After two days of roundtable discussions in Srinagar late last month, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to offer the locals his sympathy and understanding.
“I do realize that the people of the state are put to a certain degree of inconvenience because of the prevailing security situation,” said Singh, perhaps referring to attacks that killed hundreds of Jammu and Kashmir residents in the weeks leading up to his visit. “It is our collective responsibility to create an atmosphere where the people of the state can be free from the fear of oppression and terrorist activities and can go about their normal lives like their fellow countrymen.”
In the two-plus years of the current peace process we have witnessed exaggerations, misstatements, aspersions, and near falsehoods tossed off by all sides. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf speaks of flexibility and seeks improved Indo-Pak relations while maintaining Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) support for militants and incursions and the various Jammu and Kashmir political leaders offer up conflicting proposals for autonomy and sovereignty and seem to stand on shifting ground.
But perhaps none had been as misplaced and oafish an understatement as this. If the frequent and predominantly deadly attacks of the past few months are any indication, the prevailing security situation is merely a lack thereof, and, in making a stable atmosphere “our collective responsibility,” Singh, although he did mention the possibility of a greater police presence, partially sloughed the primary governmental burden of domestic security.
The statement was representative of the prime minister’s entire Kashmir policy and as he continued his May 25th speech and hit the usual Kashmir talking points – reviving the economy, assisting those who have suffered, improving governance, managing and reversing displacement, and improving Indo-Pak relations – a question arose: Does he consider Jammu and Kashmir part of India? New Delhi has long sought to maintain the status quo, but in recent years seems to view this most northerly state as something of a nuisance – an awesomely beautiful yet hopeless and inscrutable land where chaos reigns and the outlook is permanently bleak, a world apart from their new India, the India of the exploding economy and the limitless future, the India destined to be a world power. Perhaps Singh and other politicians and leaders regard the Himalayas as a shield of sorts, high, deep, and broad enough to keep the trouble out. Perhaps they’re hoping the locals, under the onslaught of unpredictable and increasingly deadly attacks, will return to India’s embrace, as Karan Singh, the last Kashmiri maharaja, did almost 60 years ago. Why else would they not respond more robustly to the brazen attacks of the past few weeks? The suicide bomber that crashed into a military convoy, injuring 20; the grenade attacks across Srinagar and on two tourist buses that killed dozens and injured over one hundred, threatening the all-important tourism industry; and on and on. Why don’t Indian forces aggressively patrol the more attack-riddled areas like Doda and Srinagar? Why don’t intelligence services analyze militants’ strategies and devise tactical plans to defend against incidents such as the recent policeman-disguised attack on Congress in Srinagar? To the April massacre of nearly 40 Hindus in Doda and Udhampur Singh responded, “people of Kashmir have rejected and rebuffed terrorists repeatedly.” The statement itself is dubious and the underlying assumption – that Kashmiris can and should take care of themselves – is risible policy.
In no other part of the developed or developing world would a leader respond so lightly to such terrorist aggression. The Kashmir situation is unique, to be sure, and requires a delicate hand, but a citizenry needs to know it will be protected. For if they are not there is no predicting how they might cast their lot, and with Kashmiris – a particularly diverse and potentially fickle bunch – almost anything is possible. A feeling of betrayal would be understandable.
With the burden of progress squarely on the shoulders of the three key players, why would Singh not work to develop Kashmir and to further the peace process? Although the US-Indo relationship has achieved a new coziness following President George W. Bush’s March visit, New Delhi should not look to its new business and nuclear energy partner for help solving Kashmir. In a not so subtle intimation, Bush offered his support for a tripartite solution on Kashmir while in Delhi – suggesting that after decades of fruitlessness, America might be hoping to wash its hands of the sticky problem. After Pakistan called Indian leaders out for their recalcitrance on Kashmir earlier this year, Singh again pointed to Pakistan’s support for terror infiltrations while calling for a wide-ranging peace treaty and offering an openness to “pragmatic, practical solutions” on Kashmir. Neither side has made any significant strides since.
In his defense, Singh did take two positive strides at the close of the late May roundtable. He offered, for the first time, the possibility of some autonomy for the state, and created five working groups as a means to facilitate communication between Kashmiri political groups, India, and Pakistan, to revive the local economy, and to improve local governance. Additionally, Singh’s early May meeting with All Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders yielded positive strides towards continuing talks. But these measures address only one of this Gordian knot’s three tangles, the concerns of Kashmiris themselves. In regards to relations with Pakistan and Kashmiri security the prime minister has fallen short, and what follows are my recommendations to solve the famously intractable and divisive conflict and thus greatly increase South Asian stability.
Security in Jammu and Kashmir
Prime Minister Singh must first condemn all recent attacks on civilians, tourists, and government and military personnel in the strongest terms and beef up security in the most frequently attacked areas, such as Doda and Srinagar. Some of the 70,000 Indian troops massed near Line of Control regions should be shifted to where they can be put to better use, and the police presence increased. Additionally, New Delhi must reach out to Jammu and Kashmir leaders in assist their help in understanding, avoiding, and responding to terrorist attacks and their perpetrators – hopefully determining involvement of Pakistani-supported militias. Perhaps most importantly, Singh needs to commit to developing Kashmir; improving the local economy will create jobs and prosperity and greatly decrease the likelihood of Kashmiris turning to separatism. If you love your homeland you do not destroy it, unless it has become a wasteland.
Confidence-building measures like opening bus and train lines, mid-level meetings, and screening Bollywood films in Lahore are all well and good, but any real progress between India and Pakistan is unlikely without top-level face-to-face meetings between Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Singh. The problem, of course, is motivation: while Musharraf has the possible gain of greater Kashmiri autonomy and even territory, Singh dithers because, the theory goes, he has only land and people and resources to lose. Yet if they are India’s, as New Delhi would argue, then he has everything to gain. If he could secure the terminally unstable Vale of Kashmir, turn around the local economy and bring peace and stability to the region for the first time in over half a century Singh would be widely and rightly revered. Additionally, he would be saving thousands of lives. Is this not reward enough? If not the Indian president is in the wrong business.
Ready to negotiate, Musharraf has said that violence will not solve the problem of Kashmir and that Pakistan is willing to accept any proposal that is acceptable to Kashmiris. This is the perfect opportunity for Singh to commit wholeheartedly to securing and developing Jammu and Kashmir while initiating a series of talks with the Pakistani president and Kashmiri leaders.
Peace and stability will not come overnight, but neither are they entirely out of sight. They require the very quality on which India was founded, which also happens to be the very thing Singh seems to have in short supply: strong leadership skills.