To craft a Kashmir policy

Print edition : February 21, 2014

In Srinagar on January 26, Republic Day, policemen cordon off a road with barbed wire. Photo: ROUF BHAT/AFP

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee along with his Cabinet colleagues L.K. Advani, Murasoli Maran and Jaswant Singh welcoming Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf before the India-Pakistan summit in Agra on July 14-16, 2001. Photo: V. SUDERSHAN

SEPTEMBER 16, 2006: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf after a bilateral meeting during the 14th Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Havana, Cuba. Photo: SUBHASH CHANDER MALHOTRA/PTI

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at an interaction with youth and women in Budgam on November 7, 2013. Photo: Nissar Ahmad

The best course is to move along a promising avenue for a settlement on the basis of Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula, to which Manmohan Singh made a decisive contribution.

A SOUND policy for an effective solution of any problem, domestic or foreign, must be based on a realistic appreciation of the situation, the options available, the limits to which the state can yield and, equally, the minimum concessions without which a solution will not be possible.

There has always been an air of unreality in Indian discourse on the Kashmir dispute, both in its internal and external dimensions. The Indian establishment—the state, media, academia and most others—has frozen itself into a state of denial since 1947. In its internal dimension, the problem is now reduced to one of grievance redressal. A former Army official opined that fake encounters must be avoided “to enable the army in keeping Kashmir an integral part of India. Without the help of Kashmiris, this would not have been possible.” (Emphasis added throughout.) Indeed. So generous was the help that New Delhi had to stage rigged elections to channelise that help. None so blind as those who refuse to see. The alienation of the people of Kashmir has been total and abiding. It is not redressal of grievances but a radical revision of the present order, specifically, secession from the Union, that they seek now as they have since 1947. Indira Gandhi notified her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, of it, during her stay in Kashmir, on May 14, 1948.

A former Army chief who arrogantly asserted that “the return of Kashmir Pandits [to Kashmir] should be our real objectives” revealed his stripes, once again. Amusement can be one’s only reaction to the antics of a former bureaucrat who, talking from both sides of his mouth, fancies that he can pull off a settlement if only New Delhi can arm him with a mandate.

But the well-meaning “liberal” is not richly endowed with a sense of realism, either. If the people of Kashmir want to leave the Union, it is equally true that no government of India can possibly countenance such an option and survive. The “liberal” denies this lest it defeat the people’s aspirations. The hardliner rejects the fact of the alienation lest it spell secession, which it would indeed have done if policies depended on abstract principles. In truth, both realities are parts of the same coin—the people of Kashmir want to leave the Union and the Union cannot let them go. Hence, the need to think afresh and craft a policy which, however imperfectly, satisfies the people without compromising India’s unity or territorial integrity.

In its external dimension, the Kashmir problem is very much a Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, no matter how much people hate the D word. Time and Pakistan’s policies have narrowed the policies. Out of this impasse was born the Manmohan Singh-Pervez Musharraf formula. To understand Manmohan Singh’s policy and the doggedness with which he has pursued it, one must recall the interview he gave to Jonathan Power, which was published the day he took oath of office as Prime Minister in May 2004. Impasse in relations with Pakistan, he said, had to be resolved in India’s own interest. “ This is stopping us from realising our potential. Two nuclear armed powers living in such close proximity is a big problem. We have an obligation to ourselves to solve the problem.”

He had a clear idea of how to accomplish that as well as the limits that history had imposed. Jonathan Power wrote: “I pushed him on how he himself would accept compromise with Pakistan over Kashmir. ‘Short of secession, short of redrawing boundaries, the Indian establishment can live with anything. Meanwhile, we need soft borders—then borders are not so important’.” The soft borders were to be an interim arrangement, “meanwhile” pending the final solution.

Manmohan-Musharraf formula

History is rich in tragedies of men of goodwill facing interlocutors who refuse to be partners in peacemaking; Anwar Sadat’s efforts were foiled by Menachem Begin. In 2004, Manmohan Singh had a partner in peacemaking waiting for India’s reciprocity. Unlike Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, who repelled Musharraf’s overtures at Agra in July 2001, Manmohan Singh was willing to move towards a consensus. That was achieved by early 2007. The famous four points were not produced one fine day from a hat. They were the culmination of Musharraf groping towards a realistic framework after Agra (July 2001). In this quest he acquired a partner in Manmohan Singh in 2004. That record must be recalled now.

Musharraf began expressing his ideas in public from December 25, 2003, and improvised them as he went along. The ideas which Manmohan Singh began airing, not long after he became Prime Minister, tended to harmonise with those of Pakistan’s President. For example, while Musharraf said on April 18, 2005, that the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir should be made “irrelevant”, Manmohan Singh said, on March 24, 2006, that the LoC and the borders should be made “just lines on a map”.

The train blasts in Mumbai in July 2006 caused a setback. A saddened Manmohan Singh had to face the music in the Cabinet, the party and India’s hawkish media, especially TV. But just as he made the nuclear accord with the United States in 2008 a matter of prestige, he refused to allow himself to be deflected from the course. During the Non-Aligned Movement Summit at Havana in September 2006, the two leaders discussed an institutional mechanism to deal with terrorist attacks. It did not work.

On September 17, 2006, Manmohan Singh told the media, “We both agreed that we have to find a via media to reconcile these two positions”, namely, that while the borders cannot be redrawn, the LoC cannot be made permanent either. President Musharraf spoke in similar terms to Geo TV on October 23, 2006: “We need to find a via media between these two positions which would mean self-governance (for both parts of Kashmir) with a joint management system at the top for both sides of the LoC and you make the LoC irrelevant.”

Within a few weeks, that via media was found. Hence Manmohan Singh’s regret on January 3, 2014, that “at one time, it appeared that an important breakthrough was in sight. Events in Pakistan, for example the fact that General Musharraf had to make way for a different set-up, I think that led the process not moving further.”

This was not a new disclosure. He had spoken in stronger terms on May 2, 2009: “General Musharraf and I had nearly reached an agreement, a non-territorial solution” but Musharraf “got into trouble with the Chief Justice and other forces and the whole process came to a halt”.

That was not only a non-territorial solution but an ad hoc interim arrangement for, say, 10 or 15 years. During this period, Indian troops would be withdrawn to the borders, and the LoC would become “irrelevant”. De facto the State of Jammu and Kashmir would reunite. As well as self-government in both parts of the State, there would be a joint mechanism at the top. These can be improved upon. These are not gains to be sniffed at.

The biggest gainers would be the people of Kashmir. Imagine the scenario when, besides trade, there is a free flow of men and ideas across the LoC as well as the international border. Imagine also the peace dividend which India as well as Pakistan will reap. Internationally, India’s prestige will soar.

Discourse on Kashmir

Discourse on the Kashmir problem has been enriched by two recently published articles by thoughtful and sincere Army officers. Lt. General Syed Ata Hasnain was very popular when he served as GOC 15 Corps based in Srinagar. The highly regarded Lt. General H.S. Panag was GOC-in-C of the Northern Command. Both contributed able analyses to Indian Express, respectively on December 11 and 18, 2013. They repay careful reading. They were prompted by the editor Shekhar Gupta’s column on December 7 entitled “Disarming Kashmir”.

Ata Hasnain’s complaint is a valid one. “Unfortunately, not many are aware of the degree of intellectual analysis that the Army itself has done of its role in Kashmir. It recently organised a full deliberation on the concept of victory at the Army War College, Mhow.

“The first question is: have we ever enunciated an aim in Kashmir? In all these years, there never has been a clearly stated political aim given to the security forces. The informally stated military aim was stabilisation by controlling infiltration and eliminating terrorists. No one realises that in such situations, political and military aims cannot be separated. In 2011, we enunciated our own joint politico-military aim for our commanders to ‘integrate Jammu and Kashmir with mainstream India, politically, economically, socially and psychologically’.”

Pray how is that to be accomplished? His sense of realism deserts him here. Having accepted the fundamental that “the answer finally lies in what the people think”, he proceeds to comment that “in all these years, no serious attempt was made to project to the Kashmiri people how and why their future lay only with India”. This is the familiar reproach of the Managing Director to the Marketing Manager, “You are not doing enough to market our products successfully.” No marketing strategy or advertising gimmick can sell a product which is intrinsically shoddy and, more, which goes against the strong preferences of the targeted customers.

When Sheikh Abdullah was released from prison in September 1947, he was emotionally all for accession to India. The flood of visitors who came to see him convinced him that such a course was unacceptable to the people who were all for accession to Pakistan and that such a decision would isolate him, splitting the party and perhaps his extended family. He could not accede to India and he would not accede to Pakistan whose ideology he rejected. He opted for independence. The raiders compelled accession to India. Within weeks thereafter, he floated the independence proposal to the visiting British Secretary for Commonwealth Relations Patrick Gordon Walker. The Sheikh was Nehru’s house guest then and Nehru was in the know of these moves.

Is it not a fact that President Ayub Khan’s portraits were seen in shops across the Boulevard in Srinagar and that people attacked the Jamaat-e-Islami’s men in their offices after Z.A. Bhutto was executed? In hotels waiters would ask, “Are you from India?” Disillusioned, they are now with Pakistan; but even more so with India.

What is needed is not “a psychological campaign to win the confidence of the people” but sustained political and constitutional amends which would assuage their hurt and, hopefully, pave the way for a wider accord. Kashmir was cheated consistently—in 1949 as the agreed draft of Article 370 was amended unilaterally, while Sheikh Abdullah was in the lobby of the Constituent Assembly; in 1952 by the Delhi Agreement, concluded only to be broken; in 1953 by Sheikh Abdullah’s unconstitutional dismissal from office as Prime Minister on August 9; by rigged elections, by New Delhi-installed stooges as Chief Ministers and by the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord of February 1975 which she violated in 1977.

Article 370, a solemn pact

Article 370 is the only provision of the Constitution of India which embodies a solemn pact which Kashmiri leaders negotiated with the Union for five months—from May to October 1949. It is now a total wreck. After putting his co-author, the Sheikh, in jail, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru cheerfully gloated in the Lok Sabha on November 27, 1963, that Article 370 “has been eroded”. It was not a natural element to be eroded by the passage of time or the vagaries of the climate. He himself systematically violated it to denude Kashmir of its autonomy. His Home Minister, G.L. Nanda, told the Lok Sabha on December 4, 1964, that Article 370 was “a tunnel” through which more and more provisions of the Indian Constitution could be applied to Kashmir and the Union’s powers increased.

This was done by the abuse of Article 370, in complicity with New Delhi-installed Chief Ministers. Forty-seven such orders were made by successive Presidents from 1954 to 1994. In all, 94 of the 97 entries in the Union List were extended to Kashmir as were 260 of the 395 Articles of India’s Constitution. None of the recommendations of the various working groups set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was implemented. Ploys like the “Interlocutors” were used.

Syed Ata Hasnain overlooks these grim realities. Whatever has the Rashtriya Rifles done “to cement the separatist population with the mainstream’’? The truth is that the mainstream itself is separatist in outlook. Why do women wail at the windows when funeral processions of slain militants pass by? Militancy can be and has been quelled. But it enjoyed popular support for the same reason that the Tamils of Sri Lanka sympathised with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). As Nirupama Subramanian of The Hindu reported, without the LTTE they felt they would lose all leverage. Nothing is being done to remove the alienation. Even Omar Abdullah acknowledged on October 28, 2009, that “the youth of Kashmir didn’t pick up the gun twenty-one years ago for money but for political reasons” ( Greater Kashmir; October 29, 2009). He said later: “The cure of the Kashmir issue lies in politics; it’s not about jobs, roads, bridges and governance. The Centre has to find a solution through talks.’’ In all this, some Army Chiefs have been unhelpful, exploiting the media to foil government’s conciliatory policies.

Syed Ata Hasnain himself said realistically on April 3, 2011, that the Army’s role was to provide an environment for “a political solution of the long-standing issue”—a polite reminder of a “long-standing” wrong.

He belongs to a formidable tradition of candour. As far back as on March 8, 1998, the 15 Corps commander Lt. General Kishan Pal cited the improvement in the situation and said, “The ethos changes when you are in prolonged exposure to this sort of environment. If this continues the Army will also get corrupt. The political initiative has to come from local political leaders and this can happen only if they stop exploiting the situation to their initiative’’ (Aunohita Mojumdar, The Statesman; March 9, 1998).

On October 5, 2000, the Army Chief, General S. Padmanabhan, who had served as GOC Northern Command as well as Commander 15 Corps, said at a press conference in Srinagar: “ In the history of mankind no insurgency has been solved by any army’’ (Shoukat A. Motta; Greater Kashmir, October 6, 2000). A decade later, Gen. V.K. Singh, the Army Chief, said on July 11, 2010, that the State administration had “frittered the opportunity away” following the improvement in the situation ( Indian Express; July 12, 2010).

‘Strategic drift’

Lt Gen. (Retd) Panag’s article is one of the most honest intellectual exercises one has read in a long while. He shares Lt Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain’s grievance. He points out that the Army has “performed despite the government never having defined strategic military objectives, and in so doing may, by default, have partly assumed the role of the government.” He made some telling points. They bear quotation in extenso: “It is the government that must formulate the political strategy on which military strategy is contingent, and commit and de-commit its armed forces to war or counter-insurgency (CI). The absence of this process is the bane of strategic decision-making in India. The government never clearly defines its political objectives or approves contingent military objectives, leading to a situation of continuous strategic drift.

“This is also true for J&K. Forget formal direction, there is not even a periodic dialogue between the armed forces and the Prime Minister, National Security Adviser, Defence Minister or Home Minister regarding the conduct of the CI campaign. The Unified Command at the State level has never functioned, except during President’s rule. With the Central and State governments abdicating their strategic responsibility, the armed forces or the Northern Command are left to pursue the perceived military goals of eliminating terrorists, countering infiltration and creating conditions for the political process to take over. Four governments have functioned since 1996, and the number of active terrorists has been reduced to two figures. The violence is at its lowest. Yet, the political goals have neither been formally defined nor achieved. People are sullen and alienated and little development is seen on the ground. By default, the military has also assumed the responsibility of winning hearts and minds and even, to some extent, development—a mission for which it is ill-equipped. It is the politicians who have to get their act together and effect a radical change in political strategy. A change in military strategy will facilitate this process, but it is political strategy that must drive military strategy, not vice versa.”

The number of residual active terrorists has been reduced to double digits, even though official figures put the number at 200-250. He concludes that “a change in political strategy is now imperative as there is no more military objectives to be achieved. The focus of the future CI campaign should be on counter-infiltration with adequate reserve and flexibility to deal with the unforeseen. There are no victories to be won against our own people, and the military is a political instrument of last resort which must be used in harmony with political objectives.’’

Flawed reasoning

But no government of India cares or dares to define its objectives. Former Army Chief General S. Padmanabhan’s memoir deserves to be read widely ( A General Speaks; Manas). He received no clear directive from Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on Operation Parakram, despite a request to provide one by all the chiefs of the armed forces at a meeting with that evasive Prime Minister. Significantly, at page 112, the General emphasises that the directives should “invariably be in writing” and the proceedings of the meetings should have “a meticulous record”.

One suspects that all the governments at the Centre did have an objective on Kashmir—given time, the Kashmiris will acquiesce in the status quo; a good few leaders will be bought over as a good few have been in the past. There are obvious flaws in this reasoning. The 25 years of militancy (1988-2013) brought up the pent-up feelings to the fore, heightened mass consciousness and also awakened other segments of society. It will take a small incident to bring a seemingly placid populace to the streets, this time with added fury. Remember 2010 and 2011?

In this grim situation neither elections nor parleys with some chosen separatists will work, still less adventures by retired and ambitious bureaucrats and intelligence men. Even at the best of times the Hurriyat leaders had no control over the gun. That belonged to Pakistan. India produced the alienation; Pakistan provided the gun. The supply is now a trickle. But the alienation has not suffered a corresponding decline. The Hizbul Mujahideen’s ceasefire in 2000, inspired by Musharraf, left even the united Hurriyat red-faced. It is now in splinters.

With whom can New Delhi settle? Who among those Hurriyat leaders can deliver? They are barely on speaking terms with one another. Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s aspiration to be “The Sole Spokesman” is the product of a lively imagination. As for the elections, the Valley’s vote is split now that there are two Kashmiri parties, the National Conference (N.C.) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Both seek the Centre’s support. The very wise Rahul Gandhi has hitched his wagon to Omar Abdullah’s none-too-luminous star. The Jammu vote will weigh in the balance. The Congress is an artificial plant set up by the Centre in 1965. Thanks to the divide, it has acquired greater leverage than its minuscule political support warrants. In 2002, the PDP formed a coalition with the Congress. In 2008, the N.C. was able to follow suit thanks to Geelani’s call for boycott of the elections. In eight constituencies in Srinagar which responded to his call, the agencies helped to secure the votes for the N.C. since the Centre had decided to plump for Omar Abdullah this time. His father, Farooq Abdullah, told a TV anchor that he would be the next Chief Minister. The Congress high command pulled him up the very next day. It would be Omar. On his remonstrance the father was given a berth at the Centre where he performs to every one’s amusement.

On July 10, 2010, Omar admitted: “The troubles erupted in areas where we get very low percentage in elections, where voting was less than 20 per cent even in the 2008 election that was considered a major success” ( The Times of India; July 11, 2010). He was referring to the eight which helped him form a government. In a House of 85, the N.C. won 28, the PDP 21 and the Congress 16. But in the Valley itself, if those eight were excluded, the PDP won 19 while the N.C. got only 12. Which is why the president of the Congress outfit in Kashmir, Saifuddin Soz, said gleefully, twice in September 2012, “It is impossible to form a government in the State under the prevailing circumstances without the Congress’ support” ( Greater Kashmir; September 23, 2012, also of September 11, 2012).

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah dare not sack from his Cabinet a Congress Minister, whose misconduct has made him an object of loathing, without New Delhi’s approval, which, predictably, it will not provide. Even on the issue of a summons by the Privileges Committee of the State legislature to Gen. V.K. Singh, the Congress took the Centre’s line and opposed the N.C. In Kashmir, the Congress is a malignant force.

In 2014, the contest will be played out. Omar Abdullah is assured of Congress support thanks to Rahul Gandhi. Geelani will play his old game which will help Omar Abdullah. An Assembly elected in such a situation cannot yield a government that can deliver on any pact with the Centre on the State’s Constitution.

Winston Churchill reminded the House of Commons on June 2, 1931: “No government which is in a large minority in the country, even though it possesses a working majority in the House of Commons, can have the necessary power to cope with real problems.” That explains the Omar Abdullah government’s inability to perform besides his own ineptness. But it also warns against the futility of this sordid political game. The results are transient, even counterproductive. The Congress unit in the Valley is a house divided between the well-meaning Saifuddin Soz and the scheming Ghulam Nabi Azad, who returned to his State only when there was a prospect of his becoming Chief Minister. He was a Sanjay Gandhi stooge who went over to Rajiv Gandhi and is openly hostile to Kashmiris’ aspirations. His forte? A wily political operator.

In the circumstances, the best course is to move along the more promising avenue—the four points to which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a decisive contribution. As Pakistan’s then Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri said, accord was only a signature away. Self-rule for Kashmir in both its parts is one of the four points. The Prime Minister can yet visit Pakistan to tie up the loose ends. It will be open to the next government whether to own it or not. But the very existence of a promising framework for a settlement will alter the public mood. Meanwhile, a lot can and should be done to improve the conditions; especially on the cross-LoC trade and liberalisation of travel between East and West Kashmir. Confidence-building measures (CBMs) are not an alternative to a solution but a prelude to it. As Manmohan Singh said in May 2004, settlement of the Kashmir dispute is in India’s own interest. We shall be rid of an albatross which impedes our rise in global affairs.