Tuesday, September 20, 2016

As the Sun Burns The Ground

On one level, Kashmir is a proxy war between Pakistan and India. But that isn't the only level
The conflict in Kashmir is not just between Pakistan and India, but also between militant groups in the region seeking autonomy from Indian rule. Those groups include Hizbul Mujahideen, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, which seeks independence for Kashmir, and Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a terrorist group with connections to Islamabad and the 2008 Mumbai attacks. 
However, sectarian divisions and political ideology only provides half the answer to the conflict in Kashmir. Why is Kashmir so important to India, Pakistan, and China?The answer is the glaciers and fresh water they provide to the region and to India. The glacial waters that flow through Kashmir provide water and electricity to a billion people in India. Pakistan also relies heavily on glacial waters flowing from the region to prop up its agricultural sector. 
With a growing population and increased need for electricity, India has looked to the region to develop more hydro facilities. Pakistan fears that India may divert water necessary for irrigation, and use water as a weapon against Pakistan.
Kashmir is thus a major national security issue for both nations, the control of which could pose an existential threat to the other.

“The government actually has a very narrow band of options, and even those are not without a certain amount of risk,” says Dhruva Jaishankar, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution in New Delhi. 
Covert action, such as cross-border raids on militant camps or training centres, could send a signal to Pakistan but would do little to cool public anger at home.India could also shell Pakistan positions across the disputed Kashmir border – as both sides have done in past years – at the risk of drawing retaliatory shelling and further weakening a 2003 ceasefire agreement. 
Airstrikes against Pakistani army posts or Jaish-e-Mohammad facilities are also a possibility, though would come with significant risk of casualties from Pakistan’s air-defence system, geared towards that very kind of Indian attack. 
“All options come with latent risks and latent costs, but the short answer is there are no good options, and if there were, they would have been explored already,” Jaishankar says. 
Yet if the Indian government can ride out the public anger, a restrained, diplomatic response might be its wisest route.

Perhaps conscientious voices in India can help point out a fundamental truth about the Kashmir conflict: irrespective of what the Indian government thinks Pakistan has done or is doing, the Kashmir dispute is rooted in a people’s genuine rejection of control by the state of India. Denying that is a hallmark of generations of Indian leaders, but it is a truth that has not changed.
The situation in the Valley at present is quite grim. Hence, the top priority has to be to defuse it, and all efforts at present should be directed towards that. Although the situation will come under control in due course, it will leave many scars which will take time and require extra efforts to heal. 
The most crucial issue is how the government of India should deal with separatist elements. Separatists in Kashmir include both pro-Pakistan and pro-independence elements – who have different agendas. Clubbing them together under the label ‘separatists’ and dealing with them as a single entity does not seem to be a wise step. The pro-Pakistan and pro-independence elements should be clearly identified and dealt with differently. The Supreme Court of India has also, in a different context, objected to loosely labelling any one ‘separatist’ and ‘terrorist’, and we should abide by that. 
As far as pro-Pakistan elements are concerned, efforts should be made to marginalise them by giving wide publicity to the treatment meted out to ethnic minorities in Pakistan. Explaining to Kashmiris how the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani regime treated Bengali Muslims and how it continues to treat Balochis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Muhajirs and even the people of PoK – especially Gilgit-Baltistan – will certainly weaken the hold of pro-Pak elements. There should be no room for any talks with these elements, nor should any facility be extended to them – other than those required by the rule of law. With regard to pro-independence elements, however, the government should be open to engaging with them if need be. Further, the fact that Islamabad is against independence and is striving only for the merger of the region with Pakistan should repeatedly be reiterated to them – thus highlighting  the fact that the Pakistani establishment has a totally different agenda.

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