Gerald H. Peiris, in an essay which is an abridged and up-dated version of Chapter 8 of G. H. Peiris: Political Conflict in South Asia (2013, a monograph published by the University of Peradeniya).
Information on the Indo-Pakistan conflict pertaining to Kashmir being widely circulated in the context of the recent upsurge of their mutual hostilities has a distinct pro-India bias, mainly because the bulk of international news that reaches us tends to be filtered through the media of mass communication in the global ‘West’. The present crisis in Kashmir is, of course, the latest episode of a complex saga recorded from many perspectives, with no heroes and villains, an abundance of zealotry, and countless victims of circumstances. What is attempted in this paper is to present a brief but objective portrayal of this conflict in order to forestall the possibility of our views, here in Sri Lanka, being influenced by prejudice and ill-informed pronouncements on rights and wrongs.
Roots of the Kashmir Dispute
The ‘Princely State’ of Kashmir – a kingdom placed under a hereditary monarchy owing allegiance to the Raj – as recognised by the British at the termination of their war against the Sikhs in the mid-19th century, encompassed largely uncharted territory of well over 100,000 square miles, a large part of it extending across the lofty Greater Himalayas and the Karakorum ranges towards the Tibetan high plateau. The spatial extent of the inhabited parts of the kingdom including the mountainous tribal tracts, however, would have covered no more than about 60,000 square miles. The resplendent Jhelum valley (‘Vale of Kashmir’), the heartland of the kingdom, and the submontane area south of the Pir Panjal range, are the main population concentrations of the Kashmir region.
Soon after the establishment of British rule over the Indus valley and the adjacent highlands tracts in the mid-19th century, the area that came to be designated the ‘Kingdom of Kashmir’ was placed under the control of a Dogra chieftaincy that had collaborated with the British in their conquest of the Punjab. The head of the chieftaincy, Gulab Singh, a Hindu, was elevated to the status of ‘Maharaja’.
Kashmir had all along been a conglomerate of culturally disparate principalities and tribal homelands over which the Sikh emperor Ranjit Singh has exercised a measure of control earlier in the century. Well over 80% of its population consisted of Muslims; and, according to a controverted claim by Asghar Ali Engineer (2000, Vol. 35 of the research journal ‘Economic and Political Weekly’), “Kashmiri Islam is a non-sectarian Sufi Islam which does not approve of narrow sectarian approaches”. Among the other prominent communities of the kingdom with distinctive identities were: the Kashmiri Brahmins (known as ‘Pundits’), important in the Vale of Kashmir more for their elite status than their numerical strength; the Mahayana Buddhist of theadakh region in the north; and several small communities of Shi’ite Muslims in the Kargil area, also in the north. Until the termination of colonial rule over the sub-continent, Kashmir enjoyed a semi-autonomous status, similar to that of the larger ‘Princely States’ of the British Indian Empire.
The general principles adhered to by the British regarding the future of the larger ‘Princely States’ such as Kashmir, as stipulated in the enactments pertaining to the ‘Transfer of Power’ were that, the decision of whether such a State should be allocated to India or to Pakistan should be made on the basis of: (a) religious composition of the population, (b) natural lines of communication, (c) spatial contiguity, (d) existing economic links, and (e) security considerations of the two new nations. Priority, however, was placed on the religious affiliation of the majority in a given area. What these principles meant in their application to Kashmir was that, with the overwhelming preponderance of Muslims in its population and geographical orientation towards the Pakistani territory, the kingdom (excluding, perhaps, its southern parts – the ‘Jammu’ area) should have been demarcated as a part of Pakistan. Why the Kashmir issue was not resolved by the Radcliff Commission in favour of Pakistan could be explained only with reference to the tremendous influence Jawaharlal Nehru had on decision-making by the departing British.
The large majority of ‘Princely States’ were absorbed through negotiation into either India or Pakistan. A few were forcibly annexed by India through what was referred to as ‘police operations’. There remained, however, the exceptions – Hyderabad (where a predominantly Hindu population was being ruled by a Muslim, Nawab), Bhopal and Jodhpur (relatively small Hindu majority enclaves within Indian territory but having Muslim rulers who wanted to accede their kingdoms to Pakistan), and, the largest of them all, Hari Singh’s Kashmir, the cession of which remained unresolved even at the dawn of Independence.
Statutorily, the decision on whether Kashmir should join India or Pakistan was in the hands of Hari Singh, the Maharaja of Kashmir since 1925. What he really desired was an independent domain of his own. The prospect of joining either India or Pakistan had no real appeal to the Maharaja because his relations with the nationalist leadership of both countries had hardly ever been cordial. In these circumstances, what Hari Singh hoped for was a deal with Jawaharlal Nehru for a ‘special status’ accorded to his monarchy within the Indian Union so that his autocratic power over the people of Kashmir and his legendry wealth would remain intact.
Prime Minister Nehru’s approach to the issue appears to have been guided largely by an intense sentimental attachment he had to Kashmir (evidently based on his ‘Kashmiri Pundit’ ancestry) which he often camouflaged with hazy references to “non-negotiable security concerns” of his country. Nehru’s dilemma about reaching a compromise with the Maharaja was that granting the requested ‘special status’ would have created in its wake a host of similar demands from the rulers other ‘Princely States’. There was, in addition, the risk (highlighted by Ganguly in an article published in 1997) that “…a Kashmir exit from the Indian Union would set off powerful centrifugal forces in other parts of the country”. Moreover, Nehru was also acutely aware of the fact that Hari Singh had hardly any popular support among his subjects, in contrast to Sheikh Abdullah – the head of the ‘All-Jammu & Kashmir Muslim Conference’ founded in 1932, and the most charismatic leader of the Kashmiri Muslims who, in fact, had worked closely with the All India Congress Party in the period leading up to the withdrawal of the British from the sub-continent. It seems likely that Abdulla’s preference for a union with India rested on his belief that his links with the Congress leadership would make it possible for him to work towards the concept of an ‘autonomous Kashmir’ after accession to India.
In the literature on the Kashmir conflict there are several mutually incompatible versions of how Hari Singh agreed to the accession of his Kingdom to India. Even the Indian claim that Hari Singh actually signed the ‘Instrument of Accession’ has been refuted. The government of Pakistan has all along claimed that Kashmir’s accession to India was, apart from being unlawful, a product of fraudulence, deception and conspiracy. Indeed, the official Indian version of the events which culminated in the formal accession (published by the Ministry of External Affairs in 2007), which constituted a point-by-point refutation of the Pakistani charges, does not find much support from the related conclusions by Alistair Lamb in his book (1991, 1994) – probably, the most impartial study available of this issue (see Addendum on p. 13). Needless to say, Lamb has been vehemently disputed by Indian scholars whose writings stress that: (a) the Partition of British India based on a Hindu-Muslim demographic dichotomy was a measure which the Indian leaders had agreed to with utmost reluctance, (b) that India as demarcated at the Partition continued to have a large Muslim minority – the second or third largest Muslim population in the world, and (c) that what had been demanded on behalf of the Kashmiri Muslims by their acknowledged leader Sheikh Abdullah was not cession to Pakistan, but an autonomous nation-state of their own.
Indo-Pakistan Wars over Kashmir
Barely a month after the formal end of the Raj in mid-August 1947, there was, first, the outbreak of a rebellion by Kashmiri Muslims against their monarch which could not be contained by the kingdom’s meagre security forces. The rebels soon received the support from groups of armed Pukhtun (alias Pathan) tribesmen from the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan infiltrating the northern and central parts of the kingdom. Pukhtun (or, as claimed by India, the Pakistani military) incursions were seen to be particularly ominous when they established control over the town of Muzzaffarabad, located at the gateway to the Vale of Kashmir.
At that stage Hari Singh appealed for an Indian military intervention. The Indian government responded with an indication that its assistance would be conditional on the Maharaja, with the consent of his Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah, signing the ‘Instrument of Accession’ of his kingdom to India. This condition, fulfilled on 25 October 1947, was closely followed by a large deployment of Indian troops in Kashmir, thus marking the onset of the first Indo-Pakistan War. The confrontation lasted over the next 14 months, and was brought to an end only with the declaration of a ceasefire mediated by the United Nations at the request of the two warring nations, and the arrival in Kashmir of a UN Peace-Keeping Force at the end of December 1948.
The Kashmiri territory under the control of the respective armed forces of India and Pakistan at the end of these hostilities, as demarcated by a ‘Line of Control’ (LOC) of their respective armies, has remained largely unchanged since that time, subject only to minor modifications representing the territorial gains and losses incurred by the two countries in subsequent ‘wars’. Thus (Sketch 1, below): The Vale of Kashmir, the area to its north including parts of the Ladakh and Saltoro ranges up to about the southern margins of the Siachen glacier, and the areas south of the Vale extending across the Pir Panjal range into the foothill zone of Jammu, representing an aggregate extent of about 54,500 sq. miles were placed under the control of India, and made to constitute the State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) of the Indian federation. The areas to the north and west of the LOC consisting of the so-called ‘Federally Administered Northern Areas’ (FANA) covering an extent of about 28,000 sq. miles, and ‘Azad Kashmir’ extending over about 5,100 sq. Miles – i.e. an aggregate of about 33,000 sq. miles – were placed under the control of Pakistan. The Aksai Chin area occupied by China in 1962, subject to the modifications made under the Sino-Pakistan treaty of that year, covering an area of about 14,500 sq. miles, was placed under China’s control.
Throughout the 1950s and the ‘60s Pakistan’s agitation and propaganda on the Kashmir dispute were based largely on the UN Ceasefire Resolution of 1949 which enunciated the principle of a plebiscite in Kashmir for the determination of its future status, and the UN Security Council Resolution of 1957 which, in substance, favoured the Pakistani claims and opposed India’s consolidation of its occupation of a large part of Kashmir.
The formalisation of India’s control over Jammu and Kashmir took the form of a series of constitutional and other changes that were backed by administrative and military measures. Thus, for example: (a) in 1952, India formally recognized Sheikh Abdullah as the legitimate ruler of J&K, but made it a part of the Indian Union; and a ‘Special Status’ facilitating greater autonomy to J&K than to other territories of India was granted through Article 370 of the Constitution; (b) in 1953 Sheikh Abdullah was evicted from office and imprisoned by Delhi because of his persistence with the campaign for a plebiscite in Kashmir as prescribed by the UN to determine the future of the former kingdom (Sheikh Abdullah remained incarcerated for 18 years ); (c) in 1956 J&K was made a constituent State of the Indian federation, with an accompanying announcement by Delhi that the LOC of 1949 will henceforth be regarded as the Indo-Pakistan boundary in the Kashmir area.
The Chinese invasion of the Ladakh area during the Sino-Indian Border War of 1962 aggravated the Kashmir dispute. It enhanced the strategic importance of the region for India’s security. Moreover, the Sino-Pakistan Agreement of 1962 which sought to formalize the Tibetan border between the two countries entailed China’s handing over to Pakistan a part of the Aksai Chin area which its armies had captured.
By the mid-1960s the upsurge of nationalist idealism and the vision of a resolute march towards peace and prosperity that accompanied India’s independence struggle had dissipated. The failure of the first three ‘Five-Year Plans’ to make a tangible economic impact was beginning to generate disillusionment regarding the future prospects of the nation. The Nehruvian policies in foreign affairs had also achieved only meagre success as made starkly evident by the Sino-Indian war of 1962 that make a mockery of Panchasīla (“Five Principles of Peaceful coexistence”) proclaimed three years earlier as the guidelines of relations between the two Asian giants. The death of Prime Minister Nehru in 1964 brought to the surface factional rivalries within the Congress Party that had remained dormant under his charismatic leadership. The choice of Lal Bahadur Shastri as Nehru’s successor was obviously a stop-gap arrangement meant to overcome the leadership struggles.
In Pakistan, with General Ayub Khan firmly in control of its military government, the sharp acceleration of economic growth (described by certain analysts as an “economic miracle”) and with external relations seemingly strengthened by its membership of the US-led ‘South-East Asia Treaty Organisation’ (SEATO), political milieu contrasted from those that prevailed in India during the mid-1960s.
When the foregoing conditions are taken into account, it seems clear that the outbreak of the second major Indo-Pakistan military confrontation in 1965 along the Line of Control (LOC) represented a Pakistani effort to utilize the state of debility in India’s polity to advance its claim over Kashmir. In the related writings there is consensus on the view that it was Pakistani aggression that triggered off the war, and that the military intrusion by Pakistan across the LOC towards the gateway to the Kashmir Valley in August that year (in the form of twin attacks code-named ‘Operation Gibraltar’ and ‘Operation Grand Slam’) was based on their expectation of generating among the Kashmiri Muslims a massive anti-Indian uprising. Such a popular upheaval did not take place probably because of the lack of enthusiasm among the people for a Pakistani occupation of Kashmir. The brief but bloody war, entailing thousands of casualties on both sides, ended in September 1965 mainly through super-power diplomatic intervention. Under the so-called ‘Tashkent Agreement’ between India and Pakistan signed in January 1966, the two armies withdrew to the pre-war LOC and the two nations pledged to refrain from further armed aggression.
Dramatic political changes witnessed within both India as well as Pakistan over the next few years were to have a profound impact on their later mutual relations. On the one hand, Indira Gandhi’s elevation to the office of Prime Minister following the death of Shastri in 1966 marked the commencement of a recovery of the Congress-led government of India from the post-Nehru chaos – a trend that gathered momentum with the consolidation of her power within the Congress Party and the consummate skill she displayed in handling some of the fissiparous forces within the Indian Union. Moreover, the enhancement of ties between India and the Soviet Union (formalised through ‘Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation’ signed on 9 August 1971) the proclaimed ‘non-alignment’ notwithstanding, provided India the assurance of non-intervention by either the United States or China in an Indian military confrontation with its regional rival. There were, in addition, the vestiges of economic buoyancy at least in the areas beginning to receive the impact of ‘Green Revolution’ technology. For Pakistan, on the other hand, the late 1960s was a time of deepening crisis. The Ayub Khan military regime was being steadily weakened by a series of factors such as the public resentment generated by the losses suffered at the 1965 war and what was widely perceived in the country as “capitulation” at Tashkent; the increasingly articulate and disruptive civilian opposition to military rule, which was being mobilized in the western segment of the country by the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) led by Zulfiker Ali Bhutto, and was being converted to a secessionist struggle in ‘East Pakistan’ by Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League; and, more important than all else, inter-ethnic strife and economic stagnation. The proclamation of martial law in March 1969 as a last ditch attempt by the aging and ailing dictator to protect his crumbling autocracy actually had the effect of hastening his demise brought about by none other than his own Martial Law Administrator, General Yahya Khan. The secession of ‘East Pakistan’ (Bangladesh) at the end of 1971 following the ignominious defeat of the Pakistani army by the Indian army and the ‘Mukhthi Bahini’ (East Pakistani armed militants) represented the death-blow to the military regime.
The foregoing transformations in the Indo-Pakistan power balance set the stage for the next major military confrontation between the two countries in which Kashmir was one of several theatres of war. It began in late 1971, concurrently with India’s direct intervention in the intensifying secessionist insurrection in ‘East Pakistan’. There was now a reversal of roles of the 1965 war, with India being the aggressor, intent, no doubt, on converting Pakistan’s internal turbulences to its geopolitical advantage. Responding to appeals from those spearheading ‘East Pakistan’s secessionist struggle, there was, first, a massive Indian troop build-up along the Indo-‘East Pakistan’ border in Bengal. This prompted Pakistan to launch on 3 December 1971 a series of air strikes on military targets in northwest India, aimed at diverting Indian attention from ‘East Pakistan’. It failed to achieve that objective. Instead, it evoked a devastating retaliatory attack by India across its north-western frontier, and an untrammelled Indian invasion of ‘East Pakistan’ which was aimed at supporting its ongoing ‘liberation struggle’. Pakistan soon succumbed under India’s military might, losing, according to an expatriate Pakistani writer (Tariq Ali, 1991), as much as a third of its army, half its navy, and a quarter of its air force. The unconditional surrender of Pakistani troops in the newly established nation-state of Bangladesh, and the incarceration of more than 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war by the Indian army added to Pakistan’s humiliation and agony.
The end of the ‘1971 Indo-Pakistan War’ was formalised through the ‘Simla Agreement’ signed in July 1972 by Indira Gandhi and Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. According to the agreement both governments undertook to “respect” the ceasefire line as it stood in December 1971 as the ‘Line of Control’ (sketch-map, below). This meant that, in Kashmir, India made minor territorial gains in the Kargil, Tithwal and Phillora areas, and Pakistan was permitted to hold on to a small locality it had occupied in the Chhamb area. India agreed to release all Pakistani prisoners of war, and both signatories agreed to grant recognition to Bangladesh. The agreement did not address the issue of boundary demarcation in the Ladhak-Saltoro-Karakoram area of northern Kashmir.
Perhaps the most significant impact of the war of 1971 was the confirmation of India’s ‘regional super-power’ status in South Asia. With the uncrowned “Empress of India” at the helm, and with the spectacular victory she had secured at the Lōk Sabha elections of 1971, the government of India had sufficient strength to enter the ranks of global ‘nuclear powers’ defying the threat of sanctions by the global superpowers concerned with safeguarding their exclusive capacity for ‘mass destruction’. In contrast, Pakistan, reeling under the impact of ignominious defeat, was to soon encounter debilitating ethnic and regional tensions – secessionist insurrections in the North-West Frontier Province and in Balochistan. From the other South Asian nations there was no challenge whatever to India’s regional supremacy.
On the Kashmir dispute, in November 1974 it became possible for Indira Gandhi to enter into an accord with Sheikh Abdullah whose incarceration she had terminated three years earlier. The accord, when stripped of its cosmetics, represented a further empowerment of the Delhi government in handling the insurrectionary forces in Kashmir, and a barely discernible dilution of the ‘Special Status’ granted to J&K under Article 370. Following this enforced rapprochement, Abdullah became the Chief Minister of J&K. Despite the occasional terrorist attack, the relative stability that prevailed thereafter facilitated tangible economic advances. According to the Indian journalist Tavleen Singh (article based on an in-depth study, published in 1995), at the end of the first five years of Abdullah’s incumbency, annual tourists arrivals in the Vale had soared from 175,000 to 700,000, the production of grain and fruits had increased, respectively, from 975,000 to 1,400,000 mt and 250,000 to 450,000 mt, and the income from handicrafts from Rs. 200,000 to 700,000.
Thus, for more than a decade after the Simla Agreement, an uneasy calm and a semblance of economic wellbeing prevailed over the State of J&K. From the viewpoint of the central government of India, the persistence of violence by Islamic militant groups in J&K and the intensifying ‘Khalistan Uprising’ in the adjacent State of Punjab, for both of which it held Pakistan directly responsible, political control of the state government of Kashmir became a more critical security consideration than ever before. Among the devices adopted by the Congress-led governments at this time in order to ensure such control were the forging of electoral pacts with Kashmiri ‘moderates’ and, allegedly, employing the large-scale presence of its security forces in the state to rig the elections to the state legislature. The latter was made easy by the boycott decrees issued at every election by the ‘All Parties Hurriat Conference’ (a.k.a. the ‘Hurriat’ – an umbrella organisation of Muslim political parties). According to a vivid portrayal by Tavleen Singh “…elections were held regularly but everyone knew the process was not so much one of election as selection. Only those candidates who had the blessings of Delhi ever won”.
Many critics believed that the Kashmiri insurrection of the late 1980s represented the impact of all these processes – i.e. the seemingly uncontrollable Khalistan Uprising in Punjab, the terrorist violence in Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistani hostilities, harsh counter-insurgency measures by the Indian security forces, and, above all, the subversion of electoral processes by the central government of India.
Beginning from the much publicised ‘Anantnag Massacre’ of 1986, insurrectionary violence raged in the Valley, especially in the districts of Srinagar, Baramulla, Tral, Anantnag and Pulwama. Islamic militants targeted their attacks mainly at the ‘Pundit’ community of central Kashmir. Hundreds of them perished, more than 200,000 were rendered homeless, and many ancient Hindu temples were desecrated or destroyed in a wave of murder, arson and pillage that lasted over several weeks. There is a belief among the Hindus of collusion between the terrorists and the J&K government led, at that time, by Chief Minister G. M. Shah. Media reports convey the impression of at least some of these terrorist attacks being impelled by brutalities committed by the security forces such as the gunning down of more than one-hundred unarmed civilians at Gawakadal in 1989.
The increasing tempo of violence in several parts of the Indian Federation – Kashmir, Punjab and the North-East – prompted the Delhi government to adopt the ‘Armed Forces Special Powers Act’ (AFSPA) of 1990 which vested on its security forces extraordinary (according to certain critics, “draconian”) powers in dealing with political upheavals and terrorism. A generalisation that could be made regarding the effectiveness of this enhancement of military powers is that, while it did achieve substantial success in Punjab, and its impact on turbulences in the North-East did not represent failure, in J&K the repression it entailed evoked such intense resentment that it brought about an intensification of violence and instability. Thus, the long-term trend since the early 1990s has been one of escalating levels of violence within J&K. The Muslim-majority areas of the state, with some collaboration from the local people, continued to serve as a conduit for external terrorist threats to India.
There have, of course, been the periodic fluctuations of this trend. In 1996 elections to the State legislature were conducted after the Indian army had established a measure of control over political violence. The ‘National Conference’ led by Farooq Abdullah (who had succeeded his father Sheikh Abdullah in 1982) formed the J&K government in coalition with the Indian National Congress. This brought about a brief spell of near-normality in the ‘Vale’ and the Jammu areas. The relative calm ended with the outbreak of the ‘Kargil War’ in the summer of 1999.
Several published accounts (of which there are many) of the circumstances that culminated in the Kargil War begin with a reference to the fact that the ‘Simla Agreement’ of 1972 (referred to above) had left the ‘Line of Control’ in the Karakorum-Saltro Ranges undefined, permitting Pakistani troop movements in that area, often in the guise of “mountaineering expeditions”. These intrusions were followed by an Indian military campaign codenamed ‘Operation Mēghdoot’ launched in March 1984 which enabled India to gain effective control over a large part of the Siachen glacier, a geomorphic formation constituting a strategically important mountain pass located at the territorial convergence of India’s Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan’s Azad Kashmir and China’s ‘Autonomous Region’ of Xinjiang.
In May 1999 Pakistan attempted to establish a series of military encampments in the rugged and desolate mountainous tracts overlooking the Siachen pass. This was seen in Delhi as a sinister military intrusion that disrupted the status quo, and as an attempt to sever the highway link between Sri Nagar and the township of Leh located in Indian Ladakh. This, was also interpreted by the Indian defence authorities as a step towards expanding Pakistani territory in Ladakh. Accordingly, India responded with a massive military retaliation that took the form of aerial bombardment and artillery strikes on Pakistani military encampments, and the induction of a large army into the disputed area already held by its forces. Over the next three months there occurred fierce clashes between the two sides in the course of which India gradually gained the upper hand. By mid-July, Pakistani troops had been driven back well beyond the ill-defined frontier. The war, despite heavy losses on both sides (caused by frostbite as much as bullet wounds, it is said) resulted in India establishing firm military control over the entire Siachen area. Its greater impact was, of course, the further embitterment of Indo-Pakistan relations.
Soon after the Kargil War there was once more a barely perceptible lull in terrorist strikes within J&K. This was a prelude to an unexpected unilateral ceasefire by some of the Islamic militants, followed by the usual ‘kite-flying’ and preliminary communication in the course of which there emerged a spectrum of mutually irreconcilable negotiating stands.
Multiplicity of Conflicting Stances
At one end of the spectrum were certain terrorist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taibyya (LeT) that were not associated with the ceasefire. They took the stand that negotiation is futile, unless it is tripartite involving representatives of India, Pakistan and the “freedom fighters”. What the groups that had pioneered the ceasefire declaration (mainly Hizbul Mujahideen and Harakat-ul Mujahideen) demanded was an internationally monitored plebiscite conducted in Kashmir without the presence of the Indian army designed to ascertain what the Kashmiri people really desired. The negotiation stance of Farooq Abdullah, leader of the ‘National Conference’, was that Kashmir should be permitted to revert back to the 1948-1953 status in which Delhi’s authority would prevail only over J&K’s foreign affairs, defence and inter-state communication. Islamabad did not endorse any position which deviated from the principle of Kashmir being a part of Pakistan. Delhi rejected all these demands, reiterating the non-negotiability of India’s sovereign rights over J&K. Needless to say, serious negotiations never got off the ground. There was, once again, an upsurge of terrorist strikes and retaliatory law-enforcement violence that persisted well beyond the turn of the millennium.
It was at this stage that the LeT emerged in strength to become the deadliest among the Islamic terrorist groups of the region. Gruesome acts of violence for which the LeT (sometimes in collaboration with other terrorist outfits like the JeM) is believed to be responsible are: the massacres of civilians (of the ‘Pundit’ clan) at Wandhana (Kashmir) and Soshur Samachar (Jammu) in 1998, Chittisinghpur (Kashmir) in 2000, Kuluchak in 2001, Madimarg in 2003, and Varanasi (Bihar) in 2005, and Doda (Kashmir) in 2006; the attacks on the Red Fort (2000) and in the precincts of the Lōk Sabha (2001); several bombings of commuter trains and “serial blasts” in Mumbai; and, the most devastating of them all, the multi-pronged attack on downtown Mumbai on 26 November 2008.
There is no doubt that throughout this period it was the massive deployment of military and paramilitary forces by the central government of India that kept the insurrectionary groups in J&K at bay. According to estimates furnished in the ‘Jane’s Sentinel’ (a UK-based intelligence compendium, 2002: 216), by early 2000, Indian military manpower permanently stationed in the state is likely to have been 300,000-400,000, not counting the strong J&K police forces operating under military command. Against the backdrop of frequent terrorist attacks, the large-scale presence of an army vested with ‘emergency powers’ (under the ASFPA, referred to above) has all along had a profound impact on civilian life. It is not possible to ascertain the credibility of reports on Indian army atrocities frequently broadcast by the Pakistan media and about which certain ‘human rights’ outfits maintain a cacophony of protest. An independent analyst of electoral politics in J&K have asserted that recent elections to its state legislature which many Indian observers consider as representing a successful steps towards democracy have, in fact, been “polls conducted under the shadow of 700,000 Indian guns”. They refer in particular to “threats, intimidation, arbitrary arrests and widespread rigging” by military personnel, acting at the behest of the government of India, and its electoral ally, the ‘National Conference’ of J&K.
Terrorism in Kashmir: Internal and External Facets
More than one-hundred militant groups are believed to operate in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Quite often, their identity markers and their specific affiliations are indistinct. They are known to operate either individually or in tandem with other groups. Those that have often appeared in the limelight of international news for their terrorist attacks in the past two decades are: Hizbul Mujahideen (HM – “Freedom Fighters of God”), Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM – “Holy War Movement”), Harakat-ul-Ansar (HuA – “Supporters of Holy War”), Lashkar-e-Taibyya (LeT – “Army of the Pure”), and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM – “Army of Mohammed”).
Most of these groups came into prominence after the outbreak of the Kashmiri secessionist insurrection in 1986. For instance, the HuM made its presence felt in J&K after the Soviet-Afghan War that ended in 1989. It brought with it a large supply of arms and manpower from the Afghanistan conflict. The HuM merged with the HuA in 1993 to become the most feared terrorist group during the early years of the insurrection. It is believed to have been involved in some of the bomb attacks in Indian cities that followed the destruction of the Babri Mosque at Ayōdhya in 1992. Throughout that decade, and even thereafter, it conducted sporadic attacks on Hindu communities in the Kashmir Valley and the Jammu area, launched random guerrilla strikes on Indian security forces, disrupted essential services, carried out raids and abductions, and, in 1999, hijacked the Air India Flight 814 in a successful blackmail operation against the government of India.
According to ‘Jane’s Sentinel’ (2002:245) and other sources, the larger among these terrorist groups are ‘multi-national’ in composition – their cadres including fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Yeman, Sudan, Saudi Arabia etc. They receive funds and other forms of support from some of the oil-rich countries in West Asia, and, allegedly, clandestine sponsorship from the government of Pakistan. Some of these groups have links with extremist Islamic outfits in India like the proscribed ‘Students’ Islamic Movement of India’, and of West Asia such as the ‘Al Qaeda’ and the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’ (ISIS).
Like many other terrorist groups of the region, they engage in clandestine transactions in narcotics and arms, and have fraternal contact with rebel outfits elsewhere – especially in South- and Southeast Asia. For instance, as shown by an Indian analyst (cited in Peiris, 2002: 110) in 1994, the HuA mobilized the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the delivery of a shipment of weapons from Pakistan to the Moro rebels in southern Philippines and, in return, supplied the LTTE a consignment of Surface-to-Air Missiles.
The latest upsurge of violent conflict in Kashmir was triggered off by the killing of the commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen in the course of security operations of the Indian army in July 2016. From Indian perspectives the mass protests that ensued were so ominous that the retaliation directed by Delhi under the cover of a protracted curfew imposed throughout the Vale of Kashmir has killed and injured many civilian inhabitants of the area. The attack last week on the Indian army base at Uri, evidently by ‘Jaish-e-Mohammed’ infiltrators from across the LOC, causing heavy damage including the killing of 18 Jawans has been such an enormous loss that Prime Minister Modi has pledged to spearhead a diplomatic campaign to isolate Pakistan in the international community, branding it as an “exporter of terrorism”. I find this display of outrage somewhat tragicomic when I recollect the same commodity being exported from India across Palk Strait in far greater abundance in the early 1980s, followed by intimidatory diplomatic cum military interventions, thus setting in motion armed conflict sustained over almost three decades; and, thereafter, the callous disregard of the maritime rights of Sri Lanka.
There is no way out of the Kashmir imbroglio. Various ‘conflict resolution’ proposals (extracted from many writings, and their essence outlined below) are hardly ever accorded even serious thought.
- The plebiscite proposal the UN (implicitly reiterated by the most recent UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon.
- Farooq Abdullah’s proposal that Kashmir be permitted to revert back to the status it had in 1948-1953.
- That the LOC should be formally recognised as a segment of the Indo-Pakistan boundary, patrolled either jointly by the two countries or by an external agency, with the areas adjacent to the LOC demilitarised by both countries.
- Granting ‘special autonomy’ (whatever that means) to a unit consisting of 6 Districts in the Vale of Kashmir which presumably constitute an “exclusive homeland” of Kashmiri Muslims within India.
- The establishment of a small independent nation-state of Kashmir consisting of the entire Vale of Kashmir and a part of the Pakistan-controlled Kashmir (i.e. 8 districts in Azad Kashmir).
As noted earlier, Pakistan’s claim to Kashmir (or at least the Vale of Kashmir and the mountainous territory to its north) on the basis of the guidelines of the ‘Partition’ of British India in 1947 are irrefutable on the basis of principles that were applied to the partition of British India in 1947. There could hardly be any doubt that in a plebiscite as prescribed by the United Nations, the overwhelming majority of Kashmiri people will vote against the continued occupation of the ‘Kashmir segment’ of the State of Jammu & Kashmir. Likewise, the rationalisation of the claim that Kashmir (as, indeed, much of the territory apportioned out to Pakistan by the departing British), was within the larger pre-modern empires that had their core areas in the Indo-Gangetic plain, and the control of Kashmir is vitally necessary to India’s security do not lack substance, although how the Kashmir segment of the terrestrial frontier of India could be of greater security concern to Delhi than the other terrestrial frontiers is not quite clear. However, what the experiences of Indo-Pakistan dispute stretching over the past 70 years illustrate more clearly than all else is the futility of repetition of these discordant stances however well embellished they are with academic sophistry or strident rhetoric, from the viewpoint of making it possible for the people of Kashmir to live in peace.
There are certain obvious considerations that tend to be ignored in the heat of debate. One of these is that in ‘Kashmir’, excluding the ‘Jammu Districts’ (i.e. roughly, the areas south of the Pir Panjal range), 97% of the population in the India-controlled areas, and 99% of population in the Pakistan-controlled areas are Muslims. Another is the existence of a persuasive body of evidence indicating a preference of the majority of people in these areas for an autonomous political unit of their own. The third is that an independent Kashmir will not, in any conceivable way, be a loss to the people of either India or Pakistan from perspectives of prestige, security or economic benefits.
There is, in addition, the grim reality that those who hold the reins of government in Delhi or Islamabad cannot afford to grant concessions towards meeting the demands and aspirations of the Kashmiri people, and yet survive in elected position of power. This is essentially why Kashmir will remain a potentially explosive trouble-spot in Asia from which terrorism cannot be eradicated. In August 2013, while tentative attempts at rapprochement were being made by the leaders of India and Pakistan, the head of the ‘United Jihad Council’ an umbrella organisation fighting against Indian rule in the disputed territory, declared that thousands of militants would return (to Kashmir) from Afghanistan when the combined forces of NATO complete their withdrawal from that turbulent country by the end of 2014, and that: “The coming months and years will see a tremendous surge in Mujahideen activities in Indian Kashmir”. What one could realistically hope for is that, with nuclear weapons in the arsenals of both India as well as Pakistan, their deterrent effect would remain the strongest safeguard for an Indo-Pakistani détente which could withstand the shocks of extremist violence.
The correspondence between Maharaja Hari Singh and Lord Mountbatten (the first Governor General of the Dominion of India) which culminated in the request made by the Maharaja in 1947 for an Indian military intervention to suppress the Kashmiri rebellion is reproduced below. It indicates, among other things, that Mountbatten’s acceptance of Hari Singh’s ‘Instrument of Accession’ to India was temporary and conditional – ‘temporary’ until normal conditions are restored in Kashmir; and ‘conditional’ on the outcome of an inquiry on the will of the Kashmiri people. This was to be reiterated by the UN prescription of a ‘plebiscite’ referred to in the text (p. 3).
The Maharaja of Kashmir’s letter to the Governor-General of India, Lord Mountbatten, on October 26, 1947 and the Governor-General’s letter in reply dated October 27, 1947. – 26th October 1947
My Dear Lord Mountbatten,
I have to inform your Excellency that a grave emergency has arisen in my State and request immediate assistance of your Government. As your Excellency is aware the State of Jammu and Kashmir has not acceded to either the Dominion of India or to Pakistan. Geographically my State is contiguous to both the Dominions. It has vital economic and cultural links with both of them. Besides my State has a common boundary with the Soviet Republic and China. In their external relations the Dominion of India and Pakistan cannot ignore this fact. I wanted to take time to decide to which Dominion I should accede, whether it is not in the best interest of both the Dominions and my State to stand independent, of course with friendly and cordial relations with both. I accordingly approached the Dominions of India and Pakistan to enter into a standstill agreement with my State. The Pakistan Government accepted this arrangement. The Dominion of India desired further discussion with representatives of my Government. I could not arrange this is view of the developments indicated below. In fact the Pakistan Government under the standstill agreement are operating Post and Telegraph system inside the State. Though we have got a standstill agreement with the Pakistan Government, that Government permitted steady and increasing strangulation of supplies like good, salt and petrol to my State. Afridis, soldiers in plain clothes, and desperadoes, with modern weapons, have been allowed to infilter into the State at first in Poonch area, then in Sialkot and finally in mass in the area adjoining Hazara district on the Ramkote side. The result has been that the limited number of troops at the disposal of the State had to be dispersed and thus had to face the enemy at several points simultaneously that is has become difficult to stop the wanton destruction of life and property and looting. The Mahoora Power House which supplies the electric current to the whole of Srinagar has been burnt. The number of women who have been kidnapped and raped makes my heart bleed. The wild forces thus let loose on the State are marching on with the aim of capturing Srinagar, the Summer Capital of my Government, as a first step to over running the whole State.
The mass infiltration of tribesmen drawn from the distant areas of the NWF Province coming regularly in Motor Trucks using Mansehra-Muzaffarbad road and fully armed with up-to-date weapons cannot possibly be done without the knowledge of the Provincial Government of the NWF Province and the Government of Pakistan. In spite of repeated appeals made by my Government no attempt has been made to check these raiders or stop them from coming to my State. In fact both the Pakistan Radio and Press have reported these occurrences. The Pakistan Radio even put out a story that a Provincial Government has been set up in Kashmir. The people of my State both the Muslims and non-Muslims generally have taken no part at all. With the conditions obtaining at present in my State and the great emergency of the situation as it exists I have no option but to ask for help from the Indian Dominion. Naturally they cannot send the help asked for by me without my State acceding to the Dominion of India. I have accordingly decided to do so and I attach the Instrument of Accession for acceptance by your Government. The other alternative is to leave my State and my people to freebooters. On this basis no civilised government can exist or be maintained. This alternative I will never allow to happen so long as I am the Ruler of the State and I have life to defend my country. I may also inform Your Excellency’s Government that it is my intention at once to set up an Interim Government and ask Sheikh Abdulla to carry the responsibilities in this emergency with my Prime Minister. If my State has to be saved immediate assistance must be available at Srinagar. Mr. Menon is fully aware of the situation and he will explain to you if further explanation is needed.
In haste and with kindest regards.
Reply from Governor-General, India, Delhi,
dated October 27, 1947
My Dear Maharaja Sahib,
Your Highness’s letter, dated the 26th October has been delivered to me by Mr. V.P. Menon. In the special circumstances mentioned by Your Highness, my Government have decided to accept the accession of Kashmir State to the Dominion of India. Consistently with their policy that, in the case of any State where the issue of accession has been the subject of dispute, the question of accession should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of the State, it is my Government’s wish that, as soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir and her soil cleared of the invader, the question of the State’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people. Meanwhile, in response to Your Highness’s appeal for military aid, action has been taken today to send troops of the Indian Army to Kashmir to help your own forces to defend your territory and to protect the lives, property and honour of your people. My Government and I note with satisfaction that your Highness has decided to invite Sheikh Abdulla to form an Interim Government to work with your Prime Minister.
Mountbatten of Burma.
Gerald H Peiris, “Introducing Political Conflicts in South Asia,” 6 May 2014, https://thuppahis.com/2014/05/06/introducing-political-conflicts-in-south-asia/
KM de Silva. “Political Conflict in South Asia —An Incisive Overview, 18 February 2014, https://thuppahis.com/2014/02/18/11899/
Swati Parisha, “Women as Perpetrators, Planners and Patrons of Militancy in Kashmir,” 11 September 2011, https://thuppahis.com/2011/09/12/women-as-perpetrators-planners-and-patrons-of-militancy-in-kashmir/
Padma Rao Sundarji, “India’s Double Standards pinpointed by An Indian,” 6 April 2016, https://thuppahis.com/2016/04/06/indias-double-standards-pinpointed-by-an-indir/
In the wee hours of 29 September, the Indian army conducted a ‘surgical strike’ on terror launch pads ‘along’ the LoC, announced DGMO Ranbir Singh, reading out from a prepared statement at a presser. He was accompanied by Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup. This operation was in response to the terrorist strikes on Indian soil, including the ones in Poonch and Uri on 11 and 18 of September respectively, Singh said.
The DGMO’s announcement triggered a euphoric phase among Indians who were desperately seeking vengeance for the killings of jawans and wanting a clear message sent to Pakistan. Everyone — the Opposition parties, bureaucrats, industry and the aam aadmi — lauded the Narendra Modi government’s political will. Every Indian felt exalted by the reinvigorated feeling of patriotism that united everyone against our one sure common threat: Pakistan.
At the presser, the DGMO said the action was limited to militant camps and not Pakistani Army outposts, adding that India doesn’t plan any more such attacks unless provoked. This was said with the idea of not escalating the tension between India and Pakistan and also to offer a face-saver to Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistani Army.
Jingoism all around
But, what followed were days of jingoism and chest-thumping. BJP leaders across the country celebrated as if the Modi government had just won a full-fledged war over Pakistan. They narrated stories of how Modi’s unprecedented determination and political will made something finally possible that was seemingly unthinkable in the past. Social media patriots worked overnight from their living rooms to escalate a cyber war with their Pakistani counterparts.
The magnitude of hype and hoopla over the “surgical strikes” was such that some BJP leaders even projected this — a matter of national security — as the party’s trump card for the state elections. Posters put up by the BJP and its on-off ally Shiv Sena in UP and Punjab after the army’s surgical strikes portrayed Modi as Lord Ram, aiming his weapon at Nawaz Sharif, Raavan. The soldier who actually fought this fight couldn’t find a place on the poster though.
Then there was a comment from Defence Minister Manohar Parikar. “Indian troops were like Hanuman who did not quite know their prowess before the surgical strikes,” Parrikar said.What was supposed to be an important covert military operation suddenly found itself morphed into a political tool. What worsened the situation was the excessive jingoism on TV news channels. Some TV anchors appeared to wage a war across the LoC from their air-conditioned studios.
Often, they appointed themselves as new age icons of patriotic, nationalistic ideals. The media — that should be a dispassionate observer — started increasingly using words like ‘martyred’ instead of ‘killed’ for soldiers in its reports and often constructed ‘stories’ that weren’t true to the facts. The excessive jingoism turned into rather imaginative — rather than fact-based — reporting. Thus, we saw tweets and reports about how over “50 Pakistanis were killed during the surgical strikes across LoC” and how “two terrorists” were ‘neutralised’ at Baramulla even as the soldiers shooting into the darkness themselves didn’t have a clue about what was happening on the ground.
There was no official confirmation for any of these killings that supposedly took place during the media surgical operations. But it is always easy to pull out a ticker flashing at the bottom of a TV screen or to delete a tweet. Various arms of the media also vied with each other to take the army’s Special Forces as far as they possibly could — from just across the LoC to two or three kilometres into PoK. A combination of jingoism and poorly-sourced reports followed.
But the result of all this high drama and political over-hype on a subject of national security took matters to such an extent that the army operation became the subject of unwarranted scrutiny. The fact that the DGMO presser and subsequent comments from the government offered no details of the surgical operation to media provided fodder to speculation. One cannot rule out selective leaks of information from army or government sources to the media, but most of these were self-contradictory.
Things changed dramatically since then.
The aam aadmi on the street and in front of TV screens didn’t know where these details emerged from. This changed the initial euphoria among the aam aadmiabout the surgical strike to a state of confusion and, later, doubt. Modi-haters on social media soon jumped into action on the theory that the surgical strikes were yet another case of ‘Modi jhumla‘. When the TV channels too ran out of ‘patriotic’ angles, they shifted the core focus to the truth of the claim — whether the surgical strikes took place or not. The idea was to keep the viewer glued to the TV screen somehow. Even as the army maintained its dignified silence, the season of denials and counter-claims over what was originally a matter of national security, kicked off in its political courts and TV shows.
How the government lost the plot
By letting the DGMO announce the military’s surgical strike and totally staying away from the scene, the Modi government started the Uri payback episode on a strong note with calculated moves. The political decision to use the army only to strike at specific ‘terror launch pads’ without inflicting damage to the Pakistani military establishment, communicating the details of the strike in an official capacity to the Pakistani Army and giving a clear message that India isn’t a war-hungry nation, but wouldn’t tolerate acts of terror on its soil, sent out strong signals to the world that India is a responsible democracy and a strong state.
Will it be an exaggeration to say that from a heroic act by the Indian Army, the ‘surgical’ strikes’ suddenly became the butt of jokes for social media warriors and political blame-gamers?
But the government lost the plot subsequently in two stages:
First, when it absolutely failed to keep a check on the vague — often contradictory — information going out in the media from ‘sources’ and through possible selective leaks. When jingoistic folks started coming up with a new narrative every other day on behalf of the army, the Modi government found itself caught in a dilemma. It didn’t know how to handle the situation. There were two sides to this problem of multiple narratives and later, denials — the political repercussions among the aam aadmi who was initially euphoric about Modi’s 56-inch chest after ‘Uri revenge’ and the other, when the world too began to murmur about the exact nature of India’s surgical strikes, although this wasn’t stated publicly.
The second stage came when the government failed to face the questions on surgical strikes from politicians with maturity and tactics and, instead, let its ministers attack the questioners with aggression and bitterness.As noted in an earlier article, when the likes of Sanjay Nirupam, Arvind Kejriwal and former Congress minister P Chidambaram raised questions on the veracity of the surgical strikes, the government and the BJP political leadership failed to face those with balance (or even to simply ignore them), instead resorting to jingoism using hyperbole. Take a look at Union minister Uma Bharti‘s response to this:
“Those leaders who say that if Pakistan is demanding evidence about the surgical strike, they should be given the evidence; such people should take the citizenship of Pakistan,” Bharti told reporters in Pune.
Here was where they made a mistake: When the Pakistani Army went into denial mode from the first day on India’s claims of surgical strikes, it was an expected reaction. That’s because everyone knows what Pakistan is. But that wasn’t the case when questions were raised in a democracy with a multipolar political setup. The questions were not on whether the strikes took place, but on the political narrative that followed. The entire operation was portrayed by BJP leaders as the first-of-its-kind in the Indian Army’s history, while former generals and a former home minister said that wasn’t the case.
When the media jumped in to follow-up comments from the Kejriwals and Nirupams, their questions undoubtedly gained more legitimacy. The crux of the discussions suddenly changed to “Did the surgical attacks take place?” from “How India smartly responded to Uri” or “What should be done with Pakistan next?”. The growing group of naysayers forced the army to finally share the video of the surgical strikes with the government, something it needn’t have done.
Will it be an exaggeration to say that from a heroic act by the Indian Army, the ‘surgical’ strikes’ suddenly became the butt of jokes for social media warriors and political blame-gamers? Clearly, the government shouldn’t have let the situation degrade to this level and should have dealt with its own ministers on chest-thumping as well as naysayers more carefully by explaining what it can reveal on the operations and what it cannot for reasons of national security.
Modi entered the scene quite late when he warned leaders in his party leaders not to thump their chests so loudly over the surgical attacks.
But it was too late by then.
The damage was already done.