Indo-Pak confrontation: a Suicidal Militaristic Adventure
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.