No policy innovation in J&K strategy
18 January 2000
NEW DELHI: The Prime Minister-led review of the security scenario in Jammu and Kashmir has expectedly led to a reaffirmation of the Vajpayee Government's resolve to defeat the "proxy war", unleashed and sustained by Pakistan. The stress on counter-insurgency measures, to the total exclusion of political solution and political ideas, is the most conspicuous outcome of the review.
That the Prime Minister himself should have presided over the review is itself revealing. It was with much fanfare that the stewardship of the Jammu and Kashmir affairs was restored to the Home Ministry. That the Jammu and Kashmir review, first since November 18, 1999, should have taken place at 7, Race Course Road clearly indicates a realisation that Mr. Advani has not exactly succeeded in getting the better of the situation.
In the event the January 17 review did not produce any policy innovation. The Army leadership did not have its way, and the Chief Minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, will continue to preside over the "unified command" mechanism. On his part, the Chief Minister played out his "helplessness" act rather well; he simply told the Prime Minister and his colleagues: "Give me more funds if you want me to deliver". And, Mr. Vajpayee and his colleagues had no choice but to agree to provide the State Government with adequate funds to meet the "developmental" needs and the demands of the Government employees.
The problem for the ruling coalition at the Centre is that it has allowed itself to be so unseemingly and so inextricably bracketed with the National Conference regime; and to the extent D.r Farooq Abdullah is seen as not commanding popular acceptance, New Delhi is seen siding with an unpopular regime against the people of Kashmir.
The utter dependence upon Dr. Abdullah has drastically reduced the Central Government's operations' the Centre has not been able to expand the democratic political space in the Valley. Individuals and forces who are pro-India but do not necessarily believe in the Abdullah dynasty find themselves totally marginalised in the Kashmiri schemes of things. One major argument throughout 1995-96, it will be recalled, in favour of restoration of "democratic" rule was that an elected Government in Srinagar would provide a buffer between New Delhi and the alienated masses. That strategic purpose stands negated.
An because new Delhi is seen as hostile to the non-National Conference political voices, the anti-Abdullah and anti-Centre sentiments naturally gets channelised by the All Party Hurriyat Conference. Had the central leadership in the last two years displayed political imagination, the democratic space in the Valley could have expanded and the doubtful claims of Hurriyat leadership would have been exposed.
Then, there is the other side to this political un-imagination. The accent on more battalions, counter-insurgency units, additional manpower, etc. betrays lack of strategic clarity. While these macho noises help reassure the domestic constituency, all this din about "extra security measures" help Pakistan sustain the notion internationally that "Kashmir" was at a flash-point, and that the international community better force New Delhi to enter into a dialogue.
Moreover, the "pro-active", offensive strategy is flawed on another count: it is not intended to make a distinction between the foreign mercenary and the local militant. Any blurring of the distinction could help generate for the militants indigenous support and sympathy.
But, above all, the January 17 review sends out signals of leadership that has run out of ideas. Having cranked up a militant mood during the Kargil conflict, the Vajpayee Government is now caught in its own rhetoric.