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Opinion
Kashmir
From conflict management to a conflict resolution?
By Firdaus Ahmed
There has been ample attention in strategic literature to the use of force in Kashmir, but not quite as much to the peace strategies also deployed alongside in Kashmir. These peace initiatives have not only been within Kashmir, but have also been in relation to Pakistan, seen as part of the problem and solution to Kashmir. However, that the two strands of peace strategies have not been taken to their logical conclusion so far and currently stand suspended.

The past failure to clinch the peace and the present status quo in a 'no talks' limbo put a question mark over the sincerity in intent behind the peace prong of India's Kashmir strategy.

But, first, a survey of India's political engagement along the two strands of peace talks: one with Pakistan and the other within Kashmir. The onset of troubles in J&K found India in the midst of a shift to weak coalition governments and soon embarked on liberalization. Conflict management was all it could think of, conflict resolution being out of reach.

Over the years, well-meaning politicians and officials embarked on political engagement, such as George Fernandes and Rajesh Pilot early in the conflict, and later in the decade government-appointed interlocutors, KC Pant and NN Vohra. Some freelancing was also witnessed by those close to the ruling party in the NDA period such as Ram Jethmalani and nearer our times, Yashwant Sinha.

The Human Rights Commission was set up in 1993 to act as watch dog and mellow the use of force. By mid-nineties, India gave the Red Cross greater scope of activity in relation to Kashmir. Its intelligence agencies helped cobble together a coalition of separatist groups, the Hurriyat Conference, to provide a political platform to the militancy and create the possibility of talks, though the Intelligence Bureau's Kashmir operational group in the duration, AS Dulat, credits this in his memoirs to the Inter-Services Intelligence.

In the first half of the nineties, in relation to Pakistan, there were some seven rounds of foreign secretary level talks in the early nineties that culminated in four non-papers being shared with Pakistan, including one on confidence building measures. In the second half, the Inder Gujral government took this forward, setting the stage for the composite dialogue entailing talks on eight subjects that included J&K. Inder Gujral's initiation of this format of engagement with Pakistan has been taken forward by all governments since. Within Kashmir, the center-piece of India's initiatives was a return to electoral democracy with the elections of 1996 that turned in the Farooq Abdullah government.

The Lahore peace process in February 1999 launched by Vajpayee after the nuclear tests by both India and Pakistan the previous year, had at its heart a memorandum of understanding on confidence building between the two states. Even though the Kargil War intervened soon thereafter, Vajpayee's statesmanship ensured that the talks' process was not upturned altogether. He invited Musharraf over to Agra in mid 2001.

Though the Agra summit was aborted and followed by a fierce year-long India-Pakistan confrontation in wake of the parliament attack later in the year- Operation Parakram - the meeting of minds between Vajpayee and Musharraf enabled a return to talks after the end of Operation Parakram. The ceasefire along the Line of Control and the Islamabad declaration soon followed. Vajpayee handed over a full Pakistan file to Manmohan Singh, who to his credit stuck to the script in the UPA I period, undertaking four rounds of the composite dialogue.

Meanwhile, within Kashmir, there was a six month long period of non-initiation of combat operations by the army beginning with the Ramzan in late 2000. It was reciprocated by a three week ceasefire on part of Hizb ul Mujahedeen (HM) the following year. For his pains, the HM leader Majid Dar was shot dead on ISI orders subsequently.

Following the elections during Operation Parakram in late 2002, Mufti Sayeed as chief minister followed a 'healing touch' policy, taming the Special Operations Group and the Ikhwan. The army took out its first sub-conventional operations doctrine, 'iron fist in a velvet glove'. The national government under Manmohan Singh organized three round table dialogues in Kashmir and had five working groups work on aspects of the internal problem in Kashmir.

The fifth round of the composite dialogue was put on hold after the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul and the Mumbai 26/11 attacks. Despite this, Manmohan Singh attempted to revive the process at Sharm el Shaikh, even braving the mention of Baluchistan in the outcome document at the behest of Pakistan and delinking the talks' process from terrorist attacks. The 'resumed talks' in 2010 could not go beyond the foreign secretary level, interrupted by the beheadings of Indian soldiers at the Line of Control in early 2013.

Within Kashmir, the outbreak over successive years of public agitations over emotive issues from 2008 to 2010 signaled the impatience of the people. A potentially game-changing report of the group of three interlocutors dispatched by Singh was put in to cold storage. India kept the lid on over the troubles over following half decade.

In the Modi term, the current impasse in talks both within Kashmir and with Pakistan belies the early promise from Nawaz Sharif's presence in the Rashtrapati Bhawan's forecourt during Modi's swearing in. The foreign secretary talks that were to follow were called off by India, citing an invite to Hurriyat leaders to the Pakistan High Commission. Within Kashmir, the hopes for a reversion to the Vajpayee era promises were soon dashed.

In late 2015, India tried to revive the talks process renamed as 'comprehensive bilateral dialogue'. By attending the birthday party of Nawaz Sharif's granddaughter at Sharif's farm house in Raiwind, during his Christmas stopover at Lahore, Modi seemed to underwrite these. Predictably, the Pakistani 'deep state' put paid to that initiative by dispatching terrorists to raid the Pathankot airfield. Later in the year, a severe agitation in wake of the killing of Burhan Wani, terrorism's poster boy, bespoke of the Kashmiri irritation at the all-round hold up on talks.

The hold-up is likely to be for indefinite duration. The home secretary on the eve of his retirement late last month emphasized that terrorism and talks with Pakistan could not go together. He has been duly rewarded with a post-retirement position. Last year, the Supreme Court during the hearings on the case against use of pellet guns in Kashmir seemingly approved the government line that it would not talk to separatists till stone throwing agitations, underwritten by separatists, subside. On the ground, the tough talk by the new army chief - including his endorsement of the seemingly indefensible use of the tactic of 'human shields' by his award of a commendation to its perpetrator, Major Leetul Gogoi - has sent out the message that the government is embarked on a hardline. Within Kashmir, the National Investigation Agency has gone after the separatists over money trails. Externally, the government has reframed the problem of Kashmir as not one 'in' Kashmir, but one of return of Pakistan Administered Kashmir to India.

From this survey of India's peace strategies it emerges that there is a certain degree of continuity to peace strategies as part of India's conflict management tool kit. Lack of political will to go any further onto conflict resolution was palpable in Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh term. Both were afraid to contend with right wing criticism, one from within his party and the other from the BJP. This challenge does not appear as applicable to Modi's tenure, given his parliamentary majority and iconic status (for the moment). Therefore, the discontinuity with the past is in the unwillingness of Modi to go down the peace route to conflict resolution, though he could.

The current juncture has been stirred up by the US President Trump embarking on a new Afghanistan policy. By coining the term AfPak, the Obama administration had clubbed Afghanistan with Pakistan rhetorically. Trump wishes to go further and after the terrorists operating in Afghanistan in their sanctuaries in Pakistan.

This latest round of American belligerence has been met with much satisfaction in India. Talks will stay on hold till the contours of the outcome of the US defence secretary, 'Mad dog' Mattis's initiative comes a cropper as it must over time. The past two surges by the US have not yielded result.

The departure of Nawaz Sharif from government will provide an alibi to India that it has no credible interlocutor on the Pakistani side; just the excuse Manmohan Singh trotted out when Musharraf shot himself on the foot by entangling with lawyers. It would justify hardline strategies till elections in 2019 and accomplishing by the BJP of its Mission 350.

It appears that earlier governments had a conflict management strategy in place, with peace talks as part. The talks were not for solving the problem, as much to keep the pot from boiling over. The current government's Kashmir policy is a departure from this. It is one of conflict resolution.

Conflict resolution in its lexicon is not in through the peaceable talks' route as is generally understood. Absent talks, there is only annihilation - ending the problem through use of force, conflict resolution of sorts. This is what the home minister perhaps means when he says the government has a permanent solution in mind. In regard to Pakistan, the army chief has just indicated that nuclear weapons have not ruled out war. Clearly, while Kashmiris will pay a price, the region will bear the risk of the BJP's reframing of conflict resolution.


News Updated at : Thursday, September 14, 2017
 
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