Trust but verify. This Russian proverb has relevance in India, which has a history of security agencies trusting and then abandoning efforts at verifying. In Punjab, the Bharatiya Janata Party has an alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal, which, to its credit, has remained a moderate force even during periods when extremism overran large parts of the state, led by an individual first promoted by former Chief Minister Zail Singh to first put the rival Akali Dal party on the backfoot and later his successor Beant Singh. Because of the extreme latitude given to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his boys, including allowing them to take up residence in the sacred precincts of the Golden Temple, the border state witnessed more than a decade of murder and mayhem. Ultimately, it was only the good sense and patriotic spirit of the Punjabis — both Sikh and Hindu — which managed to overcome the effort by the Pakistan army to detach Punjab from the rest of India, or at the least to ensure that an insurgency continued there which had the capacity to not only destroy the state but drain the country. Earlier in Kashmir, the euphoria caused by the accord between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah led to errors such as the welcoming back to India of elements that 15 years later formed the core of a stubborn insurgency fuelled by logistical and financial support from GHQ, Rawalpindi. Even the A.B. Vajpayee government, in its rush towards a possible settlement in Kashmir, went in for two unilateral ceasefires that were taken advantage of by militant groups to replenish their depleted stores of ammunition and weapons, thereby prolonging rather than shortening the mayhem in Kashmir, a state which could be among the world’s most visited tourist hubs, were ISI-inspired violence to cease.
As in Punjab, the BJP has found itself an ally in Jammu & Kashmir, the PDP. It is important that this party not be allowed to repeat its past mistakes, each of which has led to a strengthening rather than a weakening of insurgency. After the PDP-BJP alliance government was formed, while there have been encouraging signs, there have also been danger signals. An example is the crowd of 10,000 that was mobilised by pro-Pakistan groups to march at the funeral of a slain militant. The ability to ensure such a large gathering is a cause of concern that needs to be carefully looked at and remedial action taken. Whatever be the financial outgo on Kashmir, it will be of little value in the absence of stern action against the few who seek to subvert the state. Similarly, in the Punjab, the effort to repeat the dismal history of the past by forcibly appointing elements supportive of extremists in key positions in religious bodies needs to be reversed and action taken against those involved, both openly and covertly. Zero tolerance is mandatory for those who seek political change through the bullet rather than the ballot. In both Kashmir as well as in the Punjab, the signs of trouble are increasing, and these need to be addressed to avoid a repeat of the unhappy history of both states at the hands of hostile forces across the border.