Indo-Pak confrontation: a Suicidal Militaristic Adventure

Indo-Pak confrontation:  a Suicidal Militaristic Adventure

Sumanta Banerjee

The incident at the LOC on September 29 is claimed by India as a `surgical operation’ to destroy terrorist camps within Pakistan territory, and denounced by Pakistan as `unprovoked firing by India from across the LOC.’ Since then, cross-border firings between the two armies have become a regular occurrence, each side blaming the other for violation of the earlier truce. Beyond this debate, there lies the plight of the common citizens living on both sides of not only the LOC, but other parts of the Indo-Pak border, who are victims of daily retaliatory strikes by the armed forces of the two contending states. 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?

To be frank, 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, 2015, 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  breakaway  group  called  Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, on  Shia  mosques,  Christian  churches  and ordinary citizens in Peshawar and Punjab (re: The  Hindu, October  1,  2016); (v) 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 (vi) 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 protégés, 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). Pakistan’s president Nawaz Sharif himself has been pleading at international fora that his country is a victim of terrorist groups.  He however fails to acknowledge that these terrorist groups  were spawned by his predecessor  Zia-ul-Haq,  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. I do not want to get into the long history (well-documented by  eminent scholars) of the betrayal  of  the aspirations of the Kashmir people by  the Indian state, which had over the years surreptitiously eroded  their  autonomy  and deprived  them  of  their  rights  which  were  promised  to  them  at  the  time  of the accession. 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, the latest attack on the 46 Rashtriya Rifles headquarters in Baramulla on October2, being one such glaring instance. 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 Abdullah-led National Front  government in the past to those by the UPA-appointed interlocutors in the  recent times- 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 Kashmirs 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 different 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  whether  (i)   to  remain  in  POK  or  Azad  Kashmir  for  those  who  are  living  there,  and  for  those  who  want  to  emigrate  from  the  Indian  state  of  Jammu & Kashmir , to  go  and  settle  there; (ii)  to remain in  the present  Jammu  and  Kashmir state of India,  for  those who  are  living  there, and  offer  the  choice  for  those  who want  to  emigrate  from  Azad  Kashmir into  the  Indian  state ,  to  allow  them  to  settle here; and (iii) alternatively, to 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?           

Equally important, Pakistan will have to crackdown on Islamic terrorist groups, and incarcerate their leaders who, in the name of religious freedom, have been allowed to spew venom not only against India, but also their own government   and secular and reformist sections of Pakistani society. Instead of condemning   Bangladesh for executing the notorious Al-Badr and Jamaat-e-Islami killers of  Bangladeshis in 1971, Pakistan should take a leaf out of the Dhaka trials, and set  up an international tribunal to try the leaders and members of the various  fundamentalist religious groups (like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad)  which have killed Pakistani civilians and soldiers, and are designated as terrorists  by international fora, and yet who are allowed by the Pak administration today to  openly address public rallies in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi and other parts of  Pakistan.

As for India too, it is equally necessary to nip in the bud the terrorist activities of Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Abhinav Bharat and similar Hindu vigilante groups and terrorist outfits that operate under the protection of the Sangh Parivar that runs the government today. They are being allowed by the administration to indulge in acts like lynching of Indian Muslims and Dalits in the name of gau-raksha or cow-protection, and killing of rationalist intellectuals like Narendra Dabholkar, M.M. Kulburgi and Govind Pansare. They are mirror-images of the killing of a secular-minded governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer in Islambad in 2011 by a religious fanatic, for his opposition to the law of blasphemy. What is outrageous is that when his assassin Mumtaz Quadri was brought to the court, the lawyers showered flowers upon him for what they thought was a courageous deed!

Similarly in India today, after the lynching of a Muslim villager Mohammad Akhlaq by a  group of Hindu fanatics on the false charge of killing  a cow  in Dadri in Uttar  Pradesh in 2015, one of his assassins (Ravi Sisodia, arrested by the police  following wide spread protests) happened to die of respiratory and renal failure  in a hospital. This has prompted the Sangh Parivar activists to turn him not only into a martyr, but also to drape the casket carrying his body in the national flag  –  an honour privileged for national heroes  only. (THE  HINDU,  October  7, 2016).

The Samjhuta Express bombing in 2007, the Malegaon blasts in 2008, and the Ajmer Sharif blasts have proved beyond doubt the responsibility of well organized Hindu terrorist groups behind these acts. What is more alarming is the involvement of an ex-army officer- Lt.Col. Prasant Srikant Purohit in some of these acts, who allegedly ran a military camp under the guise of an `Art of India’ living event- to train Hindu terrorists. While demanding that Pakistan must destroy its Islamist terrorist groups and camps, the Indian political establishment and civil society will have to launch a mass campaign to pressurize the government to take steps to destroy the Hindu terrorist groups that are operating under the patronage of the RSS – the ideological politburo of the Modi government.

Sumanta Banerjee is an eminent journalist, activist and commentator. He is best known for his book In the Wake of Naxalbari: A History of the Naxalite Movement in India (1980) among others.    



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