Kashmir and the defence of democracy

KPS Gill, August 2000

Between words and deeds, there is inevitably a hiatus. But if this distance grows beyond a certain measure, words lose all significance, and men must be judged not by their proclamations or their intentions, but by deed alone.

Strong words have been spoken on Kashmir in the past months, culminating in the address from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day.

`Warnings' have been articulated against Pakistan on the futility of its disruptive designs and the proxy war it has unleashed in J&K. But actions in the recent past completely undermine the force of these pronouncements.

In the fifteen days that followed the Hizbul Mujahideen s announcement of a unilateral ceasefire more than 230 persons were killed by terrorists as the Security Forces, on command by the Centre, discontinued all offensive operations. The humiliating farce of implausible negotiations , the eventual and contemptuous withdrawal of the Hizbul s ceasefire, the subsequent strike in the very heart of Srinagar, and Pakistan s escalating rhetoric and threats of open war speak volumes of the enemy s perception and assessment of the Indian state. Our self-perception appears no better. All our policies and responses over the past year (can we ever forget the disgrace of Kandahar?) have communicated a single, unambiguous message to the enemy that we are exhausted, unnerved and desperate for a solution at any cost. That we are willing, in other words, to negotiate with just anyone, and on our knees. I am certain that this is not the message the government sought to communicate to the terrorists, or to their sponsors in Pakistan. But this, unfortunately, is the message that is getting across.

There is a crucial lesson here: there are often times when talk of peace worsens conflict. When states seek to conciliate and appease those who thrive on terror and intimidation, this is inevitably interpreted as a sign of weakness, and the consequence can only be greater violence. Our commitment to, and striving for, peace must never be diluted. But they must be founded on the secure ground of reality, not on the make-believe that has enslaved the imaginings, and subdued the will, of those who currently command India s destiny.

The fact that the ceasefire would fail should have been evident to anyone who had not wilfully blinded himself to the obvious. A day after the declaration of the ceasefire, I had expressed my unqualified scepticism regarding the enthusiasm it generated, in an interview to the correspondent of Der Spiegel, and a few days later, repeated my position in more than one of my writings. But nothing could, at that time, pierce the thick cloud of euphoria that enveloped those who were talking of a return of peace and of the light at the end of the tunnel not even the reality of more than a hundred murdered in a single day s carnage.

The fact is, there was no real ceasefire and there could be none. With four thousand mercenaries on your soil, and an equal number ranged along your border, ready to cross over at Pakistan s bidding; with over a dozen disparate terrorist groups active in J&K; and with the strings of the Hizbul itself held in Pakistan, there simply could not be any realistic expectations of a cessation of violence.

The difficulty is that, in this age of instant coffee and of instant communications through the Internet, we have come to expect instant solutions to everything that troubles us. There are, however, certain problems to which a solution can only be constructed painstakingly, through infinite sacrifice, and through a relentless process of will, and out of the culmination of miniscule, almost imperceptible gains. In War and Peace, Tolstoy wrote of General Kutuzov, who crushed Napoleon with his philosophy of time and patience. Unfortunately, our decisions increasingly reflect an immature impatience and an unwillingness to engage over the extended periods of time that the conflict in Kashmir necessarily demand.

In Pakistan, however, there is evidence of a greater understanding of the nature of this struggle. Each immediate victory, every passing defeat, is seen there as a stage in a struggle that is envisaged to last a thousand years . Even the worst of reverses has not brought about a pause in their strivings to bleed India with a thousand cuts . There is a constant shift in tactics, but not the slightest deviation in the larger strategy or its objectives. The most recent reports from that country suggest that as many as 1.7 million children and young men are being trained in Pakistan s madarsas for the jihad in Kashmir. To those who see themselves as the leaders of this holy war it matters little that some group has entered into a dialogue with the Indian government. Indeed, for them, even if General Musharraf or any successor government of Pakistan sought peace with India, this would be no more than an act of treason against their sacred cause . Their course is set, and can only be altered by the single authority that they acknowledge their perverse conception of God or by the only means that they can succumb to the use of force. The Pakistani Army has long and correctly been regarded as all powerful in Pakistan. But this is a changing reality. General Musharraf s military regime has already been forced to backtrack on at least two occasions in the face of a potential fundamentalist backlash and the changes he was attempting to introduce into the prevailing practices were only peripheral and essentially minor. The Army in Pakistan has both weakened and been significantly penetrated by Islamic extremism.

Under the circumstances, to pin all hopes on a peace process based on dialogue with individual terrorist groups or their overground front organisations, or even with the government of Pakistan, is not only myopic, it is suicidal. Certainly, there are sane elements in Pakistan, and even among the militant leadership, who can and must be encouraged to adopt a path of reconciliation. But their voice is weak, and their influence limited. With the fundamentalists, there can be no dialogue for having heard the voice of their God, they have become deaf to human reason.

There are, consequently, no soft options left for India. Those who seek to bleed this country, must themselves be made to bleed; their violence must be crushed with greater and overwhelming force; a single, unqualified message must be sent out across the world the Indian state will not allow terror and intimidation to succeed, whatever the costs.

The ambivalence, the ambiguity and the vacillation of the Indian state have, over the past year, infinitely strengthened the terrorist cause in J&K, and have weakened and demoralised the Forces that continue, nevertheless, to stand as the bulwark of India s freedom and integrity against incessant and inhuman attacks. There is increasing despair throughout the country, and wherever I go, I am often asked whether India will break up again into little and mutually hostile formations.

Those who are seeking solutions in parceling out J&K into communally constituted segments; those who believe that the cost of the conflict in Kashmir is too great a burden for the nation to bear; those who have, in just over a decade, been exhausted by the struggle all these should understand that the war in Kashmir is not about the defence of Kashmir alone, it is about the defence and survival of India itself, of democracy, and of the diverse and unique civilisation that has come into being in this sub-continent through a process that spans many millennia.