May 29, 2001


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Arvind Lavakare

Jammu & Kashmir: The confusion continues

It's a confession of the culpable, a consent of the confused, a contango of the crippled and, above all, a capitulation of the cowardly and chimerical. That about sums up the latest decision of the Vajpayee government on Jammu and Kashmir.

Consider the withdrawal of the cease-fire, oops, "non-initiation of combat operations", announced with élan last year on the occasion of Ramzan Id -- a melodramatic and sentimental sop, really, to the Islamic jihadis in J&K.

It has taken six long months for the Vajpayee government to realise that various terrorist groups see only violence and butchery, not reason and the need for peace. Abetting this culpability of Vajpayee's chimera was General S Padmanabhan, chief of army staff, who twice endorsed the PM's act.

One known reason for the army's support to NICO was that because it had resulted in reducing Pakistan's shelling from across the Line of Control, India was saving some 20 million rupees every day entailed in retaliatory shelling. Now, after a section of his own force has labelled NICO a "farce", the general must open his mouth again and express remorse for the "savings" that led to the spurt in killings of civilians and informants as well as security forces being shredded by explosives. Who is to be held responsible for the ample time given by NICO to terrorists for regrouping and building the local people's arrogance that nonchalantly violated even the night curfews?

If it took six long months for Vajpayee & Co to discover the failure of NICO, it has taken 12 months and a little more for Advani & Co to discover the futility of pampering the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference with talks, talks and talks.

Though the media warmly welcomed the home minister's announcement in April 2000, this column had warned that talks with the Hurriyat would be harakiri. But what really happened was that with the immature media going gaga for a full year publicising the views of those bearded zeros with three-letter names, the nation was paying contango charges for playing the crippled in evolving ways to clear the socio-economic problems of the ordinary J&K citizen. Come to think of it, when idealists unwilling to accept the reality of the Islamic mindset are the ones who run -- oops, "try" to run -- a government, what can you expect but a scalding of the hand that ventures into fire?

After Kargil it became the Vajpayee government's mantra that talks with Pakistan will be considered only after it stopped its cross-border terrorism. An allied mantra in undertones was that only a democratic government, not a military regime, could be expected to honour any agreement or treaty.

Now, overnight, Vajpayee has made a somersault even with one repaired knee and another broken one. Why? The government is so confused that its foreign minister has no qualm in telling the media "There is no contradiction in the government's stand." If even Jaswant Singh cannot invent his unique brand of diplomatic language to drape the latest act, imagine how hopeless the case is to justify.

Look at the crow sensitive Indians have had to eat at the hands of Pakistani reactions to this perverse pronouncement of Jaswant Singh. Former ISI chief, Hamid Gul, told millions of readers of The Times of India that "India had wanted Islamabad to suppress the jehadis. We have not done that, but your prime minister is willing to talk." He rubbed salt into the gash by adding, "There was never any cease-fire on the ground. So, calling it off will not change the ground situation." Major General Rashid Qureshi, press secretary to Pakistan's CEO, had the gumption to dub our position on J&K as a "flip flop policy". He said the Indian government having "realised that dialogue was the only way forward" was "a happy response" to his CEO's "long-standing offer of talks".

What right do Vajpayee and his aides have to make us self-respecting Indian citizens pay such contango of humiliation for their delay caused by self-created confusion and helplessness?

The Vajpayee government has consented to talk to Pakistan not through the conventional foreign secretaries upwards ladder, but directly to its big boss, Pervez Musharraf. It is another "grand" gesture of chimera, up in the clouds. Remember, when top two dignitaries sign even friendly treaties between their countries, a lot of interaction at lower levels precedes the formal ceremony. But meeting Pakistan for the first time after its rape of Kargil in June 1999 is to be a one-to-one meeting straight away! And, presumably, during his latest holiday in Manali, Vajpayee will practise pronouncing Assalaam Walaikum to greet Musharraf Saheb come July or so.

What is to be the agenda for yet another of those "historic" talks? The public doesn't know as yet -- where's the need or the hurry for that, you see -- but indications already are that Vajpayee will adopt the world statesman approach. He will, one supposes, dwell on world peace, nuclear non-proliferation, the UN, WTO, ASEAN, SAARC and the Commonwealth, followed by Indo-Pak relations of trade and commerce and oil pipeline, of common civilsational bonds, of galvanising cultural and cricketing ties etc, leaving J&K as a part tucked somewhere in what is called a "wide-ranging composite dialogue".

Musharraf, on the other hand, will certainly concentrate on "freedom fighters", "plebiscite promise", UN resolutions, "wishes of the people", "custodial killings" and "reduction of Indian forces" that are violating human rights -- all part of his brand of "composite dialogue" on the entire Kashmir Valley he's eyeing.

What will happen then? In all probability, there will be no signed agreement but only a brief press communiqué at the end promising to continue follow-up deliberations and dialogues at the secretaries' level. Net result: confusion and conflicts extended indefinitely co-terminus with cross-border terrorism and shelling across the LOC.

Why this pessimistic prognosis? Simple: when you refuse to learn from history, it has the habit of repeating itself. For some proof click here.

Why exactly will that repetition occur? Because, starting from the fact that they have always called it simply "Kashmir" when that word in isolation has no locus standi on the map, no Government of India from Nehru downwards has had a conscious, definite policy on regaining the entire Jammu & Kashmir state.

All of them have of course stated now and then that the state is an integral part of India, but nobody has had the guts to tell Pakistan to lay off Srinagar or else; nobody has been macho to tell the USA, the UK and the rest that J&K is not their business, and if at all they want to end the problem, they should tell Pak to lay off Srinagar. Even when the latest US Report on Terrorism recorded that Pakistan assists terrorism in J&K, our government did not pluck up courage to tell the USA to ask Pak to stop that assistance forthwith.

Apart from not telling it to the world, our governments haven't told the real story of J&K even to its own citizens. Hence the plaint in the Kargil Review Committee report that "there is no single, comprehensive official publication containing details of the Kashmir question, the UN resolutions and why they could not be implemented, as well as of more recent developments in Kashmir through the years of proxy war, terrorism and ethnic cleansing together with Pakistan's involvement in all of these" (chapter 14, para 24).

This lack of courage and conviction can be attributed to either an inability to grasp the importance of professional PR or to inadequate knowledge of J&K's entire course from October 1947, or to a cowardly nature or, lastly, to all these factors strung together.

The last appears to be the case with the Vajpayee government. Neither he nor any of his ministers have ever proclaimed that

  • even the USA had recognised in the UN the sovereignty of India over all of J&K;
  • the UN had pronounced Pakistan as the violator of international law when it invaded J&K in 1947; and
  • the will and wishes of the people of J&K were lawfully enshrined in the state's Constitution of 1957 that irrevocably bound the state to India from that year forever.
For that matter, no minister of Vajpayee or the prime minister himself has been bold enough to tell the people of J&K to behave or else. Nor has the government been imaginative enough to ascertain and redress the grievances of the people of J&K in a truly national mission embracing one and all -- from the Opposition in Parliament to all the citizens from the capital down to Kanyakumari.

All of this is not strange because, believe it or not, J&K is not even mentioned in the National Democratic Alliance's National Agenda for Governance of 1998 or in the NDA's election manifesto of 1999.

The word "cowardly" may seem mean and unjust to describe the prime minister who dared world sentiment by indulging in Pokhran II. Tragically, all the reservoirs of his courage would seem to have dissipated in those three blasts of May 1998. Tragically, then, Vajpayee seems happy to be a mere chimera, a large-hearted idealist extending confusion and "grand" gestures indefinitely in J&K and elsewhere.

Arvind Lavakare

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