One hopes strategy in future is decided by the head rather than a compromising heart. Any weakening of our resolve once a degree of normality is restored will be fatal.
This time we cannot be foolish like we were in the past.
The arrest of seven separatist leaders by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for alleged terror-funding links, and the Indian Army’s increasing success in killing terrorists, marks a turning point for the better in Jammu & Kashmir’s (J&K) long battle against insurgency, which has obtained some degree of local support.
One can only hope that the NIA has got the right kind of evidence to nail the accused, and they don’t emerge from the courts flashing V-signs in a botched-up investigation.
India has always been a victim of its own soft image. Every time the forces get the upper hand, voices will grow within the Left and so-called intelligentsia for a dialogue with the separatists, pointing out that J&K is a “political problem” and that there are genuine grievances and serious “alienation”. The rabid Left will also start talking of excesses by the armed forces.
But this time we must not listen. We need to continue the hard line, eliminate the bulk of the terrorists, and give no quarter to the Islamists within the anti-India Hurriyat led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, whose son-in-law was one of those arrested yesterday (24 July) by the NIA. Our single-minded focus must be on mainstreaming Kashmiris. They must be given the clear and consistent message that what they have is what they will ever get. They will get no azadi by pelting stones, or by demanding talks for greater autonomy.
This job can be done better if J&K is put under Governor’s Rule, so that the army and the police can stamp out this day-dreaming for good. Talks, in future, should only be held with those who see India as their country, and must include a clear path for the return of the Pandits to the valley, if need be by creating safe enclaves. Kashmir Valley without the Pandits is a recipe for unending Islamisation.
The BJP, which is the junior partner in the J&K coalition, should be under no illusion that the government is doing any good, with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti even now harping on talks with Pakistan. We might as well be pleading for talks between the US and Islamic State. Talks with Pakistan will never yield any results till this original Islamic State, created from undivided India in 1947, becomes truly a secular state. Since this is not going to happen anytime in the foreseeable future, the purpose of talks will be talks – not results. A militarised terrorist state cannot easily return to the path of civilian rule and secularism since it has invested so much in this hate propaganda.
Here is the sequence of goals the Centre must set for itself in J&K.
First, end the PDP-BJP coalition, and impose Governor’s Rule. The assembly need not be dismissed, but can be put in suspended animation until conditions improve. As junior partner in Mufti’s coalition, the BJP will lose votes in Jammu, not gain them, in any future election if it does not do this.
Second, total control of law and order should be the main goal under Governor’s Rule, with the army and the central and local police forces obtaining clear control of the territory, and the trouble-makers put behind bars.
Third, the Pandits must be moved to defensible enclaves inside the Valley, and if conditions improve, they can even be allowed to move to the spaces where they formally lived. They would still need covert central protection, but the long-term goal should be their reintegration with the larger community inside J&K. In this the separatists are right, but clearly they are not the ones who can ensure this.
Fourth, the centre must prepare a law to allow Indians from other states to acquire property and land in J&K as a condition for greater autonomy for Kashmir. In the meanwhile, fauji colonies must be set up in the Valley, both for ex-servicemen, and for Indian armymen stationed in J&K. The law changes need constitutional amendments, but at the very least the BJP must put these on the table and pass them in the Lok Sabha. It should let the “secular” parties paint themselves in the corner by opposing the integration of J&K with the rest of India.
Fifth, talks on further autonomy should be ruled out, except in the context of greater fiscal and political autonomy for all states. The long-term goal should be full integration of J&K with India, with Union Territory status to Ladakh, and increased autonomy to Jammu inside J&K.
Sixth, we should show no eagerness for talks with Pakistan on anything, including J&K, but we need not shy away from maintaining appearances either. Our attitude should be a benign willingness to talk, but with no outcome expected. We have to change the agenda. The idea should be to frustrate Pakistan with talks, asking it to formally give Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir the right to rejoin the Indian Union. There should be no talks with anyone who does not accept the supremacy of the Indian Constitution in the Kashmir Valley either. The Geelanis should be given a one-way ticket to jail or Pakistan, since that is where they claim to want to be. And yes, our goal should be the break-up of Pakistan, and support for Baloch and Sindhi independence.
Seventh, a sustained campaign against Islamists needs to be carried out, by focusing on deradicalising the youth, and by giving Islamists no quarter. Kashmir, since 1947, has always been about establishing Muslim hegemony and soft Islamism, but this is exactly what needs to be combated. Kashmir has to be secularised for good.
One hopes strategy in future is decided by the head rather than a compromising heart. Any weakening of our resolve once a degree of normality is restored will be fatal. This time we cannot be foolish like we were in the past.