Continuing Conflict

Indo-Pak Confrontation: A Suicidal Militaristic Adventure

Sumanta Banerjee

Official reactions to the recent incidents on the Indo-Pak border (killing of Indian jawans, the death sentence passed on an Indian national by the Pakistan judiciary, the incessant cross-border firings), follow a predictable pattern. At the diplomatic level, the foreign secretaries of the two states, perpetually miffed with each other, exchange angry notes. At the military level, the army brass of both the states engage in sabre-rattling noises. On the ground, neither can achieve any gain. India's much trumpeted 'surgical operation' across the LOC on September 29 was supposed to have destroyed terrorist camps within Pakistan territory. But a month later, a BBC correspondent, M llyas Khan who visited the targeted area, and interviewed villagers, found 'little evidence' of such "strikes.' (in his report dated October 24, 2016) Islamabad at that time as usual, accused India of as 'unprovoked firing from across the LOC'. But in the midst of all these mutual recriminations, the jawans (cannon-fodders of two warring states), and the non-combatant common villagers living on either side of the border, continue to be victims, and pay the price for the futile nationalist military ambitions nurtured respectively by the two states. However much Pakistan and India gear up their military strength, let us admit that it is a no-win situation. Neither Pakistan nor India can gain an inch through these militarist acts of mutual hostility.

Both India and Pakistan, in their own ways, have prioritized the dubious concept of 'national security' over the obligation to meet the basic needs of their citizens—food, health care, housing, education. In Pakistan, the army had always been able to run the state—either directly, or from behind a suppliant democratic government—by evoking the bogey of India as a threat to its 'national security.' Any one questioning the army's increasing domination over domestic politics, and every sector of society and commercial business, is branded as "an Indian agent.' Similarly in India a parliamentary democracy is gradually turning into a para-military democracy. Under this regime, in the north-west, Kashmir has been virtually turned into an area under army occupation, with the heaviest concentration of Indian armed personnel there; in the north- east, vast swathes of Manipur and other parts are ruled by the draconian AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), which provides Indian soldiers immunity from any punishment for killing innocent citizens; and in the heartland of India, the area spreading across Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, the Indian state has deployed its para-military force, the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force), to suppress the tribal population there who under the leadership of the CPI (Maoist) are protesting against the expropriation of their forest resources, and the invasion of their lands by both Indian and multi-national corporate houses to dig into the rich mineral resources that lie hidden under those lands. In order to protect these corporate houses from such resistance, the Indian state invoked the same bogey of 'national security', when in July, 2006, the then Congress prime minister Manmohan Singh infamously described the Maoist resistance to such encroachments as the "single biggest internal security challenge". He set the tone for his successor, the present BJP prime minister Narendra Modi, who is faithfully following his model of repression of popular protests.

Despite the militarist confrontation in public (the most ridiculous being the daily demonstration at the Wagah-Attari border, with soldiers from both sides kicking up their legs at each other), neither India nor Pakistan can hide from the world the shabby record of their domestic failures. Both occupy the lowest position in the UN Human Development Index list in terms of health care, housing, and education.

The military establishment, in both India and Pakistan, in their arrogant and revengeful attitude, refuse to take lessons from the past. In Pakistan, the army generals despite their Kargil misadventure, are looking for another opportunity to retaliate against India. The army had been a powerfully decisive institution in Pakistan almost since its birth. In 1971, it dictated terms to the then Pakistan President Bhutto who allowed it to unleash a genocide against the Bengali speaking population of East Pakistan, just because they came but in the streets demanding that their elected leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman be given this rightful place in the national politics of Pakistan. That misadventure led to a humiliating defeat for the Pakistan militocracy which had to surrender its entire troop of soldiers and their senior officers to the Indian army. They were later released and returned to Pakistan—but the bitter taste of defeat still rankles its militocracy. Ever since then, in a sense of revenge, it had been engaged in a conspiracy of sorts against India—through occasional border skirmishes, infiltration of the agents of its notorious ISI to carry out subversive acts, and recruitment of disgruntled Indian youth in terrorist groups.

With the latest developments in Pakistan—with the ouster of Nawaz Sharif (who could have been perhaps considered a dove, surrounded by hawks, who was willing to enter into a dialogue with India)—one does not know what turn Indo-Pak relations will take. The next prime minister will have to face the cantonment generals who are operating through political parties like the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan-led PTI, whose petition to the Supreme Court led to Nawaz's ouster.

Let us wait to see how Indian prime minister Modi reacts to these developments in Pakistan. The Modi-Nawaz exchange of saris and shawls, mutual demonstrations of bonhomie in public, during the last few years, have also been simultaneously accompanied by mutual exchanges of fire between the armed forces of the two states across the LOC border, leading to the loss of lives of not only soldiers of both the armies, but also of common citizens living on both sides of the border.

The bone of contention—Kashmir
But it is the Indian state which has to blame itself for offering Kashmir as a platter to Pakistan. By their ham-handed manner of dealing with popular demands for autonomy in the Kashmir Valley, successive governments at the Centre, whether Congress, Janata, United Front or the present BJP, have alienated the Kashmir people, and pushed their youth into the arms of jihadi groups backed by a Pakistan, which had been waiting in the wings since 1971, and has today found Kashmir as an ideal spot for retaliatory revenge for its territorial loss in 1971.

The popular outburst of protest in Jammu and Kashmir in India in 1990 against the high-handedness of the Centre (which over the years had eroded the autonomy that was guaranteed to them earlier), and the demand for 'azadi', provided Pakistan with an opportunity to hijack the Kashmir protest movement in its favour, and use it as a tool to bleed India on the military field, and put it in a corner at international fora for violation of human rights in Kashmir.

To be frank, Kashmir is the proverbial Achilles Heel of the Indian state. Just as Pakistan lost the game in East Pakistan in 1971, India today is losing the game in Kashmir. Its past proud image as a defender of the oppressed Bangladeshis in 1971, has degenerated into a frightening face with deadly fangs cutting into the psyche of the oppressed Kashmiris. If the two warring states refuse to overcome their machoist egos, and persist on a militarist solution of the Indo-Pak conflict on Kashmir, both India and Pakistan will get bogged down into an interminable cycle of violent clashes—whether described as 'cross-border violations', or 'surgical strikes'—which can explode into a Kargil-type mini war at any moment, that would finally require US or some other foreign intervention to bring about a cease-fire. A stage may come when civil society representatives in both India and Pakistan will have to seek the assistance of UN Peace Keeping Forces to restore law and order in our sub-continent. Do we want to descend to that humiliating position?

Neither Pakistan nor India should not—and cannot afford to—engage in a perpetual armed conflict (marked by regular cross-border firings, which at times can spiral into a Kargil-type regular war). In both the states, despite bombastic militaristic claims by their respective armies, they are in a pretty bad shape. To start with Pakistan, army jawans, as well as civilian population, are being killed by home-grown terrorist groups (which were initially nurtured by the Pakistan army high command and the military intelligence agency ISI in order to screw India—but have now turned into a Frankenstein that is threatening the military-political establishment in Pakistan itself). To give a few examples—(i) the massacre of 150 pupils and, teachers at Peshawar's Army Public School by Islamic terrorists in December; 2014; (ii) a more daring attack on a Pakistan Air Force camp in Badaber area on September 18, 2016), which killed 15 worshippers inside a mosque, including one PAF officer (demonstrating the totally irreligious motivations of these groups, which are using the name of Islam only to establish themselves as a parallel power in Pakistan, like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan which claimed responsibility for that attack); (iii) the attack on a government hospital in Quetta on August 18, 2016, claimed by Taliban—displaying again its totally inhuman attitude to non-combatant common patients; (iv) assaults by a Taliban break-away group called Jamaat-ul-Ahiar, on Shia mosques, Christian churches and ordinary citizens in Peshawar and Punjab (re: The Hindu, October 1, 2016); (iv) explosions by a separatist group called Baluch Liberation Army that targeted a passenger train supposedly carrying Pakistani soldiers, near Quetta on October 8, 2016; and (v) the latest attack by a terrorist group on a police training college in Quetta on October 25, killing over 60 trainees.

It is quite evident therefore, that the Pakistan army is not capable of protecting its citizens—and even their jawans—from attacks by its erstwhile proteges, the home-grown terrorists. After all, Islamabad had no guts to resist Washington's invasion of its sovereignty when its army entered its territory to nab and kill Osama Bin Laden (who had been living in luxurious comfort in a house just a few yards away from its military cantonment). The then Pakistan president Nawaz Sharif (now ousted) had then pleaded at international fora that his country was a victim of terrorist groups. He however failed to acknowledge that these terrorist groups were spawned by his predecessor Ziaul-Huq, who trained them through the ISI to (i) serve the interests of his patrons in Washington by sending them to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet troops; and (ii) later to export them as armed mercenaries to infiltrate into the Indian part of Kashmir. But the chickens have now come home to roost. These armed groups were ideologically motivated by the doctrine of Islamic fundamentalists, who want to have a decisive voice in Islamabad's policy-making. Today these groups (operating under various names) want to go beyond their original briefs, by challenging not only the democratically elected government of Pakistan, but also wreaking havoc on the Pakistani jawans.

Let me now address the equally shabby picture that the Indian state is presenting. The tensions in Indo-Pak relationship are rooted to the Kashmir imbroglio. Coming to recent times, whenever the Kashmiri people tried to articulate their grievances through public demonstrations, the state deployed the Indian security forces to suppress them. The draconian law—AFSPA, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act—has provided impunity to the generals and jawans against any punishment for the atrocities that they commit in Kashmir (killing of Kashmiri Muslim youth in the name of 'encounters/ rape of women, suppression of the media, indefinite curfew for days together that curb the movement of citizens). Despite the Supreme Court's July 9, 2016 verdict warning the armed personnel against use of excessive force in the areas under the AFSPA, the security forces have indulged in the deadliest form of retaliation against popular protests by resorting to pellet gunning that have blinded thousands of young Kashmiris, many among whom are dying every day.

Despite the all-round denunciation of the AFSPA, it is India's army headquarters which insists on its continuance—on the plea of suppressing terrorism. But has India been able to suppress it through AFSPA? In order to cover up its failure, it has targeted—through misguided information, or from sheer vindictiveness—hundreds of innocent Muslim youth, who have been either killed in "false encounters' by soldiers, or incarcerated in jails for years, to be acquitted later by the courts. The real terrorists get away, by inflicting humiliating defeats on the Indian army in Uri, attacking the 46 Rashtriya Rifles headquarters in Baramulla on October 2, 2016, abducting and killing the Indian jawan Ummer Fayaz in Kashmir on May 9, 2017 to quote a few glaring instances of the Indian state's failure to protect its jawans. Like its Pakistan counterpart, India does not have the capacity to militarily contain home-grown terrorists, who are being spawned by India's own militarist policies that are alienating the Kashmiri youth and forcing them to join the extremist fringe of the 'azadi' movement. The domestic situation is spiraling out of control in both Pakistan and India—the former coping with the Frankenstein of Islamic terrorism and demands for self-determination in Baluchistan, and the latter facing explosions of popular discontent in Kashmir, Manipur, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and other areas. The Indian army is not all that prepared for a war with Pakistan. Its present limitations have been exposed by a revealing article by Nirupama Soundararjan and Dhyanada Palkar (in the Wire network on October 1, 2016), which gives figures (quoted from CAG report of 2015) to show that India's ordinance factories have not been able to meet their production targets, as a result of which the Indian army does not have enough artillery and ammunitions required to carry out even a limited conventional war. The bashing that India received at Uri and the daily raids that continue from the Pakistan side, give the lie to Narendra Modi's chest thumping claim of destroying Pakistan army posts.

Given these circumstances, both India and Pakistan should first set their respective houses in order, stop military confrontation and resume dialogue to settle bilateral disputes. As for India, it should pacify first the alienated Kashmiris of the Valley, whose unaddressed grievances and atrocious violation of human rights, pave way for Pakistan to exploit the situation The various recommendations for redressing their complaints that had been submitted to New Delhi—ranging from those by the Farooq Abdulla led National Conference government in the past to those by the UPA-appointed interlocutors, and the latest Jaswant Singh led delegation—have been relegated to cold storage by both the Congress and BJP governments at the Centre.

New Delhi should restore the constitutionally guaranteed rights that the Kashmiris were assured of at the time of accession; withdraw the draconian AFSPA; release innocent Kashmiri youth from jails; open dialogue with all the stake-holders including the separatist groups, and Islamabad too (with which India can raise the question of human rights of the residents of the Kashmir under its control)—and, in order to prove its credibility to the international community, allow the UN's Commissioner for Human Rights to visit and investigate cases of human rights violation in Kashmir by your army. As for Islamabad, it has to persuade its army, politicians and the government to detoxify themselves from the pathological obsession with the idea that Kashmir is Pakistan's 'jugular vein'. Kashmiris on both side of the border share a common identity, and are uncomfortable with the state of being separated from their relatives, economically deprived through disrupted trade relations, and perpetually haunted by a war at any time.

Ideally, the Kashmiris should be offered a chance, through a referendum under neutral UNO auspices, to select options for those who want (i) to remain in POK or Azad Kashmir, or to emigrate to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir; (ii) to remain in the present Jammu and Kashmir state of India, or to emigrate to the so-called Azad Kashmir under POK; and (iii) alternatively, for those who may opt for a sovereign state of Kashmir with a constitution that guarantees protection and rights for religious minorities like Hindus living in the Valley and Jammu, and Buddhists of Ladakh, and other such communities. These were a part of the democratic, socialist and secular values that were propagated by Sheikh Abdullah. Can we revive that concept of Kashmir today?

[This is a slightly edited and updated version of my article which was carried by the Countercurrents website on May 13, 2017]

Autumn Number
Vol. 50, No.12-15, Sep 24 - Oct 21, 2017