Interlocutors’ Report: Recipe for a phased surrender of sovereignty?
The recent submission of the interlocutors’ report is now to be seen in this strategic backdrop. The interlocutors’ mission was born out of the sheer panic in New Delhi that followed the stone-pelting intifada that was engineered by the ISI. The failure to anticipate this next logical progression in Pakistan’s proxy war was regrettable. Emotions in the Kashmir valley tend to be intense. However, they are seldom deep or long lasting. The engineers of the intifada had correctly gauged the intense local anger at the tendency of the nervous CRPF troopers to be abrasive and somewhat rude in their roadside manners. This led to the flash of public anger. Failure to induct nonlethal weaponry led to needless casualties, which were used to fuel further stone pelting. It was an intense boil of public anger against bad roadside manners of the CRPF and, in any case, was not sustainable. However, this was seized upon by the capitulationist lobby in New Delhi to force the Indian state into abject surrender.This showed a clear lack of any grasp of the ground situation in J&K.
The ground reality is that the Indian army has largely broken the back of the terrorist movement in J&K. From a peak strength of 3,500–4,000 armed terrorists that Pakistan used to maintain in J&K each year (to keep the pot boiling at a precise temperature that would remain within Indian tolerance thresholds), the number of terrorists in the state has been reduced to just around 300. These 300 are mostly engaged in just trying to survive and have kept a very low profile. Having lost the terror battle, the ISI had then tried to generate a Palestinian-style intifada in the valley. Major sums of money were spent to mobilise stone pelters.
However, after the initial hysteria, the security forces arrested Andrabi and other lynchpins organisers and money conduits for supporting the stone pelters. Use of dye sprays helped to identify principal ringleaders. Improvement in the roadside manners of the CRPF and the highly calming influence of Lieutenant General Ata Hasnain, the new GOC 15 Corps, rapidly helped to diffuse the situation. The interlocutors meanwhile were totally out of touch with the rapidly changing ground realities. Some of them had been the recipients of the seminar circuit largesse of Fai and his ISI cohorts. They produced a blueprint for surrender. They called for a return to the pre- 1953 status, reinstallation of a prime minister of J&K, appointment of a local governor, repeal of central legislations and, in fact, the putting in place of a secessionist architecture that after a decent interval would orchestrate a walk out of J&K from the Union of India. It would go out lock, stock and barrel, complete with its colonial adjuncts of a largely Hindu Jammu, a Budhist Ladakh and a Shia Kargil.
In the light of the sharply escalating threat envelope of a combined Chinese– Pakistani threat to J&K, it would be suicidal for India to loosen the hold of the centre in any manner—unless the Indian state is truly determined to lose on the negotiating table what it has won at such great cost on the battlefield. Of a piece with its capitulationist agenda was the interlocutors’ suggestion to do away with the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). This act is not half as draconian as the patriot legislation of the United States or what some European countries have adopted to defend themselves against the twenty-first-century threat of jihadi terrorism. Frankly, this act provided the legal cover for the army to save the Northeast and then J&K. Though the ground situation has improved dramatically, we must not lose sight of the fact that 36 out of the 42 Pakistani terrorist training camps are very much active and churning out recruits. After the conclusion of the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan in 1989, the ISI had trained its guns on Kashmir. We must wait and watch patiently for the turn of events the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will bring after 2014. Any indecent haste to dismantle our defences before that could result in a dangerous backslide we can ill afford.
The Peace-at-Any-Cost Argument
There was a school of thought in the United States, primarily led by Bruce Reidel, that felt that the only way to get Pakistan to act decisively against the Taliban–al-Qaeda combine was to arm-twist India into surrendering Kashmir. India’s failure to stand up to this American pressure resulted in the orchestration of a capitulationist chorus in the Indian media and a somewhat sincere but rather misplaced attempt on the part of the Indian leadership to negotiate peace at any cost with Pakistan. The military–ISI complex retaliated with an IM offensive in the cities of India and then the major assault of 26/11 in Mumbai that left 166 Indians killed and some 700 wounded. After initially adopting tough postures seeking action against the terrorists, the Indian state seemed to cave in completely to foreign pressure and exhibited a pusillanimous stance that seemed to indicate the Indian state wanted to resume peace talks even if a few thousand more Indians were killed in the process by Pakistani terrorists. Indian public pressure forced the state to resile from such patently capitulationist postures.
Meanwhile, the Pakistanis two-timed their American allies. They swindled the Americans of some $20 billion and had the temerity to keep bin Laden in an ISI safe house some 800 metres from the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul. Pakistan had the chutzpah to express outrage at the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden in Abbottabad. Pakistan showed its hand by cutting off the U.S.–NATO supply lines to Afghanistan. As always, the Pakistani generals had overreached themselves. This military establishment has traditionally suffered from very high levels of subjectivity. In Afghanistan, they had gambled that the Americans would be routed and Pakistan would simply reimpose the Taliban after hanging Karzai from a lamp post a la Najibullah. The long-suffering Americans have apparently lost patience at long last and are seemingly all set to dump Pakistan. It was precisely at this pathetic juncture that Zardari made his peace overtures. The peace-at-any-cost lobby in Delhi concluded that this was their historic opportunity to do a “Munich” with Pakistan. It had seemingly been dumped even by the Americans and now, apparently, was the time to embrace this pariah and erratic state that had killed thousands of Indian citizens and would continue to do so in the future.
Hopefully, American pressure on India to do a pusillanimous peace deal with Pakistan will abate greatly after the recent bitterness in their relations with Pakistan. We only have to rein in the very misplaced zeal of our home-grown Munich lobby. India had rationalised that the peace overtures were from the civilian establishment in Pakistan and that we must strengthen the democratic elements against the military–ISI combine. The recent soft coup by the army via the judiciary in Islamabad shows that this view was rather naïve and subjective.
The right stance to adopt is a wait-and-watch stance to see which way the post-U.S.-withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan will pan out. It would not be prudent to dismantle our internal security structures in J&K that have succeeded in containing the situation quite well so far. Hence, it would be imprudent to remove the AFSPA, wholly or partially, and the interlocutors’ report needs to be consigned to the deepest dustbins of the archives. We should avoid for the time being any attempts to dilute the boundaries or permit any large-scale move across the LoC that could be exploited by the ISI.
The Ideological Battle
In the meantime, the onset of normalcy will initiate its own logic and peace dividend constituency in J&K. The Indian state must consolidate its hard-won gains by facilitating the spread of liberal, secular and humanist education. That was one of the prime purposes of Op Sadbhavana, under which the army built hundreds of quality schools and computer-literacy centres. Kashmir was once a syncretic paradise where the tolerant Sufi version of Islam flourished. Kashmir had its tradition of the Nuynda Rosh, or the Nund Rishi tradition of Sufi saints who were revered alike by both the Hindus and the Muslims. It would be essential to revive these tolerant traditions and syncretic mores.
As part of their ideological battle, the Salafi–Wahabi ideology was sought to be spread in J&K by the jihadi elements sent in by Pakistan. The first casualty was the tradition of tolerance. This saw the exodus of the Kashmiri Pundits and the burning of Charar-e-Sharief, a shrine. The latest torching of Dastagir Sahib, a Sufi shrine, is part of that same diabolical ideological offensive to poison mindsets and harden identities along polarised and communal lines. Modernist education and a revival of the traditional Sufi culture of Kashmir would be essential to fight the battle at the ideological level. It would be essential to emphasise that the Lord of the Quran is not just the Lord of the Musalmeen but the Lord of the whole quainat (universe) per se. The very word “Islam” comes from “shalom,” which means peace—hardly the interpretation that the extremists have tried to impose upon it.