New Delhi: Kashmir: After the economy, the Narendra Modi government has spectacularly failed in containing terrorism and insurgency in the sensitive border state. You could argue that the Kashmir crisis is a leftover from history and defies easy resolution. On the other hand, it is insane to glibly speak of a military solution to the problems of alienation, hopelessness and despair that presently pervade the Valley. Perhaps the force that best understands the ground situation in the Valley is the Indian Army, and its commanders are furthest from advocating a “military solution”, being perfectly aware that there is no such thing.

For any comprehensive understanding of the Kashmir crisis, it has firstly to be divided into its domestic and international dimensions. Not being a Great Power, India has limited leverage over the international aspects of the Kashmir dispute, which has now two interested and deeply invested foreign adversaries as opposed to one previously. Besides Pakistan, there is now a second player, China, which is firmly entrenched in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan-occupied Kashmir anchors the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is the totalitarian giant’s lifeline to the Indian Ocean port of Gwadar, an indispensible insurance against potential sea denial by the United States and its Asian allies. Boycotting China’s summit on the belt and road initiative, which incorporates CPEC, was the only course open to India to save itself from Chinese encirclement and strangulation. But this is still in the nature of a negative tactic with circumscribed benefits. India has yet to arrive at a strategic narrative that will permit it to set the international agenda on Kashmir. Difficult as this is, the Narendra Modi government is not making it easier for the country.

The sensible course would have been to charge the army with keeping a part of the international hazard in check, the part related to Pakistani terrorism in Kashmir, while easing the army’s burden by engaging the local population in dialogue. That was substantially the strategy followed by previous governments at the Centre, which included the administration of Atal Behari Vajpayee. The Narendra Modi government did away with this fine distinction, and loaded the army with the additional burden of internal policing, a responsibility it had successfully divested in the decades since the black era of the 1990s. In effect, the Modi government’s “muscular” Kashmir policy has opened two fronts for the army where previously it had a single one. The army is not complaining. It won’t. But it is compelled to save a war it had more or less brought under manageable limits.

Opponents of a political dialogue with Kashmiris say there is nothing to talk. Genuine political leaders will never be so crass or this obtuse. Engagement is a never ending process in democracy because democracy is founded on consent and consensus. The Kashmiris have seen through Pakistan a long time ago. They also know, in their heart of hearts, that independence is not a viable option. They need to be shepherded in the last mile to join the Indian mainstream. This simple proposition is beyond the understanding of the Centre. The Centre is content to hold elections in Kashmir (though even this is impossible today) when, ideally, they should serve as the beginning. Kashmir needs a new political framework within the four corners of the Constitution. The new framework would give Kashmiris hope. This framework ought to have been constructed in the years of peace before its absence permitted violence to return. India no longer has the luxury of stabilizing the situation and then starting talks. Both processes have to carry on simultaneously. This is the only means to break the cycle of violence.

Historically in Kashmir, the army has had the most sensible and sensitive leadership in proportion to the firepower in its command and the opportunities available to employ it. It is by no means a trigger-happy army. On the other hand, the Central intelligence leadership in the Valley has been always wanting in sensitivity and competence. In the earliest days of the insurgency, the local intelligence assets were the foremost to be targeted. It left the state intelligence and consequently the Central Intelligence Bureau blind about developments on the ground. That lost ground was never recovered. In the circumstances, the army, the paramilitary forces and the Jammu and Kashmir Police had no option but to begin at the beginning. They went about meticulously building their own intelligence systems. Those systems have for the most part perished today. But it has nearly always been dead for the Intelligence Bureau. When this writer covered the Valley, IB officers were forlorn figures, isolated and cut off in their Gupkar Road offices. The Narendra Modi government’s Kashmir policy is led by this same blind intelligence leadership, which is producing one blunder after another.

Part of the reason for the earlier security successes in Kashmir was the absence of the internet, the social media, mobile telephony and so forth. Serious work could be done quietly without media exposure. That era will not return. But the problem of instant worldwide communication is compounded today with every Kashmir development in favour of the mainstream getting overblown publicity on the wishes of the Central intelligence leadership that manages national security. Were schisms not present in the Kashmir militant movement prior? They were. Between the militant groups, much blood was shed. But in the process of manipulating the groups, the Government of India did not rush to the press to advertise every success, little or big. Today, a single silver streak in the stormy sky gets all the chest-thumpers wild and excited and leads to renewed calls for a military solution. This juvenile and delinquent behaviour would cast a pathetic light on the Central political leadership if it were not so frightening.

The Narendra Modi government has lost its way in Kashmir. It is clueless about its political objectives in the Valley. The Valley has to be claimed by mainstream politicians of both the ruling party and the opposition. Army commanders, police officers and intelligence operatives are instruments of the state. The political state has to guide them with well-defined political objectives. Politicians cannot talk the language of the forces. It lowers and degrades politics and ultimately makes it powerless. India is a democracy. India’s moral force derives from that. As Kashmir is an inalienable part of India, democracy must be inalienably applied there. Talks must commence without time limits. The world is becoming a topsy-turvy place. If India cannot manage Kashmir, a single foreign power or a set of Great Powers would be tempted to do so. The time for experimentation is over.

In view of absent peace and tranquillity in Kashmir, rising army casualties, unabated street violence and general mishandling, the Narendra Modi government rates minus three out of ten in respect of the crisis in the sensitive border state.

Read ‘Rating the PM - 1’ here.

To be continued....