We are not losing the real war with jihadi militants and their stone-throwing mobs.
The war we are losing is the one launched by so-called “liberals” who think the army is fair game in their fight against the BJP.
In order to win a war – any war – you need to have a realistic analysis of your enemy’s aims, his strengths and weaknesses, your real strengths and weaknesses, and clarity on your ultimate goals in prosecuting the war. The truth is neither the Indian state nor its detractors in the national media, has thought this through.
The war we are losing is the information war, as the outrage over the video of a Kashmiri tied to an army jeep shows. If anything, the video shows that army officers are able to use innovative tactics to prevent violence and deaths, but the mainstream narrative is about the army using human shields when this is the perennial tactic used by stone-pelters in the Valley. What is the norm among stone-pelters is now shown as the army’s failure in one instance of a change of tactics.
We are not losing the real war with jihadi militants and their stone-throwing mobs. The war we are losing is the one launched by so-called “liberals” who think the army is fair game in their fight against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
It is thus easy for Pratap Bhanu Mehta, writing in The Indian Express, to suggest that India is failing with its Kashmir policy, concluding: “We are looking at a situation where our strategy of containment by force has failed, our political instruments are hollow, and there is a deepening death wish in the state. Kashmir is looking at an abyss. Who lost the plot this time around?”
Similar conclusions have been reached by many other “liberals”. One is tempted to say that it is the “liberals” who have “lost the plot”, for they are training their guns on our army and the BJP, when they should be more concerned about the jihadi gains in the Valley. If people committed to anarchy and stone-pelting win, will liberals gain or lose?
Mehta’s article should be an eye-opener to everybody, for it raises the right questions. But there are no answers beyond the usual platitudes that both local politicians and Delhi have been delegitimised in the Valley, that there is a trust gap between the Valley’s Kashmiris and the rest of India, and that ultimately Kashmir cannot be held down by force. We have not been able to sell the India story.
This analysis seems to carry the ring of truth, but is substantially wrong. The wrong assumptions it makes are the following.
First, they assume that there is a general problem the state has with India. Is that so? Neither Jammu nor Ladakh have the same problem, even though these regions have been even more discriminated against than Kashmir Valley. And even inside the Valley, the trust deficit is with that chunk of Muslims who have been radicalised over the last two decades, both due to global developments and domestic. By ethnically cleansing the valley of Pandits, Pakistan has essentially destroyed the earlier syncretism of the Valley, making it easier to Islamise a large segment of the youth.
Can any progress be possible if this trend is not reversed, and Kashmiris learn to rediscover their diversity? There can be no solution to the Valley’s alienation without the rediscovery of its original diversity. That should be goal one for the Indian state, and the “liberals” who claim to stand for these values should be fighting for this as a prerequisite to any political dialogue. Giving the Valley concessions now is like rewarding bad behaviour.
How can there be a political dialogue by excluding a large chunk of the population? Any dialogue has to make the Pandits a party to it, but no “liberal” is willing to back this idea. With what temerity can they call themselves liberals?
Second, the legitimacy of a state stems primarily from its ability to enforce the rule of law, which, in turn, depends on ensuring that its writ runs over the geographical area that it claims to control. This means Indian law must prevail in the state before we can start a realistic dialogue with all stakeholders in J&K. If this means use of force, we cannot run away from the idea.
If liberals truly want to establish the rule of law in J&K, they must first back the state’s decision to claw back control of law and order from jihadi elements. As long as this does not happen, what is the chance that the state police – which has already been rendered hors de combat by jihadi intimidation of their families – can ever play a role in restoring order? When policemen are being coerced to resign by violent elements, and the state authorities think asking policemen not to visit their homes to avoid intimidation is the solution, what are we talking about?
The aims of the Pakistan-backed jihadis and their stone-pelting comrades are clear: target the law’s guardians so that they get a free run all over. How will the army even defend the border if there is a hostile population behind it? Once this happens, the dismemberment of India is only a matter of time. The liberals are not doing India’s cause any good by pretending that “liberal values” must prevail before the state manages to regain lost power. This is priority. It is worth recalling that Punjab could not have returned to normalcy without first restoring a semblance of the authority of the state, which is what KPS Gill did with his unorthodox methods.
If today’s faux liberals had their way, India would have stared at an “abyss” in Punjab even before J&K. So, yes, let us not shy away from it. We can dialogue with the separatists till the cows come home, but the army and security forces must be given total support to quell the violence by any means possible before that. AFSPA must be the norm till order is restored, for the armed forces – whether the military or the paramilitary - cannot fight with their arms tied behind their backs.
Third, the only logic of Kashmiri separatism is Islamic bigotry and Partition II. This is where “liberals”, even those who think the BJP is the worst thing to happen to India, are seriously underestimating the long-term damage they are doing to the “ideas of India”. If the Valley is lost due to “liberal” and state stupidity, India’s second partition on religious lines will be only one leap away. While the BJP is unlikely to let this happen during its watch, do the “liberals” even understand they are the ones causing this through their blind BJP-hatred?
Mark my words, if Kashmir is lost to Islamic militancy, there is no way India will not turn a “Hindu rashtra.” A win for Pakistan and jihadis elements will prove to the ordinary Hindu that if Muslims can keep breaking away, why should only Hindus carry the can for secularism? Let India be a Hindu state. The BJP, or a successor party, will become stronger than ever, but this time it would truly become a 100 per cent Hindu majoritarian party. India will indeed become a Hindu Pakistan - that is an India where Hinduism will be part of state preoccupation, and more assertive of Hindu identities. The Idea of Pakistan will win, and it would be because the “liberals” were blinded by hatred for the BJP. A Hindu India will never become the equivalent of a theocratic Pakistan, for diversity is built into its core, but it would not be as tolerant and pluralist as now.
It is also worth considering the real reason why the Valley’s militancy seems worse than before – and here too “liberals” must share the blame. In 2014, the BJP emerged as the single largest party in J&K in terms of vote share. This scared the separatists so much that when the state assembly elections came, they backed the PDP to the hilt in the valley since the National Conference had lost favour. This is why they did not do anything to prevent that ballot exercise.
But, to their surprise, the BJP took control of Jammu – and Jammu demanded a share of power. The “liberals”, instead of seeing the PDP-BJP alliance as a true democratic result and an attempt to heal the regional divide, kept up its shrill cry, trying to make the BJP’s claim to power sharing as illegitimate. This suited their “secular” politics in Delhi, but it made things impossible for the PDP to play its political role in bringing the Valley to the mainstream, even though the BJP was fully committed to providing development resources to the state, the whole state and not just the Valley.
The “secular” parties and the “liberals”, instead of backing true power-sharing, went in the other direction claiming that the anger of the Kashmiris was the result of the BJP’s rise to power, and India’s failure to honour its commitment of greater autonomy to the people made long ago. This attitude is spelt out by P Chidambaram, who did nothing about giving J&K greater autonomy when his party was in power, but now pretends that this is something that cropped up after the BJP came to power in the state.
The problem is not about granting more autonomy to states, including J&K, but in believing that is what will keep Kashmiris tied to the “India project”, as Mehta calls it. The Kashmir project, whether under the Abdullahs or other regional parties, has always been about Muslim majoritarianism, if not Islamism. It is a tragedy that the “liberals” who oppose Hindu majoritarian thinking in Delhi end up justifying Muslim majoritarianism in Srinagar. Their two-faced “liberalism” is essentially dhimmitude in the face of militant Muslim assertions in the Valley. You can’t talk of the “India project” as separate from the “Kashmir project”. The latter has to start aligning with the “ideas of India” and pluralism as much as India needs to be mindful of the aspirations of all of J&K, including its Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and other minorities.
What is the way out? The progression of strategy must be along the following lines: first, allow the armed forces to take full geographical control of the valley and create the conditions for the police and politicians to do their jobs or speak freely; next, start the political process of granting all states (and not only J&K) more economic and political autonomy; third, launch a propaganda war for syncretism and pluralism in J&K, and finally change the constitution to make J&K a full part of the Indian Union, where Indians can also be allowed to settle and buy land in the state just as the reverse is now possible; fifth, take the covert war to Pakistan and focus on its dismemberment – unless that rogue state gives up terrorism as state policy.
It is quite likely that Pakistani aggression this time is being covertly fuelled by China, and so our China diplomacy needs to be convincing. The deal India can offer China is that it will not question the status of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, even though it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, only as long as it forces its client state to accept the line of control as the true international border that cannot be crossed by Pakistani forces of jihadi militants.
If needed, India should be willing to share intelligence on jihadis targeting China’s western province, where the Uighurs are restive. China should be as worried about Islamist militancy in the western state as anyone else, and we should have some leverage here.
It is going to be a hard and bitterly-fought war, but this is the strategy that must drive us. Unfortunately, our “liberals” appear unwilling to help us win this war. They must truly introspect, but this does not seem to be forthcoming.
If India ever loses the Valley, it will be because the “liberals” have enabled this.
(PS: This is a slightly modified version of an earlier post. The changes relate to expanding on what the author meant by the term “a Hindu Pakistan”)