Wednesday, 17 August, 2022
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What Kautilya would have prescribed for the Kashmir problem

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It is in India’s interest to step back and rethink what we are doing in Jammu and Kashmir.

You can’t solve a problem if you have not defined it correctly. The story of the Narendra Modi government’s approach towards Jammu and Kashmir is one of a poorly conceptualised problem definition.

Worst situation in 15 years

This union government and its political establishment believe that the fundamental problem in Jammu and Kashmir is Pakistan and Kashmiri Islamists who want to secede from the Indian republic. Logically, therefore, its response is to escalate military operations along the Line of Control and harden security operations in the Kashmir valley against civilian protestors. The presumable goal of this strategy is to use force to overwhelm civilian protestors, terrorists, militants and the Pakistani military-jihadi complex that fuels the fire.

The results on the ground show that this approach has failed. The number of protests have gone up substantially over the last few years. The number of militants killed has also gone up. It’s bizarre that this government’s spokespersons think that the rising number of militants killed is a figure of merit — because what it really shows is that their numbers have grown. Despite demonetisation and surgical strikes, there is no noticeable change in Pakistan’s support for militancy.

Meanwhile, it appears that the faith the Kashmiri people have in democratic politics and the promise of the Indian republic has declined, while anti-Kashmiri sentiment has risen in Jammu, Ladakh and other parts of India. While much of this may play well to the hyperventilating television channels and social media warriors drumming up support for the BJP in elections across the country, a cold, dispassionate assessment suggests that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has not been this bad in the past 15 years.

Rethink required

It is in India’s national interest to step back and rethink what we are doing in Jammu and Kashmir. As I said, it starts with the problem definition.

While Pakistan, religious zealots, militants and violent protestors are certainly part of it, the fundamental problem is of a ‘Great Affective Divide’ between the people of the Kashmir valley and the rest of India. If a couple of decades ago the disaffection was unilateral (in the sense that the Kashmiri Muslims were disaffected), now it is increasingly reciprocated in other parts of the country.

Unless it is reversed, the politics of communal polarisation that is extant in India will worsen this divide over time. As the Great Affective Divide widens, external actors and the numerous local opportunists will find abundant opportunities to exploit it and promote their own agenda.

Obvious solution

Once we define the problem in this manner, the solution stands out. You don’t even need to be a high-minded idealist to conclude that New Delhi’s policy must be to bridge the Great Affective Divide. And that this is essentially a political task.

The lesson from India’s successful management of insurgencies in Punjab, Assam and Mizoram is that once security forces have reduced violence below a threshold, it is the strengthening of local democratic politics that does the trick.

In my view, violence had fallen below that threshold by 2011, but the Manmohan Singh government lacked the courage and the Modi government lacked the motivation to make the move. As I argued then, a calibrated lifting of the AFSPA in Srinagar would have been one big game changer. Alas, the then political leadership in New Delhi was too weak to take the risk.

The past is past. The political objective now ought to be to get back to a 2011-2012 like situation quickly. Both the PDP and the National Conference are likely to support such a process.

This means that the mission and the role of the security forces must change. They must be called upon to deter the marginal protestor, the marginal separatist and the marginal terrorist. This is an altogether different task than aggressive confrontation and combat that only creates more protestors and more militants, who can easily emerge from the Valley’s combination of geographical remoteness, ideological blinkers and youthful demographics.

In fact, the aggressive use of force by Indian security forces is exactly what Pakistan and the separatists want. The whole point of the insurgency strategy is to provoke the Indian state into using disproportionate force, and using the footage from that as propaganda to create greater disaffection.

The Indian Army, in partnership with the Jammu and Kashmir Police and central paramilitary forces had, in the mid- to late-2000s, arrived at a sophisticated counter-insurgency strategy that combined the judicious use of force against irreconcilable targets with a softer touch towards marginal and reconcilable elements of society. We can go back to that approach as the new starting point.

This is cold, hard realism. Consider what Kautilya says. Disaffection, he recommends, “can be got rid of by putting down the leaders”. But “when local persons are abetting (with foreigners), the means to be employed to suppress them are conciliation (saama) and gifts (daana).”

A.B. Vajpayee did just that, and that’s perhaps why he is held in such high esteem in the Valley as in the rest of India. Manmohan Singh held the course, but lacked political capital to make the next big move.

Regardless of what happened earlier in his term, Modi still has the opportunity and the power to act in accordance with what Kautilya recommends.

Nitin Pai is director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent centre for research and education in public policy.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. A big missing element in this analysis; have you analyses what was playing in the minds of rest of Indians while saama and Daana were being applied to Kashmiri Muslims for nearly 15 years between ABV and MMS? Why are you so self assured that it wouldn’t have generated any sense of insecurity (that leaders were giving away / capitulating) or jealousy (if you burn th Tricolor in Hyderabad, you get jailed; but you do that in Srinagar, you are hailed as “youthful rebel” and handled with kid gloves) or frustration (a feeling that despite decades of mollycoddling, a tiny minority refuses to integrate). You are just focusing on the tiny minority who are creating problem and co veniebtky forgetting that there is another vast majority who are other side of this equation. If you continuously treat Kashmiri Muslims separatisst with soft gloves, that would be like constantly telling rest of the countrymen that there is no premium for their loyalty to the nation. The only solution to the problem is massive reorganisation of our communication / education / cultural policies. Teach kids that – 1) polytheism is the virtue and exclusivist insistence on monotheism is evil; 2) they are Indians, they just happen to be Abrahamics because their ancestors were converted, doesn’t make them non-Indian; 3) make it a crime to have extra Indian political loyalties; 4) Islam or Christianity are and have to be subservient to political framework of India. If you don’t raise next generations of kids with these values, then Indian will be dismembered very soon.

  2. First of all, your problem definition is itself wrong as you are not placing any facts to support your argument. Let’s consider the facts
    1. Just google for list of “Terrorist organizations banned by the United Nations”. Out of the 108 terrorist organizations, 101 are Islamic organizations operating across 71 countries.
    2. The development funds given to J&K per capita is 10 times given to any other State. So the question of economic marginalization does not even arise.
    The real issue is of Islamic Separatism and this is not India specific problem.
    So what will Kautilya do ?
    1. Exactly what the government is doing…every Islamic Separatism movement is led by a approx 5 thousand enablers. Govt is identifying and capturing these enablers…however they have not yet reached the critical tipping yet.
    2. Raising the cost on Pakistan for this assymetrical warfare. In the last 4 years many steps have been taken to isolate Pakistan…it only has 2 supporters left in the international community..China and Turkey. USA and Saudi Arabia are no longer actively supporting Pakistan.

    Stop building the grievance narrative of the Kashmir as this is exactly what the Islamic Separatism feeds and journalists like you are actually enhancing the problem.

  3. Insurgency or no insurgency…. All kashmir is seems to be doomed. This is fight for water – the Indus -and control on the trade route. If India leaves, China and pak will occupy Kashmir. Kashmiris need to be practical and think like other Indian Muslims. At least here there is some sort of democracy. There is a court where they can be heard as long as they abide by law. In China and pak, you know what can happen.

  4. Open your ass to local militant you will be highly regarded.The writer , it appears has no clue of insurgencies-comparing North East,Punjab etc to the insurgency to Kashmir valley , clearly displays his ignorance.Rest not worth commenting

  5. Nitin ..I agree with you in principle … however, consider this :-
    1. Kautilya never had an exposure to Wahabi Islam.
    2. He never knew that disaffection could be continuously manufactured through MSM & SM ..even as you apply Sama & Dana.

    I therefore suggest that Sama & Dana should be supplemented by the following:-
    1. Well planned “reversing disaffection” campaign through MSM & SM.
    2. Subtle promotion of Sufi Islam in the valley ..especially south Kashmir.

    3. Visible development work in districts with least terrorist presence.

    4. Creating pro nation kashmiri hero’s for youngsters to look up to & emulate.

    4. Perhaps a movie on what Kashmir could have been less the terrorism & plus the pundits.

  6. Looks like the Author have a lack of understanding of what is at play in Kashmir. I wonder why people come up with opinions as if they are experts without any evidence to suggest their understanding of the problem. I suppose it was the same strategy that worked when the invaders attacked India a thousand years ago. I wonder why people develop selective blindness when it comes to understanding the problem. No one even identifies why Pakistan is interested in Kashmir, how can they then identify what the problem is, and if a solution is even possible.

    • This kind of low order thinking skills can be expected from a journalist but I am actually shocked to learn that the author is a founder of a Think-tank and also conducts courses on Strategic Thinking. Wow…doesn’t take much these days to be considered as an expert. We are doomed if this drivel can be proposed as genuine solution to the Kashmir problem.

  7. Very well analysed. It emphases the use of a policy of winning over the fence sitters and those influenced by the separatists rather than a muscular army control. This was expected of the BJP’s pointsman in J&K an RSS official. Right from the decision to have the nuclear test in Pokhran in 1998 to show our military superiority, Pakistan was quickly helped by China to develop their own nuclear deterrent. Our mistake lie in treating Kashmiris who are part of our own country as part of Pakistan. It is not surprising that Kashmiris saw the role of Ram Madhav supported by the Hindus of Jammu. Modi’s initial plan of heavy investments for development and job creation was a forgotten promise.
    Is Modi by his temperament capable of a change in his Policy for Kashmir sans force and a mellowed and practical policy to win over the young rebels to a normal life.

  8. Sad to admit but India has lost Kashmir. If after 70 years Kashmiris still do not want to live with India then all Kautilya says: Take Ladakh & Jammu, give valley to Pakistan and end this daily nonsense. If after giving up 220 million+ 200 million (Pakistan & Bangladesh) in 1947, India has prospered, getting rid of 5 million (Valley) will make India even stronger.

  9. The entire former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory and the the only possible solution to the Kashmir issue is the demilitarisation of the territory by Pakistan and India, both, so that the UN can hold a free and fair plebiscite in Kashmir! Militancy is secondary and it is in retaliation to the different forms of terrorism committed by India against the Kashmiris! Don’t blame Pakistan! We would never want our Kashmiri brothers to die, especially because Kashmir belongs to them only and it has to be returned back to them!

  10. Mufti Saheb was the right man to start doing this, with full support from the Centre. Instead of viewing the PDP – BJP government as something unnatural, driven by a mere desire for office, it should have been used to bring peace with Pakistan and complete normalcy in the Valley. That is the way forward, whenever it happens and whoever does it.

  11. How easy it sounds! Define the problems and seek resolve on structured lines. This is what the British and our Govts have been battling with ever since the recommendations of the “Glancy Commission” came. Thereafter Pandit’s “Roti Agitation” and Sheikh Abdulla’s call for “Muslim Dominance” in the state created the animocity against the rule and also against each others of the two major communities in the state way back in early 1990s. This was even before the seed of Pak on Indian soil was sown by Jinnah.
    Matter have further complicated by various atrocities against minorities in the state including targetted killings, rape & abductions, creating frae psychosis against the Pandits. Pak initiative to wrest control of kashmir on ‘Muslim state’ psyche fueling altogather an “Azad K” mindset cought their imaginations. Nehru’s various mishandlings of the J&K issues both within the country as well as internationally incl at UN further complicated the matters. In addition pak sponsored terror of various wings of Al-qaida and the recent concept of a greater ISIS caliphate for the Mislims have only added fuel to the fire. It is not simple at all. So defining the cause is not simple at all leave alone the possible solution based on it.

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