A General Assessment

Former Army Chief, General NC Vij’s book The Kashmir Conundrum: The Quest for Peace in a Troubled Land, published by HarperCollins offers a ringside view of how top decision-makers see Kashmir, writes Syed Suhail Yaqoob

General N C Vij. Pic: Fayaz Kabli

General NC Vij’s book The Kashmir Conundrum published recently was hugely reviewed. An experienced General, who headed the Indian Army between 2003 and 2005, his timely book helps to understand how decision-makers see Kashmir.

The book is divided into twelve chapters and covers almost every happening in Jammu and Kashmir since 1947.  It includes topics on issues like the historical background of the Kashmir issue, the strategic position of Gilgit-Baltistan and the wrongs carried out in Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK). Besides, it includes issues like the nexus between China and Pakistan, the role of the United Nations.

In the first chapter, the author traces the history of Kashmir, its culture, a blend of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Instead of a clash, this confluence of faiths, the author says has developed into the idea of kashmiriyat, implying a peaceful existence, love and affection.

However, in this chapter General Vij is anxious about the strategic position that Pakistan has acquired due to its hold on Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region. A mineral resource-rich region, GB has huge hydroelectric potential. Besides, the area provides Pakistan with a direct link to Central Asian countries, which are also rich in gas and oil. No wonders China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) runs through this track and is fundamental to core relations between China and Pakistan.

Although the CPEC has triggered a lot of jobs, the General is critical of Islamabad for not sharing these opportunities with GB and PaK. It also mentions the lack of human rights and Islamabad’s deliberate curtailment of regional autonomy.

The Partition

Devoting the second chapter to the invasion, internationalisation and the talks carried out to solve the Kashmir issue, the author insists the invasion was carried out with Islamabad’s active support. The tribal invasion, as it is known in many quarters, was led by both the irregular forces especially from Waziristan and later Pakistan’s regular forces joined them. The author, however, has skipped both the Poonch rebellion as well as the Jammu massacre. Finding himself on the hot seat, Maharaja decided to seek help from India which was readily given, with a condition of accession.

General NC Vij’s book on Kashmir

The army landed and pushed the invaders to Kashmir outskirts and also launched an offensive along the Rajouri and Poonch sectors. The General is of the opinion that India should not have lodged a complaint against Pakistan at this juncture when the Indian army was doing good on the ground. Acting on India’s complaint, the UN enforced a ceasefire that was accepted by both sides. Further, the complaint of aggression against Pakistan took the shape of a demand for a plebiscite. So on both these fronts, India was placed on the back foot at the international arena.

Diplomacy and Wars

In the third, fourth and fifth chapters, the author has discussed the politics of resolution of Kashmir spread over wars in 1965 and 1971 and the Simla agreement. The internationalisation of the Kashmir issue led UNO to devise many ways to solve it.

Once ceasefire was put in place, the UN put forward a plan known as Dixon Plan. According to this formula, there was to be a plebiscite in areas, which remained doubtful about their inclinations to either Pakistan or India. However, the areas which clearly showed inclinations to either country need not have a plebiscite.

This plan, however, had serious flaws. India believed that the whole Jammu and Kashmir was legally part of India. Moreover, the state was to be divided on religious lines, which meant going back to partition. There was also a doubt about which way Kashmir will vote. Moreover, India considered the parts of Kashmir under Pakistan as illegal owing to accession by Hari Singh. It is in this context India considered that GB is illegally occupied by Pakistan.

The internationalisation of the Kashmir issue had serious drawbacks. India and Pakistan felt that the issue will drag for a longer period of time. It increased the possibility of war between the two neighbours and it did happen. Skipping the Delhi Agreement of 1952, the land to tiller reform and the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah, the author tackles the operation Glibratrar of 1965. It involved the use of subversion and also to push the locals to revolt against India. Pakistan felt that the time was ripe for the revolt as the region had witnessed serious demonstrations owing to the theft of holy relic and the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 had weakened India.

The sabotage, however, turned into a full-scale war between India and Pakistan.  A few years away there was also the 1971 war that saw the liberation of Bangladesh where the Indian army played an active role. The next war between India and Pakistan happened in 1999 during Vajpayee Government. The General believes the development of nuclear heads provided an advantage to Pakistan in later wars. India could not use its conventional power during the 1999 Kargil war, a situation that changed a decade later.

These chapters do mention in detail the attempts made to resolve Kashmir through bilateral talks – Ayub Formula, Takshant Declaration, Rajaji-Abdullah formula, Simla Agreement, Indira-Sheikh accord in 1975 and Agra Summit.

The Simla agreement made Kashmir a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and the Indra-Sheikh accord accepted Kashmir as a part of India.

All these talks generally rested on demilitarisation of the region, autonomy for the state, making ceasefire line irrelevant and also forging of trade relations between the regions, an idea that witnessed a step forward with the launch of bus service between Srinagar and Muzafarabad.

General N C Vij during one of his Srinagar visits as the Chief of Army Staff. Pic Fayaz Kabli

The ‘Proxy War’

After Pakistan succeeded in its operations against the erstwhile USSR in Afghanistan, it adopted Operation Topac as its proxy war strategy against India. According to the author, it was the outcome of Pakistan’s failure in achieving its target through full-scale wars.

Pakistan pounced upon the situation created in 1987 assembly elections in Kashmir that are considered mostly rigged. Soon, Kashmir was engulfed in a wave of anti-India protests and Pakistan did not miss the opportunity. Subsequently, the Kashmir region saw the worst phase of violence and also the displacement of its minorities, the pandits. In the first place, Pakistan backed JKLF and later, it founded pro-Pakistan organisations like HM. The general is of the opinion that India was caught off guard in the initial stages of militancy.

In response, India raised Rashtriya Rifles (RR), Special Operations Group (SOG) and grouped surrendered militants under Ikhwan. To ensure the counter-insurgency is carried out effectively, Armed Force Special Powers Act was enacted because it provides a legal cover to the armed forces. All these efforts led to the restoration of a civilian government in Srinagar in 1996.

Civilian Unrest

The lull was broken in 2008 when mass protests were held in Kashmir over the transfer of land to a Hindu trust. It turned communal as Jammu enforced the economic blockade of Kashmir. The author believes that this shook the whole of Kashmir. Stone pelting and mass protests became the norm.

The same phenomenon was observed later as the era of guns turned into an era of mass protests between 2008 and 2016. The General is sure that Pakistan has continuously adapted to the changing circumstances in Kashmir.

From 2016, the new age militants used social media effectively to cultivate new anti-India sentiments. Burhan Wani, HM’s poster, effectively used social media.  The same goes for Zakir Musa who went on to develop Gazwai-Hind. This radicalisation has been due to the influx of radical Islam, especially though Jamat-e-Islamia and Ahle-Hadith, the author believes insisting the influx of the ideologies has been pitted against indigenous Sufi Islam.

The new situation required a change in dealing with Kashmir protests. Although the militancy in 1990s was countered with the use of creating a security grid, however, new protests in Kashmir had to deal with new kinds of approaches. The General feels that the use of pellets has to be refrained from in favour of new crowd-control weapons. Further to ‘de-radicalise’ the youth he wants expansion of Sadbhavna project, use of sports and radio as well as social media.

Moreover, at the international arena, there should be enough pressure on Pakistan to back off its support for militants, the General suggests. This can be achieved through India’s offensive diplomatic moves in South Asia. For instance not only developing healthy relations with Iran and Afghanistan but also in ASEAN and BIMESTIC grouping as well, India can use its economics to help checkmate Pakistan. The author is however aware of the changing geopolitical scenario in the region. The US-Taliban Accord might provide new opportunities to Pakistan to create disturbances in the valley. The general suggests improving the security grid to meet the new challenges occurring in the backyard.

BJP Rule

Dr Suhail Yaqoob

In the last few chapters, the author mentions some significant events that happened in the BJP government. The BJP used air force to strike across borders after the suicide attack in Pulwama, attacking launch-pads at Balakot. The strike almost placed the two countries head-on. This attack was a major diversion from previous policies. The air force was not even in action in the Kargil War of 1999.

The author, however, feels this action will put Pakistan activities on the back foot. Further, the abolition of article 370, 35A and bifurcation of state has helped Kashmir to integrate with India. Pakistan tried to internationalise the issue, however, there was no sympathy from the international community regarding its narrative.

However, the author is clear that there has to be a dialogue across the spectrum in Kashmir so that the population will feel that the abolition of the article will improve Kashmir’s economic conditions.

(The author is PhD in economics from Aligarh Muslim University.)

 

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