An invite to deliver a distinguished lecture at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla, is an exciting proposition for a public speaker, especially if it is a day before Gandhi Jayanti, a unique 150th one at that. However, the subject ‘Gandhi, Kashmir and National Integration’ can be a challenging one. I had no hesitation accepting the invite. Housed at the former summer residence of the Viceroy of India, IIAS was set up in 1965 as an institution for studying and researching public policy. J&K as a domain qualifies to be one of India’s biggest challenges and IIAS has the intellectual faculties to tackle it and come up with policy recommendations.
My take on the subject was a simple one. J&K has been a challenge for India for more than 70 years. For the past 30 years, Pakistan has attempted to wrest J&K through use of its strategy of a ‘thousand cuts’ to bleed India and prevent it achieving its aspirations as a nation. Much of it was to do with the idea of retribution for the loss of its eastern half in 1971. Pakistan chose to engage us with the strategy of hybrid sub-conventional conflict and cultivation of external opinion. It assiduously used information and influence warfare as part of its strategy, targeting the vulnerable Muslim population and alienating it against India.
India responded militarily, reducing the strength of terrorists over time but its counterstrategy lacked the finer aspects of defeating hybrid conflict, which should have been the exploitation of its own national strengths. The political, economic, social and psychological domains went begging. Democracy was a success but a focused attempt to get J&K to be on board, fully and completely integrated, never seemed to have been attempted even after the Army succeeded many times in stabilising the security situation.
The all-pervading ecosystem made up of overground workers, media, flow of finance, drugs, personality related politics and much more, always ensured a bounce back; somehow the people remained outside the ambit of focus except in the Army’s concept of operations. The latter came almost by default because of the extant inclusion of winning hearts and minds as a well-known adage in such situations. The Army introduced Sadbhavna, a military civic action programme, as part of its operational and tactical concept of operations; it worked well. However, it was unable to convince the government that the same approach needed to be adopted at the highest level, the national-strategic. An all-out government approach was needed whose realisation just did not appear to emerge.
I also mentioned that both Articles 370 and 35A could well have been removed in 1972, post or pre the Shimla summit when India was at a major strategic advantage and Pakistan was hardly in position to contest it. It was an opportunity lost but in retrospect, realisation of the potential of J&K to completely derail relations between India and Pakistan was at a low. The next opportunity came in 1994 when a rare political consensus was built to pass the Joint Parliamentary Resolution. However, India’s position in the international community and confidence to stave off a global campaign by Pakistan was far lower than what it is today. That ability was built by the decision to go nuclear in 1998, subsequently process the Nuclear Deal with the US and the progressively acquired economic muscle. All that helped in the landmark decision of August 5, 2019.
So where does the Gandhism bit enter into the discourse? It’s not as tricky as it may sound and I always consider Mahatma Gandhi a leader who would surely have frowned upon the use of violence by India’s adversaries. My arguments are based on the need for reinforcement and follow-up of the big decision by the Government of India, through the use of a people-centric and culture-based approach to counter violence. There is no absolutism when it comes to national security related to any part of India which has a turbulent situation. On one hand the Indian Army is well trained to cater to the situation on the LoC and the counter-infiltration grid. On the other hand I opined that a certain level of risk will have to be accepted, some violence may yet take place in the streets but by and large there is little feasibility of repeat of 2010 or 2016; that is thanks to pragmatic undoing of the ecosystem.
The Gandhian approach would be to recognise the strength of spirituality and pluralism which has been prevalent in Kashmir over ages. Also, that violence, hatred and ‘otherisation’ between communities is alien to Kashmir’s value system. During the talk, I projected the need for a hearts and minds campaign like none before, to recapture the past and shun the terrible tragedy of the eviction of the Kashmiri Pandits. I spoke of taking on board the Kashmiri Pandits and reaching out to the population of Kashmir with sincerity; simply sharing India’s heart with them. The Kashmiri populace is yet confused by the sense of triumphalism evident in rest of India and cannot reconcile easily to that. If Gandhi had been alive, he would probably have undertaken a padyatra from Qazigund to Keran and Sonamarg to Uri, to interact with the people. Interaction by people from all over India from different walks of life is the need of the hour; without favour and without malice.
We tried it 10 years ago, taking many political figures and members of the administration to the people by getting the army to be the organising platform; it made a dent and created a hope only to see it vanish when it was not followed beyond. The sky is the limit when all one needs is lots of human beings with different thoughts in engagement with each other. Somewhere it all clicks and then there is a deluge of feelings. That is what we need to await in Kashmir but for that a deliberate effort has to be triggered.
Lt Gen (retd) Syed Ata Hasnain
Former Commander, Srinagar-based 15 Corps