international agencies. On Friday, the FATF resolved to keep Pakistan on its grey list while issuing severe strictures at Pakistan’s failure to accept the threat that militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and JeM pose. The results have been immediate though perhaps cosmetic: the Imran Khan administration has taken over seminaries in Bahawalpur and reinstated the ban on the Lashkar and affiliated organisations.
Who first activated the FATF? It was the Manmohan Singh government, with substantial support from the U.S.’s Obama administration. And who came up with the proposal to activate the FATF? It was suggested at a Track II on Afghanistan in 2008-9, by Arundhati Ghose, one of our finest diplomats and a committed supporter of Track II, which our talking heads take such pleasure in reviling.
Disingenuity pales in comparison, however, with the steps the government has taken in Jammu and Kashmir — or not taken. It is a sad commentary that the Supreme Court had to order immediate action to protect Kashmiri students and traders in the rest of the country. The Home and Human Resource Development Ministers have now swung belatedly into action, and on Saturday, Mr. Modi finally spoke on the issue at a rally in Tonk, Rajasthan. But, as of this writing, no action has been taken against Meghalaya Governor Tathagata Roy for his hate speech against Kashmiris.
Blatant as the acts of omission are, it is the acts of commission that truly worry. The government first removed the security given to over 170 people, from Hurriyat leaders to members of Kashmiri political parties and new aspirants like former civil servant Shah Faesal. Now Jamaat-e-Islami members and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front’s Yasin Malik have been detained. Why these arrests? Is there some evidence linking them to the Pulwama attack? Similarly, why the removal of security? There is a terrible canard doing the rounds that Kashmiri political parties are responsible for the militancy in the Valley. In fact, their members have risked and lost hundreds, in some cases thousands, of lives at the hands of armed radicals. What is the point of back-footing constitutional parties? Is it to justify the postponement of Assembly elections when the State urgently needs to move out of President’s rule? “How is it that a plan to carry out such a major attack on a national highway in a troubled State went undetecte>?” Security forces after a gunbattle with militants in Pinglan, Pulwama district, south Kashmir.
Indeed, what reason can there be for withdrawing security to Hurriyat leaders when successive Indian governments, including the current one, have provided them security? The only result has been to unite radical youth behind them, and to allow further radicalisation of the people of the Valley.
A larger question that flows from the above is, does the government have any policy to make peace in Kashmir? Resolution through talks, especially with Kashmiri dissidents, has been axiomatic to government policy for three decades. Their most frequent interlocutors were the Hurriyat. Ironically, the Mirwaiz believed that only right-wing Indian political parties could make peace, offering the Modi government one of the best opportunities of any Indian government. That illusion was exploded in 2014 itself and stands in tatters today.
Clearly, issues of peace, security and reconciliation in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be left to the government alone. It is time for Opposition parties to unite on a programme of sustained engagement with the people of the State, to show that the rest of India cares for the terrible suffering inflicted on them — and even more importantly, that there is political will to end the Kashmir conflict in partnership with the people, not against them.