At the start, let me sincerely note that as a patriotic Indian citizen, and as the son of an Indian army doctor who is no more, and who was in the thick of the Bangladesh independence war of 1971, that we are extremely grief-stricken and shocked at the Uri and Pulwama cold-blooded murder of the unsuspecting soldiers of the Indian Army and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) by terrorists funded and protected by Pakistan. There cannot be any politics in this, and army must take all possible measures to combat terrorism, and neutralise terrorists of all hues.
Having told this, it is important to raise some crucial questions. And whom do we ask those questions if not to the government we have elected ourselves?
On February 14, a Jaish-e-Mohammad militant drove a car packed with explosives into a convoy of the CRPF passing through Pulwama district in South Kashmir. By evening, the death toll was reported to have touched 40. This makes it the second most deadly attack in history of the paramilitary force. With Thursday’s attack, the CRPF in Kashmir has lost more men in 2019 than in four years put together.
Now the questions.
How did the usually secretive movement of CRPF battalions get leaked? Is it not an intelligence failure? How can a terrorist carrying 300 kilos of explosives get to strike at the centre of this convoy? How has our legendary surveillance failed here? Who is ruling Kashmir now and in last several years? Whose Intel is failing? Kashmir is under President's rule for a year or more now, and was earlier for three years under PDP-BJP government. They have to take responsibility of the last 3-4 years of crisis at least.
Further, why is Kashmir in such a mess today, worse than any situation since 2000? There was a huge turnout (72 per cent) and the large majority of seats were won by PDP in Kashmir and BJP in Jammu (53 out of 87 seats). An unlikely PDP-BJP government was sworn in, and in Lal Maidan of Srinagar, Indian PM Modi and Kashmir CM Mufti promised a Rs 10,000-crore development package to the people. But, not even 10 per cent of it saw the light of the day; PDP and BJP kept bickering, and BJP unilaterally withdrew the support, and the government fell. President's rule was imposed.
Why was the huge turnout of electorate in last assembly and a historic government formation was turned into an opportunity lost? Those who are ruling Kashmir and at the Centre need to give a white paper on what they have actually done for the people, and why this situation persists today. Indigenous militancy within J&K is currently complimenting cross-border terrorism, and sadly so.
Why are even civilians turning against the government and joining home grown militancy? If Kashmir is bleeding, why is the rest of India not disturbed enough? If Kashmir is an integral part of India, why isn’t there any political solution in spite of the peaceful polls four years ago?
Those who vouch for the army and jawans need to also get over their plastic nationalism, and ask a few questions. Why is this the biggest death toll in a terrorist attack in three decades? How come over 250 terrorists were killed in 2018 which is the highest in last 10 years? How is the number of terror deaths in Kashmir in just two months of 2019 higher than the number of terror deaths in 2018? Why is Kashmir such a mess? And wasn’t the terror funding finished by demonetization? From where do the terrorists get so much arms and money? What purpose have the surgical strikes served? Or was this merely for political optics and use in Bollywood and in political campaigns by the ruling party which is so regrettable indeed? There were surgical strikes done many times earlier, but no government chose to politically capitalise army action in the past, as is being done by the current government.
The Indian television news media, by and large, shamelessly in quest of the TRPs, is milking the human and terror crisis of Kashmir, and calling for war with Pakistan, which is decidedly a rogue and a nuclear state.
No, a full-scale no-holds-barred war cannot be a solution. It will aggravate the situation, can lead to a high number of civilian casualties on both the sides, and can lead to use of weapons of mass destruction.
We have to understand a painful reality of the day. A disturbed Kashmir is in the interest of Pakistan so that it gets more money and arms from the US, using Kashmir crisis as an alibi. It also ensures the stranglehold of the Pakistani army and ISI on the civilian society, business at large and bureaucracy there. On the other hand, a disturbed Kashmir gives India the opportunity to amass more arms, and as we know, India is the biggest importer of arms and ammunitions in the world (still short on many crucial military infrastructure). It helps some Indian political forces to polarise votes in the elections season. A disturbed Kashmir helps the army and the local police to get higher budget and a free run for their actions (sometimes needed, sometimes exceeded). A disturbed Kashmir is great for the terrorists to raise resources globally, and run their propaganda machinery. A disturbed Kashmir is great for local politicians and Azad Kashmir apologists as their political nuisance value remains intact only then. Only the ordinary Kashmiri stands to lose on all fronts with the mess there. That's the sad scenario.
Yes, terrorism must be crushed. Let military do their job professionally. But the people of Kashmir must also be won over. That cannot be done by pellet attacks on children. That cannot be done by an ordinary Kashmiri who came to vote, but was put up as a shield on an army jeep. That cannot be done by routinely clamping down on media and internet in the valley. That cannot be done by putting Kashmir against Jammu politically. That cannot be done by standing for rapists just because they are Hindus while the little child raped is a Muslim girl. That can be done by the salutary work the Indian Army did during the Kashmir floods. That can be done by engaging with the civilian population in sports, health training, skills deployment etc. There are umpteen other suggestions for that already in the public domain.
The author is a media academic and columnist, and currently the Media Dean of Pearl Academy, Delhi and Mumbai. Views expressed by the author are personal.