Pulwama: The unanswered questions
It is a disturbed Kashmir that serves a range of purposes than one at peace — perpetuating conflict and instability
Right from the outset, let me sincerely note 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 war of independence of 1971, that I am extremely grief-stricken and shocked at the Uri and Pulwama cold-blooded murder of unsuspecting soldiers of Indian army and CRPF by terrorists funded and protected by Pakistan. There cannot be any politics in this and the army must take all possible measures to combat terrorism and neutralise terrorists of all hues.
Having told that it is important to raise important questions, 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 Central Reserve Police Force passing through Pulwama district in South Kashmir. By evening, the toll in the attack was reported to have touched 40. This makes it the second deadliest attack in the history of the paramilitary force. With Thursday's attack, the Central Reserve Police Force in Kashmir has lost more men in 2019 than in four years put together.
How did a large, usually secretive, movement of CRPF battalions get leaked? Is it not an intelligence failure? How does a terrorist carrying 300 kilos of explosives gets to strike at the centre of this convoy? How has our capable surveillance failed here? Who is ruling Kashmir now and in last several years? Whose Intel is failing? Kashmir is under Governer's rule now and was earlier for 3 years under PDP-BJP government. They have to take responsibility for 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, PM Modi and Kashmir CM Mufti promised a 10,000 crore development package for the people. But not even 10 per cent of it saw the light of the day, PDP and BJP kept bickering, BJP unilaterally withdrew support and the government fell; and Governor's rule was imposed.
Why was the huge turnout of the electorate in the last assembly and a historic government formation turned into a lost opportunity? Those who are ruling Kashmir and Centre need to give a white paper on what they have actually done for the people and why this situation today. Indigenous militancy within J&K is currently complimenting cross-border terrorism.
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 is no political solution drawn in spite of opportunity 4 years ago through peaceful polls?
For those who vouch for the army jawans need to also go out of plastic nationalism and ask a few questions. Why is this the biggest death toll in a terrorist attack in 3 decades allowed to happen? How come 250 plus terrorists killed in 2018 which is the highest in the last ten years? How were terror deaths in Kashmir in just 2 months of 2019 more than terror deaths in 2018? Why is Kashmir in such a mess? And where is the terror funding finished by demonetisation? Where do terrorists get so many 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 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 any number of civilian casualties on both sides, and can lead to the use of weapons of mass destruction.
We have to understand the painful reality of the day. A disturbed Kashmir is in the interest of Pakistan to get more money and arms from the US, using the Kashmir crisis as an alibi and need to protect from India. 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 reason to amass more arms and as we know India is the biggest importer of arms and ammunition in the world (still short on many crucial military infrastructures). It helps some Indian political forces to polarise votes in election seasons. A disturbed Kashmir helps Army and local police to get a higher budget and a free run for their actions (sometimes needed, sometimes exceeded). A disturbed Kashmir is great for 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 a sad situation.
Yes, terrorism must be crushed. Let the military do their job professionally. But the people of Kashmir must also be won over. That cannot be done by pellet bullet attacks on children. That cannot be done by an ordinary Kashmiri who came to vote 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 was Muslim. That can be done by what 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, currently the Media Dean of Pearl Academy, Delhi and Mumbai. The views expressed are strictly personal)