India is one of the oldest civilizations in the world with a kaleidoscopic variety and rich cultural heritage. However, over the centuries, India has historically suffered from three strategic shortcomings threatening its identity and integrity. These are, first, comfort in the status quo and at best being reactive, secondly existing in cocooned compartmental entities with lack of integration resulting in exploitation and thirdly lack of a decisive leadership with a strong political will. Thus, invaders came, plundered and left destroying the basic edifice of a united and strong India.
To add to this lack of strategic culture, the nation lacked a long-term vision thereby taking a course did not complement a stature endowed by its geo strategic location, a vibrant geography with abundant natural resources and above all a diverse yet secular civilization. This historic culture has since transformed for the better in recent times putting the country on a higher pedestal in the international arena.
Be it GST, policy of assured retribution to proxy war, dismantling of terror funding and entities, triple talaq and now abrogation of Article 370; all are welcome winds of change for a strong, united and secular India. The transactional trajectory of the Indian security response from Risk Aversion and Strategic Restraint of 26/11 to Risk Aligned and Symbolic Retribution post Uri to Risk Acceptance and Assured Retribution post Pulwama, has also incrementally reformatted the strategic security calculus and security paradigm. Rustic and irrelevant non-alignment and strategic heteronomy post-cold war has made way for proactive multi-lateral alignment backed by strategic autonomy, as the new mantra of “Nation Above All”
In an article, post Pulwama terrorist attack, I had said that there is a “Problem of Kashmir and a Problem in Kashmir”, increasingly being intermeshed though Pakistan’s revisionist ideology, exploiting isolation and governance voids in Kashmir. Enough blood has flown and innumerable sacrifices made by our brave soldiers to ensure its integrity. Thus, the historic decision of abrogation of Article 370 is welcome, even if the dividing line between panacea and debacle is fine.
The question is – will the abrogation of Article 370 stymie or fuel Zia’s Op Topac – “Death by Thousand Cuts” and the frustrations of Pakistan’s tryst with partition? At the same time, has the historic decision of 5 August 2019 been a panacea or has it antagonized the hearts of the Problem in Kashmir, by rubbishing the fractured and anti-national concept of state within a state? Only time will tell. I am no authority on misplaced legalities, but certainly on the grounds of integration, nationalism and equality, it’s a job well done.
All elements of security forces including the state police coming under the Centre, will result in better accountability, control and coordination to combat violence in Kashmir. Equally important is that anti-corruption law will be applicable to Kashmir. Politicians and others in power who thrived by making terrorism an industry and accumulating disproportionate wealth will now be answerable to central anti-corruption statutes. The real victory will however lie in achieving the ends through a well-devised, visible and time-sensitive strategy of development, prosperity and national integration of the people of J &K in the Indian mainstream.
The joy of its outcome must therefore be for the people, by the people and of the people of J&K and Ladakh based on their needs and divorced from petty politics. How we handle this sensitive situation in Kashmir in particular could be described as a historic changing point of integration by an act of genius or an unintended but badly handled catastrophic misadventure.
There are three ingredients that are critical for the success of a landmark decision impacting a nation state ; first – a stable and strong political dispensation backed by the national will and acceptance by the people impacted by it; second – the timing of the decision and its strategic messaging, and third – the integrated capability and capacity to execute it to the desired end state in a time critical manner. The strategic outcome and messaging of the abrogation of Article 370 will similarly be measured by these three ingredients which need to be analysed dispassionately.
As regards political righteousness, national will and acceptance, there has no doubt been a vast acceptance across the masses leaving aside a few, as always in a vibrant democracy. Even in J&K out of the 22 districts 16 are hailing removal of 370. Status quo was never a solution to a problem that continued to bleed the nation for over 70 years. The “jus ad bellum” lay in dispelling fractured concept of one nation with two constitutions and two flags. A historic wrong has been corrected. It brings equality to the underprivileged, ends discrimination against women and fosters equal opportunity and a secular character for all to prosper. However, it’s justice done; not a victory or a defeat.
The aspect of winning over those key stake holders most impacted by it remains a challenge. There are three groups of people in J&K impacted by it both emotionally and historically; those who say yes, no and the fence sitters. Thus, acme of statesmanship and governance will lie in shifting the fence-sitters to the yes category, strengthening their convictions and transforming the naysayers. Easier said than done but this is a national imperative and a key to the success of this landmark decision. The caution lies in not allowing the inimical politicians who stand stymied by it and other anti-national elements to draw oxygen and mileage from it to brew false discontent.
Secondly, the timing of the decision and its strategic messaging raises more questions than answers. Did it demand the urgency to forestall the Amarnath Yatra and Eid celebrations which were just a week away? Was President Trump’s irrational comment on mediation a trigger? Was it a strategic requirement for the management of the security environment, to announce it when it was least expected? Was it an unfinished agenda of NDA-1 which got delayed because of unforeseen Pulwama dynamics? Was it timed to absorb the impact and showcase normalcy before the 73rd Independence Day? While the “when” will remain a matter of debate, the larger aspect of strategic messaging is loud and clear. There is no debate that the decision remains within the internal domain of the nation. Another aspect which has not got due attention is that the Government’s move pertained to the whole of J&K including POK under occupation of Pakistan and China. In response Pakistan and China were quick to oppose the move. Pakistan has no locus-standi or moral stand against it, except highlighting its frustrations. Indeed, “Naya” Pakistan is a discredited army running a failing nation with increasing ethnic divides, while “Ubharta” Bharat is a rising star in the international arena with a professional army and a new wave of nationalism. Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan’s geopolitical loophole, remains caught in limbo; neither a province nor self-administered. The Gilgit Baltistan Reforms Order 2018 reflected Islamabad’s refusal to let go of its autocratic rule over the region. Pakistan’s effort to raise the issue to the UN has already been rebuffed. So, hands off Pakistan; musings of trade and diplomatic cut off do not bother India.
As regards China and its concern about Ladakh, it lacks credibility. China is a beneficiary of the ceded disputed territory of J&K and its treatment of Uyghur uprising is appalling. If Tibet is an internal matter of China so is J&K (including POK) of India. The reactions from the international community have been cautious and supportive. Some like Russia, Sri Lanka, OIC and UAE have clearly stated that the issue is internal to India. USA, which was unaware of the move, has largely seen it as an internal matter and stated that it will continue to monitor the human rights situation. This shows it balancing Pakistan for its interests in Afghanistan and India for its concerns in Indo-Pacific with reference to China. Thus, the diplomatic synergy of the decision has been well managed in the international arena and is unlikely to create any turbulence. Lastly but not the least, is the aspect of “how” relating to implementation and the larger issue of desired outcomes. This is the most complex and critical challenge. Again, it entails three key facets, firstly restoration of the original demography with the return of Kashmiri pandits who had been victims of ethnic cleansing, secondly development of the state based on prosperity, equality and participation of the people and lastly, the political revival of the state and credible governance based on people’s mandate. The return of Kashmiri Pandits will be conditional on the confidence they derive on the security environment to live freely and not with scars of memories. This mandates an environment beyond that given by the security forces, necessitating a welcome embrace by the residents of Kashmir in keeping with the culture of ‘Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat and Kashmiriyat’. There is also the factor of soaring land cost investment beyond an emotional link.
Development projects be they of industry, tourism, higher education, health care etc would require the support and magnanimity of the Centre. Industrial investments follow good business sense. Employment generation for unemployed youth must find focus as it will not only wean them away from violence but also usher in prosperity. Lastly it is an imperative that the present phase is only transitory, before granting statehood to Jammu & Kashmir. The political revival of the region and mainstreaming of the people as primary stake holders is the defining objective and must be achieved at the earliest. History presents a unique opportunity to the nation. It must not be lost. Article 370 being abrogated is not the end, its only one of the means to a path of peace, equality and prosperity. Kashmir and Ladakh must indeed become the crown of India and be fully mainstreamed, in the constitutional edifice of the nation. Failure is not an option as it will lead to a catastrophic misadventure with ever eager Pakistan pouncing for Op Topac 2.0. In the meantime, the nation must be patient, united and ready to sacrifice temporary calm for lasting peace. Is the abrogation of Article 370 a boon or a bane? Only time will tell.
The writer, a retired Lt. General of the Indian Army awarded the PVSM, AVSM, VSM, was former Director-General Mechanised Forces and is now a defence analyst.