There has been a distinct and spiraling escalation of violence in Kashmir following the death of Burhan Wani, a young commander of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, in an encounter with the Indian security forces on 8 July 2016 in Anantnag district.
Sensing an opportunity, the top brass at GHQ, Rawalpindi, and the infamous ISI were quick to fan the discord. Pakistani perfidy is writ large in the massive demonstrations that followed across the Valley and continue to this day.
But there has been a disconcerting change in the dynamics of the proxy war that Pakistan has been waging in the region since Partition, particularly after the late 1980s. A few examples: The increasing number of infiltration bids and attacks on security forces, despite the surgical strikes of September 29. The rapidly growing number of security forces killed in increasingly brazen attacks. The rising number of arms being looted from Indian forces and police stations, aimed at stopping India from producing weapons seized from terrorists as proof of Pakistani involvement.
The spate of bank robberies over the past few months. Violent, stone-pelting villagers, many primed over social media, rushing to an encounter site to harass the forces, often helping militants escape in the ensuing melee. The increasing number of women and children joining the stone pelters, making crowd management a human rights nightmare. The threats to the families of local policemen, bureaucrats and even politicians, something that has never been witnessed earlier in the Valley.
Add to that the increasing number of international voices hinting at, urging or offering third-party mediation. Like Nikki Haley, the Indian-origin US envoy to the UN, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and even China. While India has strongly rejected the overtures citing the 1972 Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Agreement of 1999, it cannot ignore the fact that Islamabad seems to be rapidly wresting the initiative in Kashmir. India also has to accept that while the international community might pay lip service to its repetitive complaints about Pakistan and its export of terror, geo-strategic compulsions and self-interest ensure it is unlikely to go beyond that.
Meanwhile, smug in its knowledge that big brother China is watching its back, Pakistan has sneered at our threats to isolate it diplomatically, review the Indus Water Treaty, and conduct surgical strikes at a time and place of our own choosing across the LoC. In fact, it has dialled up its involvement in the Valley. And every now and then, it reminds India that it has distributed tactical nuclear weapons to its army commanders along the border, who are cleared to use them in case of any attack by Indian forces.
So what can India do? Throwing more paramilitary forces into the Valley or deploying the Army could prove counterproductive, since it buttresses the Pakistani argument that Kashmir is a police/military state. And it does not address the root cause of the problem: Pakistan.
While we thankfully seem to have stopped doing the traditional three-step with Islamabad (talks, terror strikes, more talks) we now need to go beyond that, and take the fight back to Pakistan. It’s time to give Pakistan a taste of its own bitter medicine. And it can be done through Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and most backward province, whose poor residents have long been protesting against exploitation of their land and resources by Islamabad. Pakistan responded by using brute military force, including fighter jets and tanks, to quell any signs of dissent in the restive province. The EU, US, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and others have voiced strong concerns over the rampant human rights abuse in the province.
The idea is not new. In October 2015, Balaach Pardil of the Balochistan Liberation Organisation, which wants freedom from Pakistan, addressed a gathering in New Delhi. In August last year, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval cautioned Pakistan that “if you do another Mumbai, you will lose Balochistan,” sparking protests by Islamabad about Indian interference. Two months later, Baloch women’s rights activist Naela Quadri Baloch and her son visited India.
PM Narendra Modi brought it up again during his Independence Day speech this year, assuring suffering Balochis of India’s moral and diplomatic support for their struggle against Islamabad’s misrule. This sparked much jubilation among Balochis, and alarm in Islamabad. Then there’s Brahamdagh Bugti, leader of the separatist Baloch Republican Party. He escaped to Geneva via Afghanistan in 2010. Last year he sought asylum in India, and though the security agencies and home ministry okayed his application, it is still awaiting Cabinet approval. Sadly, not much seems to have happened since.
The strategic benefits of fuelling and supporting an insurgency on Pakistan’s western flank are obvious. Counter-insurgency is a troop intensive measure, and will tie down the Pakistani army in a region far from Kashmir. More importantly, it will raise the cost of protecting the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor which passes through the province. Getting involved in the region will also give Indian intelligence insights on Pakistani terror training camps in the province, shifted there after fears that Indian forces were planning a strike on such camps in PoK.
Of course, all this is easier said than done, given the lack of a clear leadership among the tribal leaders of Balochistan. Perhaps an outfit along the lines of the United Jihad Council, which runs the Kashmiri militants out of PoK, or even something similar to the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, might resolve that problem. All the while, Balochi interests should be kept in mind. But whatever the decision, India needs to shed its moralistic position, and pay Pakistan back in its own coin.
And it has to be done now.
Senior Associate Editor, The New Indian Express