10 Mar 2019

While India has international backing in its fight against Pakistan sponsored terror, it must reconsider its own actions in Kashmir and retract its pivot to nationalism to establish legitimate grounds for a lasting solution.

The latest flash-point in the enduring India-Pakistan rivalry not only points to the fragile state of peace in the sub-continent, but also to the protracted nature of the supposedly “low-intensity” Kashmir conflict.

Over the last week, India and Pakistan have traded blow for blow, engaging in aerial skirmishes and bombings on the border, conceding multiple casualties in the process.

It is being seen as the most dangerous level of escalation since the two countries went to war over the disputed region in 1999.

One of the obvious reasons this garners international concern is the fact that both nations are nuclear powers.

The trigger of the latest episode was a 14th Feb terror attack by a Pakistan-based organisation in Indian-administered Kashmir, killing 40 Indian paramilitary personnel. It was the worst incident in the state since the start of the anti-India insurgency three decades ago.

India has for long called out Pakistan for its covert support of terrorist activities and its abetment to the insurgency.

The overt Indian strategy to deal with Pakistan in this regard has been international isolation.

Through UN Security Council condemnations and the enforcement of anti-terror financial measures under the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), India has successfully persuaded most of the international community to act against Pakistan.

While India’s prodding of the international community to reprimand its terror-exporting neighbour does have credence, it can never be a standalone solution to the problem.

India’s complicated, and frankly, brutal Kashmir policy means that all the anti-Pakistan international posturing will only serve as a way to further neglect the issue at its core.

As long as India does not change its approach to handling the insurgency, the problem will continue to haunt them.

The Muslim-dominated Indian state of Kashmir is the most heavily militarized region in the world with over half a million Indian troops currently operating within its territory.

As part of the counter-insurgency, frequent street protests by locals have been met by bullets, and more recently, pellet guns, resulting in grave atrocities against civilians.

The numbers are extremely worrisome – around 70,000 deaths, several hundred thousand displaced, and more than 10,000 missing since being arrested.

It is obvious that the ordinary youth of Kashmir, who have grown up in a pitiless war, currently feel alienated to the point that they can be exploited by religious fundamentalists backed by the neighbouring adversary.

And what exacerbates the scenario is the rising tide of Hindu-nationalism across the country that the current government has fostered.

Kashmir aside, Narendra Modi’s 2014 electoral win brought forth a brazen attack on India’s much lauded secular and democratic credentials.

Anti-Muslim sentiment, manifested in public lynchings, and a distinctly low tolerance for dissent, have been the key characteristics of the Modi government’s legacy. And this has had particular ramifications for Kashmir.

Under the Modi Government, Kashmir has seen a marked increase in hostilities.

Terror incidents, civilian deaths by security forces, and political repression of ordinary Kashmiris have all seen an upsurge in the last five years.

Consequently, the number of security personnel deaths has gone up too.

It augurs well for the ruling party to create a narrative that attributes all violence in Kashmir to Pakistan.

Separatist leaders, along with the young people who come out in their support, are viewed as ‘Muslim traitors’ rather than victims of structural violence within a legitimate political problem.

A hard-line on Kashmir and Pakistan slots in conveniently with the ruling party’s Hindu-nationalism and vote-bank politics, while young Kashmiris seethe with resentment at Modi’s cultivation of a deeply anti-Muslim agenda across the country.

To be fair, preceding governments have also been less than satisfactory in facilitating a political solution.

The relatively liberal previous government under Dr. Manmohan Singh continued to neglect the province and used force where a dialogue between all the parties – the separatists and the nationalists – could have kickstarted a peace process. But the Modi government has turned neglect into a strategy.

Albert Einstein once said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different outcomes is a mark of insanity.

Ordinary Kashmiris might agree, as it describes their situation aptly.

The government must realise repeated miscalculations will only allow Pakistan to stoke the already burgeoning fire, and till that happens, Kashmir will remain a blot on India’s democratic credentials.