Now that Prime Minister Modi has brought up POK not once, but twice, in recent times, we should look to get both our strategy and articulation right.
Strategy must flow from end-goals, our known or future capabilities and a realistic assessment of the enemy’s capabilities and motivations and so on.
Most important, though, is that we tie J&K inextricably to India’s growth story in such ways as education and job creation.
Now that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to up the ante
with our self-destructive neighbour, it is important to get both our strategy
and articulation right. Not once, but twice, including in his Independence Day
speech, Modi raised India’s concerns about human rights violations in
Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. In the short
run, this will certainly worsen Pakistani belligerence and terrorism, and so we
must brace for it.
But what exactly is our strategy? If it is mere tit-for-tat simply because Pakistan is creating trouble for us in Jammu & Kashmir, then it will not go far. It may even become counter-productive. Reason: Pakistan has its terror network up and running while we may be all bluster and no plan. For a strategy to work, it must be long-term in nature, capable of being accepted as reasonable by the international community and must have exit options in case things go wrong.
Strategy must flow from end-goals, whether articulated or covert, and also our known or future capabilities, a realistic assessment of the enemy’s capabilities and motivations, and an overarching clarity about why we are taking this position now.
The reason for us to up the ante should be this: you can’t meet the challenge of an unreasonable and rabid, anti-status-quo power by offering compromises and goodwill. You have to defeat it both psychologically and militarily. You don’t win against a fascist force by signing “peace in our time” deals. With Pakistan, which is dedicated to bleeding us with a thousand cuts, peace is not even an option – except for the photo-ops, which have their own value. So far the war has been fought on Pakistan’s terms; it is time to prosecute the war on more even terms.
The first thing to understand is that there is no hurry. This is going to be a long war of attrition, and direction, not speed, will be of the essence. And our first priority must be to protect our flanks and weak spots - which means dealing with the violence in the Kashmir Valley politically and economically. This does not mean more concessions to the “azaadi” stone-pelters. It means engaging with all actors – Kashmiris, including POK residents, Jammu residents, Ladakhis and Pandits – and emphasising that India will never relinquish Jammu & Kashmir.
But we also need to give this positive message: that as India devolves more and more power to states, Jammu & Kashmir too would benefit from this form of “azaadi”. Its future, or that of any Indian state, will not be substantially decided from Delhi.
We could also provide actual representation in the J&K assembly for pro-India POK residents on a nominated basis till this part is integrated with India, however unrealistic that may sound now. Remember, the merger of East and West Germany was never thought possible at one time. It needed an unrealistic Soviet Empire to crumble under its own weight for that to happen. So too will be the case with POK and Pakistan.
More importantly, we need to tie J&K inextricably to India’s growth story by developing local entrepreneurship, helping them market their produce in the rest of India and giving Kashmiri youth education and job opportunities in the rest of India, among other things. Using interlocutors like Dr Karan Singh could be useful in this process, as it will ensure bipartisan support. The Congress party already mildly supports Modi’s statement on Balochistan, never mind what its former External Affairs Minister, Salman Khurshid, has said on the matter.
Then we have to define our end-goals and endgame. Our end-goal is a secular Pakistan, or a dismembered Pakistan where the regions seeking secession on the basis of pluralism and non-Islamist self-determination will receive our moral and material support. On no count should we support any dissident groups with Islamist agendas, whether in POK, including Gilgit-Baltistan, or Balochistan, or even Sind in the future.
We have to destroy the idea of an Islamist Pakistan, not the people who constitute Pakistan. Breaking up a Pakistan using assorted Islamists will mean feeding more jihadis who will ultimately come to bite us – as Pakistan is itself finding out after nurturing vipers in its backyard. Jihadis will ultimately turn against those who feed them, as the US found out with Osama bin Laden, and we did with the LTTE. Jihadists and extremists are not going to limit their political goals since they are driven by the idea of total power and fascism.
Put simply, we should focus on human rights and support the “azaadi” struggles of those groups that are nationalist, not Islamist. We should not touch Islamists with a bargepole, even if that sounds expedient in the short term.
Next, we have to get our story right. This means telling the world that J&K is ours and whatever UN resolution existed in the late forties is irrelevant, and the dispute now is about retrieving POK, which is rightfully ours since the rules of partition were that rulers of princely-states had to opt for India or Pakistan. The Kashmir ruler signed the treaty of accession, and that’s that.
We’ll be asked: why didn’t we take this position earlier? We can point to the Parliament’s resolution of the 1990s on this and also emphasise that we kept our position low-key in the context of our desire to settle this issue peacefully. We are peace-mongers, not war-mongers, unless provoked. But there is now no chance of peace, as Pakistan wants to promote terror.
The next question has to deal with an over-arching philosophy that is both acceptable to the world and our guiding principle. The US uses human rights and religious freedom to articulate its geopolitical and Deep State interests. We should embrace a variant: secular principles, and human rights. India’s founding principle is that the state cannot favour any religion or discriminate against any religion, but this is precisely what Pakistan does. Our goal is to ensure that all countries become secular, including ultimately Saudi Arabia and other Islamist nations, and this aspect is most relevant to our neighbourhood.
J&K is legally and morally ours because we uphold secularism, something that would disappear if jihadis take it over or Pakistan annexes it. For the same reason we need to ensure the secularisation of POK, which is anyway a part of India. We can talk peace with Pakistan once it abandons Islamism, but the world is not expecting this to happen anytime soon.
Few countries in the West will fail to understand or support the idea of a secular India or a secular neighbourhood, given that they themselves are being targeted by murderous Islamists on home turf.
Additionally, we have to repeatedly emphasise that we have no quarrel with Muslims or Islam, but that Muslims themselves need rescuing from Islamo-fascism of the ISIS-Taliban-Al-Qaeda kind.
This brings us to game-theory: what will Pakistan do once we pursue this policy? What will China do? Will whatever we do increase the risks of formal war or reduce it? What if Pakistan threatens or even uses nukes, especially tactical nukes, on us?
No policy is without risk.
Our current stand on not doing anything has, in fact, raised the level of
Pakistani ambition – leading it to believe, as it did in 1948 and 1965, that
it is winning the war. “Hans ke lenge Pakistan,
ladke lenge Hindustan” is still the dream of Pakistan’s delusional army and
even civilian leadership, as the arrogant assertions of the Pakistani High
Commissioner in India, Abdul Basit, make clear.
increases the risk of Pakistani aggression, even assuming this aggression is
only through non-state actors. It is not inconceivable that it will allow
terrorists to obtain a dirty bomb to threaten us.
When it comes to Pakistan,
we can’t discount any threat. The best way to meet the likelihood of nuclear
blackmail is to build protective shields, make a plan for defending ourselves, develop
tactical nuclear weapons ourselves, and explain to both the US and China that
it is in their interests to rein in Pakistani nuclear blackmail.
But why would China want to
listen to us and not Pakistan, its all-weather friend? Once again, we can’t be
sure, but China is a rational power unlike Pakistan. It has economic interests
in India, and a huge trade surplus. The promise of lucrative contracts or
non-tariff barriers to Chinese imports into India will be an important carrot and
stick to wield. Efforts to settle the border should also be intensified.
The truth is this: avoiding
risk is the riskiest strategy of them all. Look where it has got us in J&K.