From our regular contributor and well respected Military historian Dr Hamid Husain
Following was outcome of exchanges with some informed individuals from both sides of the border about Kashmir. I was educated & enlightened. It is just a glimpse on my part about possible scenarios. It is first of a two part; second part deals with the legal aspect of the issue as Constitution bench of Indian Supreme Court has taken up the case.
“Borders are scratched across the hearts of men
By strangers with a calm, judicial pen
And when the borders bleed we watch with dread
The lines of ink along the map turn red”
Paradise Lost – Kashmir at Crossroads
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent; but it takes a touch of genius and lots of courage to move something in the opposite direction.” Albert Einstein
On 05 August 2019, newly elected government of India announced change in Kashmir status. President issued an order under Article 370 superseding a previous Presidential Order of 1954 thus removing restrictions on application of Constitution of India in the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). This also removed Article 35 A that gave special status to residents of J&K. In addition, J&K was divided into two Union territories with separation of Ladakh.
Currently, three countries control parts of the territory that was once princely state of Kashmir during the Raj. Indian Controlled Kashmir (ICK) is fifty five percent of the territory, Pakistan Controlled Kashmir (PCK) is thirty five percent and Chinese Controlled Kashmir (CCK) is fifteen percent. There is no conflict at Indian-Chinese border in Kashmir called Line of Actual Control (LAC) and there has been no border incident in the last fifty years. I recall the only incident of military history several years ago when tempers escalated at that border, the soldiers simply threw stones at each other. The story of Line of Control (LOC) between India and Pakistan is totally different.
Kashmir is more of an ideological element between two countries. Both sides have a psychological entanglement where the raison d’etre of both countries is linked with it. India views continued control of Kashmir as vindication of its stand that Hindus and Muslims are not two separate nations and that is why a Muslim majority state is part of Indian union. Pakistan contests this narrative and see India’s control of Kashmir as challenging the very idea of Pakistan based on ‘two nation theory’. Both sides are intelligent enough to recognize the old dictum that ‘possession is the nine-tenth of the law’. Rhetoric aside, in real politic, both countries are fully aware that LOC is now a de facto border, and no one can force a military solution of the problem. When there is an interlude of peace between two countries, public opinion is in favor of compromise. However, with every crisis, jingoism runs supreme on both sides of the border.
‘Nationhood is rooted in rites of violence we all prefer to forget’. Quoted in Karl Meyer & Shareen B. Brysac’s King Makers
India’s recent efforts to remove special status of Kashmir is to fully integrate the state in Indian union with the hope that this will end separatism in ICK. Unique circumstances of Kashmir at the time of partition in 1947 necessitated a compromise. Article 270 of Indian constitution gave Kashmir a special status where Indian constitution was exempted from the state in governance of the state. In the last seventy years, 94 of the 97 entries of the Union List and 260 of the 395 articles of the constitution were extended to Kashmir. Ironically, it was all done through Article 370 as this was the only ‘tunnel’ through which center could act in Kashmir. The result is that in practical terms Article 370 had ceased to provide any special concessions to Kashmiris. More important is Article 35 A that was inserted by a Presidential Order in 1954 as a compromise between Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Kashmiri leader Shaikh Abdullah. This clause gave the authority to state government to define ‘permanent resident of the state’. A Dogra rule era law of 1927 that prohibited acquisition of land in Kashmir by an outsider was incorporated in Constitution of J& K in 1956 that closed the door for acquisition of land by outsiders. Now only a permanent resident of the state was eligible for land acquisition, government jobs and scholarship in state educational institutions. Article 370 was a psychological and 35 A practical anchor of special status of Kashmir.
Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) political plank is Hindu nationalism but moderate leaders like Atal Bihari Bajpai continued engaging Pakistan on Kashmir issue. The rise of more radical leadership personified by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also changed views about Kashmir. They reviewed over thirty years of violence in Kashmir with 40’000 – 60’000 deaths through their own ideological prism. They concluded that a Muslim majority state with active separatism resulting in deployment of over half a million security forces can not be allowed to fester for another thirty years. A radical shift in this policy was their solution of the problem. They were successful in developing a narrative based on Hindu nationalism. A mere election manifesto slogan was incorporated into government policy rallying public opinion.
Escalating separatist violence by Muslims in Kashmir meant that inside Kashmir, one third non-Muslim population got completely alienated and there is no sympathy factor for Muslim Kashmir in rest of India. Robust public debate about elimination of special status of Kashmir is a decade old theme. However, BJP didn’t have the numbers in parliament. Steady rise of BJP in successive elections convinced the leadership that removal of special of status of Kashmir was not a vote losing gamble but a vote winning strategy. In 2014 elections for 543 seats of lower house (Lok Sabha), BJP secured 282 seats (12.5% increase from previous election) and in 2019 secured 303 seats (21.0 % increase from previous election). By 2018, BJP had increased its share to 80 seats in 245 member upper house (Rajya Sabha). It controlled the upper house with its allies in National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with 115 members compared to 65 members of opposition’s United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
My own analysis of the events suggested that by the end of 2018, BJP had lined all its Kashmir ducks in a row covering internal security, public opinion, legislative, and diplomatic arenas. I thought that BJP had decided to do away with Article 370 and 35 A before the general elections of April 2019. My view was based on several political, regional and international events. In state legislature elections held in November – December 2018, BJP had lost its three citadels of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. These are bellwether states and now general election of 2019 was a coin toss. Regionally, Pakistan was politically divided, economically very weak and diplomatically isolated and in no position to challenge. U.S.-Taliban peace talks were on fast track and it looked like that President Donald Trump was in a hurry. In a post-U.S. more violent Afghanistan with possibility of safe havens for militants operating against India could re-ignite militancy in J&K.
BJP had majority in both houses and wanted to hand incoming government a fait accompli in case of loss in elections. In February 2019, a suicide blast in Pulwama killing 40 security personnel changed the calculus. There was escalation of tension on the border with actual fighting and involvement of air force. International community’s attention was focused on the region and it was not the time as this drastic measure would generate negative international reaction. However, some informed Indians communicated to me that this assertion is incorrect, and that final decision was made after the elections.
In May 2019, BJP came to power with a bigger mandate and decided to act early in its tenure rather than wait. Ajit Doval was fully aware of the casualty factor and its impact on international opinion. He put up a camp in ICK for several days and his message was simple and clear to the leadership of security forces. Put down an air tight security grid on Kashmir but take your finger away from the trigger. He was successful to a certain extent that a lockdown that is ticking at day 49 has seen very limited casualties.
India’s hope is that complete isolation of Kashmiris and potential threat of unleashing Hindu zealots will force them to give up the armed struggle and accept that they will have to live inside Indian union. This combined with economic development of the region and upward mobility may significantly dampen the separatist tendencies. However, as in many long running conflicts economic benefits alone have never solved essentially political problems. Indian military was hoping that by crushing the militancy and significantly reducing violence by 2014, they provided the space to the government to work a political settlement with Kashmiris. That equation is also changed and with uptick of violence in 2016, army brass is also willing to go with the radical break from the past.
In first step, BJP has tried to change the narrative of Kashmir problem from a foreign policy issue to an internal conflict. In short term, security grid will be removed step wise with neighborhoods with less protest will see relaxation first. The neighborhoods that give more trouble will be punished. BJP has concluded that the ultimate solution of Kashmir problem is demographic change. The numbers needed is three to four million. Article 35 A was the major hurdle. There are several reservoirs that can be used now that 35 A is gone. Many communities living in ICK with no permanent resident status are now free. This includes descendants of non-Muslim refugees who came from Pakistan in 1947, Gurkhas who are descendants of those who served in Kashmir state forces and low caste Valmiki Hindus who were brought from neighboring Punjab in 1957 for menial work of cleaning. Currently, many seasonal migrant laborers from United Provinces, Bihar, Bengal and Punjab work in Kashmir. Some estimate this number to be 500’000. Appropriate economic incentives and secure settlements will incorporate this group in the state. Investment in certain sectors of the economy such as agriculture and dairy farming that requires large acquisition of land will be the base for next round of influx. This will be followed by expansion of tourism industry. This influx of new arrivals will be accompanied with adjustment of electoral constituencies. After these measures are complete then state legislature can be re-introduced. All these measures require a reasonable amount of security in the state and the time frame is 10-20 years.
Unfortunately, all other avenues of opposition are closed and only viable option to scuttle or at least slow this process is escalation of violence. The threshold of violence is to be kept above such a level to discourage potential migrants to make the hazardous decision. This will be the deciding factor whether this project will succeed or fail.
“Man’s history is waiting in patience for the triumph of the insulted man”. Rabindranath Tagore
It is important to note that problem in ICK Kashmir is about Muslims. According to 2011 census data, population of J&K is 12.5 million. Two thirds of population are Muslim and one third non-Muslim. In Ladakh, with quarter million inhabitants, half the population is Buddhist and half Shia Muslims concentrated in Kargil area. These Shia Muslims geographically and politically are not linked with separatist movement in the valley. There has been long standing demand in Ladakh about separation from J&K. In valley, with exodus of around 150’000 – 200’000 Hindu Kashmiris Pundits in 1990s during escalating violence has shifted the population balance. Valley has become overwhelmingly Muslim while non-Muslim proportion of Jammu has increased. Militancy is political as well as religious therefore alienation of non-Muslim population is complete, and they sought refuge with BJP (in 2014 & 2019 general elections out of six seats of J&K, BJP won three seats from non-Muslim dominant areas).
Now, the ball is squarely in ICK and all eyes are on Kashmiris. All other players including Kashmiris of PCK, Kashmiri diaspora in United Kingdom and Pakistan have receded to secondary positions. Kashmiris are now at another cross road. The fundamental question is whether Kashmiris will find a way to get concessions inside Indian union or go for separation. Secession struggle usually succeeds with robust external backing. Kashmiris put all their eggs in Pakistan’s basket and Pakistan is not able to force a military solution. Kashmiris never thought about offering a strategic advantage to a super power (United States or China) or present its case like East Timur or South Sudan where enough international support could come to achieve this goal.
Alienation in ICK is almost complete and once security is relaxed, there will be demonstrations in view of acute anger. The amount of violence will determine the pace of this phase of agitation. Two main political parties (National Conference & People’s Democratic Party) that ruled the state since 1947 by aligning with center failed miserably by hereditary leadership, corruption and incompetence. The separatist camp is even more divided with more than two dozen parties under the umbrella of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). Now, old discredited political parties will find it hard to gain any meaningful support and separatist groups will be allowed no room. There will be inevitable further fracture of Kashmir polity. Angry and frustrated youth will be on the streets with no leadership and new groups will form from break away factions of old groupings. Government will provide economic incentives to local bodies called panchayats. This will be a new power center that can be used as intermediaries once initial anger subsides to a certain extent. In the absence of external support, militant struggle inside ICK will be limited in scope. Younger generation of all parties will chart a new course under new conditions. Separatist groups will see exodus of good fighters to more extreme organizations. If Muslims of India face increased violence, then Kashmiris may drift towards this trend and extremist outfits may find a fertile ground. An Indian franchise of entities like Daesh may go for soft targets in rest of India outside Kashmir. Kashmiri youth is facing many challenges including political marginalization, bleak economic future and extreme insecurity.
There has not been any serious study of Shia factor in ICK. There are about one million Shia in ICK. About 150’000 are in Kargil and remaining in Srinagar, Baramulla, Budgam and Bandipur areas of the valley. Shia escaped persecution in many areas and found refuge in remote area of Kashmir away from colliding major power centers. They were persecuted even under Muslim rule of India and in their collective memory they are remembered as ‘Ta’araj-e-Shia’ (Disasters of Shia). Traditional Shia leadership have avoided any conflict with ruling authority to avoid persecution. In general, they stayed away from the separatist movement. Infusion of hardline Sunni element in insurgency in mid 1990s also raised suspicion among Shia. On the other hand, accusation of betrayal of Kashmir cause by separatist leaders forced them to show public sympathy.
Shia of Kargil being away from violence have not faced extreme insecurity. Shia of valley are suffering from the security crackdown and insecurity forced them to concentrate in their own enclaves (Shalimar, Bemina, Bagwanpur etc.). Traditional leadership of Iranian heritage trained in religious seminaries of Iran was controlled by Safavi, Ansari and Agha families. There were religious and political differences among these families. After 1979 Iranian revolution, Shia of Kashmir developed links with clerical leadership of Iran. Imam Khomeini Memorial Fund is very active among Shia. In the last two decades, new generation of Shia is influenced by Shia resistance literature. Iranian and Lebanese resistance literature is translated and very popular among young Shia. Iranian government has close relationship with India at government level, and it has not criticized India’s Kashmir policy. However, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s office has more influence among Kashmiri Shia and has given statements in favor of Kashmiris. There have been reports of some Kashmiri Shias being trained by Iran and Hezbollah for fighting in Iraq and Syria. Young generation of Shia are angry at their own corrupt elite and influenced by the resistance Shia models of Middle East. If this trend gains momentum, then there will be a different trajectory of violence.
The weakness of Kashmir cause is multifaceted. First, inside ICK, there has never been minimum consensus about the end game. In their anger and frustration, they raised the Pakistani flags thus ensuring complete alienation of rest of India. Even their genuine grievances and complaints never got the attention of Indian audience. Rest of India sees Kashmiris as Trojan Horse of Pakistan and this factor is responsible for major shift in Indian public opinion about problem of Kashmir. PCK is a mere appendage of Pakistan with no robust political or diplomatic efforts to project cause of Kashmiris. Kashmiris on Pakistan side were neither allowed nor they demanded a front seat at the table that was about their future. Kashmiri diaspora in United Kingdom is neither politically organized nor robust enough to use international stage available to project their cause. One gets the impression that Kashmiris have accepted the ground realities and willing to live with status quo on both sides of the border.
There is complete lockdown in ICK but PCK, Pakistan and United Kingdom with large Kashmiri diaspora has no impediment for peaceful protests. There was very lukewarm response in this area. At the same time world television screens were filled with Hong Kong protest where close to one million people were on the streets. Even Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh came out in protest for their cause in the numbers close to 200’000. Internationally, there is a degree of desensitization to large scale violence. Industrial scale violence in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen with hundreds of thousands dead and millions becoming refugees has a certain amount of numbing effect. In Kashmir 40’000 to 60’000 died in a thirty years conflict. Countries like Syria and Yemen reached this bloody milestone in less than five years and God forsaken lands of Afghanistan and Iraq crossed these numbers in some cases in a single year. This does not lessen the pain and suffering of Kashmiris but explains the general apathy. Every man must carry his own cross. There is nothing certain about history. Currently, two factors anger, and fear are at play in the minds of Kashmiris. The future will be determined by which one comes as a dominant force.
Many people compare this to Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No two conflicts are similar, but Kashmir can resemble any of three Palestinian models. Kashmiris may resemble Arab citizens of Israel. They will not be full citizens but have enough security and economic opportunities to accept this inferior status and give up the hope of armed struggle. This is India’s best case scenario. If they go into a state of deep collective depression, they will look like Palestinians of West Bank. Kashmiris trying some semblance of normality while India controlling all aspects of their daily life and incremental encroachment of settlements of non-Muslims in the valley. India can live with that. If Kashmiris decide on significantly upscaling the armed struggle, then valley may look like Gaza of Southeast Asia. A large open prison with extreme violence horizontally and vertically. This is a nightmare situation for India but will require an unprecedented amount of commitment from Kashmiris. There are no indicators in ground that suggest that Kashmiris have reached that point.
“Adjust your ends to your means.” Liddelhart
In seventy years, Pakistan considered Kashmir as core issue with India. It attempted international mediation, war, covert operations and bilateral negotiations with India to force a solution but to no avail. Initially, there was an emotional attachment with Kashmir cause, but internal problems relegated the issue on the back burner. Pakistan tacitly accepted the ground reality. It established separate governance structure for PCK but completely controlled by Pakistan. In 1949, government of PCK handed Gilgit Agency and Baltistan area to Pakistan. It was administered directly by federal government under frontier regulations. In 1970, the two areas were merged and named Northern Areas. In 2009, it was given a semi-provincial status with legislative assembly. Legally and constitutionally, it is not part of Pakistan but a de facto province of Pakistan. Pakistan also ceded Shaksgam valley of the disputed territory to China in 1963.
West Pakistan under military elite opted for a military solution in 1965 without any buy in from the majority Bengali population. Most Pakistanis are not aware of the fact but 1965 was a watershed moment in the history of Pakistan. Psychological separation of Bengalis occurred at this point. All military assets were concentrated in West Pakistan and East Pakistan surrounded by India on three sides was left with one under strength infantry division, one air force squadron and few naval gunboats. Even those Bengalis who never thought about secession concluded that they were not part of the nation and West Pakistanis were willing to sacrifice the majority population of the country for the sake of Kashmiris (this conclusion is based in author’s own work on separation of eastern wing).
In 1990s, the purpose of supporting militancy inside Kashmir was to tie down maximum number of Indian troops and there was no plan for the end game. Only hope that military, economic and diplomatic cost for India will force it to negotiate. There was sense of dejection and betrayal among Kashmiri fighters when circumstances forced Pakistani military leadership to abandon the project in haste after cataclysmic events of 11 September 2001. General Pervez Mussharraf embarked on an ambitious project of a four point formula for Kashmir directly negotiating with Indians. It was a courageous move but he neither prepared the nation nor he got full support from his own senior officer corps. In 2008, power slipped from his hands very quickly and Indians paused. In the last decade, there have been periodic skirmishes and shelling across the LOC. There is only crisis management when an incident gets out of hand.
In 2019, things are no different and internally Pakistan is more divided. There is general sympathy but genuine concern for Kashmir cause is limited to northern Punjab and Hindko speaking belt of Hazara Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province. There is no buy in from rest of the country. People are concerned about serious political, economic and security problems of their own (these observations are based on author’s own travels all over the country and interacting with a wide range of people).
Pakistan’s initial response to Indian action was a bit confusing. On 06 August 2019, a Corps Commanders meeting was held on a single point agenda of India’s Kashmir decision. Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (DGISPR) tweeted that ‘Pakistan never recognized the sham Indian efforts to legalize its occupation of Jammu & Kashmir through Article 370 or 35-A decades ago, efforts which have now been revoked by India itself’. This was puzzling as argument was that the very Article 370 and 35-A were illegal to start with and Pakistan had never recognized these efforts by India. Now, that India had removed these ‘illegal’ instruments then what the whole protest was about? Civilian government looked towards military for cues. Criticism from opposition was the main impetus for more vocal denouncements later by government and army spokesperson. Consensus among officer corps is that Pakistan should only highlight the issue at every international forum. It is not able to escalate the situation by any measures along LOC or re-launching militants. International backlash will be swift for such a folly. Some argue that if Pakistan is serious about Kashmir then military measures are needed but not clear what those measures will be nor thinking about consequences in this calculus.
Pakistan feels obliged to raise the issue on international forums as it has invested so much. There is very little support for Pakistan’s narrative. Pakistani diplomats have been telling this to civilian leaders for two decades. They dare not utter a word to uniformed elite as this will end their careers. Foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and United Araba Emirates (UAE) visited the country to politely remind the civil and military leadership that Kashmir issue was not Islamic and hence not expected to be taken by Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC); an organization controlled by Saudi Arabia. In fact, both countries are working quietly to have India a seat at OIC in the next few years. It is unfair to ask Pakistani government to do more in such difficult times. Public is asking it to bring the winning from the poker table crowded by veterans of such gambles with a very weak hand and the world has already called the bluff.
Mistrust at various levels has undermined the Kashmir cause. Heterodox Ahmadi community was at the forefront of Kashmir cause long before partition. Ahmadi religious leader of the community Mirza Bashir Uddin Mahmud Ahmad’s personal interest in 1930s laid the foundation of organizational structure of Kashmiri emancipation. Financial, legal and organizational support from Ahmadi community in early stages and vocal support from senior Ahmadi civilian bureaucrats and army officers kept Kashmir at center stage of policy of the country. Ahmadis were officially declared non-Muslims in 1974 and one important and influential bloc of Kashmir support was demolished. Ahmadis migrated from Pakistan in large numbers to escape persecution. Civilian leaders were undermined by military leaders if they pursued a policy on Kashmir that was not approved by the military.
Kashmir is handled like other decisions about politics and economy on a personalized basis. No institutional mechanisms are in place to synchronize national efforts. The Pakistan tragedy is evident from the fact that the Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who promised to fight India for thousand years was hanged by his own army chief and the army Chief who pulled the Kargil rabbit from his hat to give fillip to Kashmir cause is a fugitive and wanted in his own country on charges of high treason.
Protracted conflicts that are not resolved with military means in early stages tend to take a life of their own. All parties get entangled in a web where they understand ground realities but unable to break out. The essence of a meaningful resolution should not be viewed through the prism of victory or defeat but working towards an ‘acceptable compromise’. If this compromise is not reached it is because at any given time one party thinks that it has a stronger hand or opponent has a weak hand hence not willing to seize the moment. In the process, grandchildren are condemned to continue the wars of their grandfathers. This is the true tragedy of the region.
“The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway”. Henry Boyle
Acknowledgements: Author thanks many informed individuals from both sides of the border who were kind enough to candidly share their views with me. Author is solely responsible for conclusions as well as all errors and omissions.
23 September 2019