The entire world is completely or partially locked down in a desperate fight against the deadly disease for physical survival. The virus strikes even the high and mighty, the British Prime Minister has gone into ICU and many honchos in various sectors are taken ill. This is perhaps the first time in recorded human history where the entire world is in a battle against a common invisible enemy, the COVID-19, even the bubonic plague that erupted in 14th century killing innumerable people was confined only to Europe. Under such global pall of gloom, people are teetering on the brink in apprehension of the multiple fallouts of the corona outbreak.
Overwhelmed as we are by such a blood-chilling scenario, one is bitten by the news that five elite commandoes are found dead in the Keran sector in North Kashmir. While three of them died in action, two succumbed to their injuries in the army hospital. The five dead bodies of terrorist-infiltrators by the side of the commandoes indicate a close hand-to-hand combat. This is surely shocking when the entire world, as said before, is engaged in a battle for survival of humans. How does one explain this madness of people, misguided by Pakistan, and how do we stop spilling the blood of our people at the border?
The presence of infiltrators on our side of the LoC was noticed by spotting their footprints with spy drones. Operation Randori Behak was launched and the army’s Special Force commandoes were airdropped on snow bound Keran sector at an altitude of around 10,000 feet. As per Army sources, the commandoes slid into a ditch where the infiltrators were hiding. They were all neutralized as we lost five of our commandoes.
The incident of last Sunday raises quite a few questions that need immediate as well as long-term answers. The immediate challenge is, there may be more such adventurism by terrorists from across the border to sneak in as the country’s attention is focused on controlling the spread of the virus. Although the Army is always alert, the political leadership may not be. Second, terrorists would like to stretch the resources of our country and continue to foment trouble in Kashmir. Third, India cannot stop the bloodshed without a durable solution to cross-border terrorism.
New Delhi needs to adopt a two-pronged approach to handle the situation. One, to maintain peace, harmony, order and above all self-respect in Kashmir valley, so that the international forces do not have excuses to meddle. Any unrest in Kashmir will draw international attention, and India has to spend energy and resources in combating the negative international perceptions. Second, is to shift its focus to reclaiming POK, rather than defending our part of Kashmir. Such a shift of strategy will change the goal posts and alter the terms of negotiations with Pakistan.
Historically, Kashmir has been always an occupied territory. Their struggle for self-determination predates the partition of India in 1947. Since the Mughals annexed it in 1589 AD, Kashmiris never had the right or opportunity to rule themselves. After the Mughals, it was ruled by Afghans (1753-1819), Sikhs (1819 to 1846) and then Dogras 1846-1947. The Dogras bought Kashmir from the British Empire for 7.5 million nanak shahi rupees, the ruling currency of Sikh Empire. The Dogra king Hari Singh wanted independence at the time of partition, but acceded to India as Pakistani-backed tribes attacked the State.
New Delhi is concerned about its role and responsibility since Kashmir’s accession to India in 1947, but the process is incomplete as Pakistan illegally occupies part of it. On 5 August 2019, New Delhi took the most radical step on Kashmir since 1947, i.e. abrogating Article 370 that conferred special status to the Valley and bringing it under direct control as a union territory. New Delhi should have no excuse in developing Kashmir as it wants, of course without further alienating its inhabitants. There are four groups of people, subdued at the time, in terms of their political inclinations; the Pro-Indians, Pro-Pakistanis, Pro-Independence, and Pro-peace and normalcy.
The pro-Pakistan is a fringe group without much backing of the locals. The Pro-Independence group is also losing support as many realise an independent Kashmir will not be a feasible or even a viable entity. Many will in fact settle for a united Kashmir with some autonomy for the sake of the Kashmiri history and culture. And the fourth group, perhaps the silent majority will want peace and normalcy to be restored. A Kashmiri student of mine studying in Jamia articulated this aspiration well. She said, “The education, health and communication systems have collapsed. My classmates (she is 2nd Year MA) are yet to complete their graduation due to continual disruption of classes.” What they want is a normal life to get on with.
New Delhi has planned many development projects. Instead of completing them, it has come with a Domicile Law. One finds this government’s sense of priorities quite incomprehensible. Once normalcy is restored, and development is seen to be picking, people may be inclined to new laws. One hears about lot of resentment against the domicile law. It is like the introduction of NRC. When the country was looking up to a new phase of growth and world status with the second coming of our powerful Prime Minister, we are thrown into a controversial prospect of NRC, thanks to the unrest that follows.
The second part of the strategy is retrieving POK. The Army General, the Home Minister, and other leaders have gone public that POK belongs to India and it a question of time India takes it back. But one does not notice any strategy, diplomatic, political, or military towards this goal. We are gaining a reputation for tall talks and no action. This will not help in the end. New Delhi should without loss of any more time, as soon as the coronavirus is somewhat under control, ask Pakistan to vacate POK. India should ask for the implementations of the UN resolution, which asks for withdrawal of Pakistani forces, or invoke Shimla Agreement and ask for the unification of Kashmir.
Once Kashmir is unified, it may be given some autonomy to protect their culture etc as an integral part of India. New Delhi should come out with a white paper on the reunification of Kashmir and its development as a state of India. That is the way to stop bloodshed in the border. Without that once-for-all decisive step, we will continue to do the fire fighting, retaliate the terrorists attack engineered from Pakistan, diplomatically deal with the meddling and manipulation by the vested interest within and outside the country.