The “non-military pre-emptive action” carried out by IAF Mirage-2000 jets armed with laser-guided 1,000-pound bombs in the early hours of 26 February that hit a major Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in Balakot, Pakistan causing significant casualties signals a paradigm shift in our anti-terror policy. Pusillanimity, the hallmark of our anti-terror-Pak-Kashmir policy has been replaced by an uncharacteristic determination and decisiveness.
Kandahar was a fiasco not because we traded terrorists for the precious lives of our citizens, but because we had failed to track down and eliminate the culprits later. Balakot has changed that equation (Yusuf Azhar one of the hijackers of IC-814 may have been killed).
Summing up this zeitgeist, an Indian diplomat aptly remarked: “The question in the past was should we or should we not. Now it is when, where and how.”
Pulwama, hyphenated with Balakot, should be an inflexion point and pave the path for a pragmatic, comprehensive (military, diplomatic and political), hard line policy that is pursued with dogged determination even in times of relative calm, until the objective is met, namely the eradication of separatism and the total annihilation of terror.
However, it would be myopic to celebrate after the resounding success at Balakot. Repeated Balakots at regular intervals are warranted with the caveat that we be well prepared to repel Pakistani counter attacks like the one post Balakot.
As to Pakistan’s nuclear sabre dangling, it is time to call its bluff; the threat of a nuclear war cuts both ways. Our past inaction has lent credibility to Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence.
Coercive diplomacy is already underway: tariffs on Pakistani imports have been raised and its MFN status removed. But the noose must be tightened further by throttling Pakistan’s water supply.For immediate effect Indus Treaty talks must be deferred and plans for damming the Indus waters must be explored as a long-term strategy.International obligations cannot trump the obligation to our people.
In tandem with military and diplomatic initiatives, it is vital to alter the domestic dynamics of Kashmiri politics.
Terrorism does not sprout in a vacuum; a deep-set ideology incites vulnerable individuals to violent deeds. The seeds of hatred in Kashmir can be traced to a fundamentalist religious schism that has emerged over the years in this ancient Hindu land forcibly transformed (by coercive conversions and ethnic cleansing) over the centuries into a Muslim majority hegemony; a suffocating socio-political climate at odds with our pluralism and secular Constitution.
Lending false credibility to this movement is Article 370, which confers special status on Kashmir. Article 370 keeps Kashmiris trapped in a box, deters other Indians from investing in Kashmir, perpetuating its economic penury, and hinders the understanding of India and other Indians by a dearth of free interaction; all under the false illusion of preserving a parochial identity.
Kashmiryat is a cultural attribute and not a political identity. Sans Article 370, a Punjabi or Bengali is able to celebrate his/her culture. Our ancient tradition and Constitutional stipulations ensure that without the need for Article 370.
The abrogation of Article 370 will bring Kashmir into the mainstream, allow its fiscally disadvantaged youth to partake of India’s progress and steer them away from violent rebellion.
Capitalising on the current unprecedented unity, the government must call an emergency session of Parliament and scrap Article 370, once and for all.
As to the bogey of such an action jeopardising Kashmir’s accession to India—it is a flawed contention. The Accession of Kashmir to India is full and final with or without Article 370.
Maharaja Hari Singh signed the same standard form of the Instrument of Accession, which the other Indian States signed without preconditions.
Political activism is an intermediate step in the dangerous transformation of an ideology into terrorist violence. Occupying this space in Kashmir are two broad faculties: the overtly pro-Pakistan Hurriyat and the mainstream political parties like the National Conference and the PDP.
It is imperative that the political narrative undergoes a drastic 360-degree redaction. Separatism is separatism, period, without any distinction between hard and soft separatism and unacceptable within the political dialogue of sovereign India.
We are at a crossroads and must draw a line in the sand. First, the Hurriyat must be outlawed and its leaders interned with no scope for mischief.
Second, an unambiguous message must go out to the National Conference and PDP: “We are all Indians and we live by one law as equal citizens of a pluralistic secular nation. There cannot be a compromise and there never will be. Accept this proviso as 1.3 billion Indians of multi-fold linguistic communities, varied religious persuasions and different ethnic cultures have done. Specifically, disown separatism, cut your links (real or symbolic) with Pakistan (Mehbooba Mufti often praises Pakistan) and work for the betterment of common Kashmiris, instead of misleading them down a path of dangerous self-destruction—that is the only way. If not, we will move ahead without you as the ‘idea of India’ cannot be jeopardised and we cannot allow 7 million people to hold the 1.3 billion Indians hostage. The choice is yours.”
The key to the success of a hard-line policy is single-minded unflinching determination (unaffected by international pressure or change of governments at home) till the objective is fulfilled.
Balakot should herald the beginning of the end of Pakistan sponsored terror and a wayward Kashmiri separatism.