We have people up in arms in Kashmir. We have the army being blamed for their misery. We have politicians out of stock on meaningful ideas.
I think that if we need to move on from this limbo, we need to stop pointing fingers. I am not speaking of specific people, because silence is complicity. There was absolutely nothing stopping anyone, anywhere yelling “wait!!! why are these kids being killed?” God knows there is enough yelling in the government on relatively insignificant matters.
The army is an extension of National policy. They enforce. They don’t make the rules. Pretending that it is the army that is responsible for this mess is a monumental admission of incompetence and will only work to keep providing scapegoats and remaining with the status quo. It is the government that messed up by not paying attention to the place it was governing. If an army is overstepping its bounds, it is the job of the local government to bring this up. This is really a basic job requirement to shout out “Hey, wait!!! Those are our citizens out there you are killing!” It is an embarrassment for the government, for the media, for the army and for the ordinary man of India, who simply assume that the Army has militancy under control, and if they are killing someone, it must be fine. This is horrifying.
If the government has not done this, a good place to start is “We screwed up. Please forgive us. Your loss is irreparable, and I will ensure that it is not repeated. You have been on ground zero. What is it you think we can change?” Don’t think and analyze and justify the daylights out of things. You don’t have to obey everything said, but sure, as the government, its your job to find out. Open your mouth, apologize for a ghastly lack of competence that the people you are facing have paid for with blood. Accept unconditionally and with humility that these are the people that have paid for your assumptions. Don’t belittle their sacrifice. They have to stand on the streets and yell, because your hearing aid has not been maintained.
Seriously, wouldn’t you be Anti-India, if people were being killed all around you no matter what you did, there was no hope for justice, no hope that anyone even considered your suffering a loss and there were no indications of an end in sight and you could be next? What does patriotism mean if it is to a country that thinks nothing of you, your existence, your problems and your safety? When is the last time the common man of India thought of Kashmir with empathy? What did you do to make them aware that here was a land that needed attention?
Any army is essentially a bunch of trained fighters with an essential role of safe guarding a nation’s interest through might. They are not the ones deciding which interests get safeguarded and against whom. If you look at it from their perspective, they are supposed to curb militancy. Okay, they can do that. Who is a militant has kept evolving over the ages, yet not much has been done to redefine these distinctions. I think its utterly unfair to blame the army for what essentially is government inertia. Sure, they are to blame. But really, the job of looking after the welfare of the people belongs squarely to the government. Do it, or get out.
Whenever you have armies loosed against the unarmed masses, there have been atrocities. The reason is simple. Masses don’t like to be invaded by an army, they fight back. Civilians suffer because the army is obviously far better trained than them in fighting. The army suffers from something else – hostility. Anyone can be jumping up from any rock to kill them. They are humans too. They can’t be expected to keep seeing people as allies when it means their life if they are not. In the process, their attitude naturally becomes one of destroying the people. It is human. It is defensive. It is survival, though it seems to be deliberate cruelty against unlikely targets for someone not in their situation. To someone who fully expects to have his life threatened any moment, the life of someone on the ‘other side’ just doesn’t hold as much value, no matter how rosy you paint it. Whether it is an armed rebel, a child or an old person is secondary. All kinds of people can be suicide bombers. If not today, tomorrow. If that hate is in their hearts, it is only a matter of time before they act on it and find a way to kill them. It seems a threat. Whether that is right is another matter.
It is idealistic and unrealistic to expect utterly moral behavior out of revved up warriors with no tangible target in a hostile land. It will spill over into them seeing targets to fight rather than the unnerving ‘not knowing’ repercussions of letting someone in their sights live. For that matter, militants are no different – why else do journalists, so-called informers and doctors get killed? If you put army kids into hot spots they’d get killed too. Would that mean the army was right? No, the army would still be an instrument.
It is important that this be recognized. The Kashmiris need to understand that war crimes are not the purpose of the army. Even as they devastate innocents, they are also providing an important boundary from the chaos currently happening in Pakistan that has a whole load of intent for this region. The government needs to understand that they can’t hold the army responsible for what is essentially their job. They army may be stationed, they may have their instructions, but seeing that the objectives are met and evolving instructions as needed is the government’s job. We are not a military dictatorship, and it is insulting for the government to refer to our army as though their actions are independent of government intent. If they truly think they can’t handle the army, the correct move is not whining to the media and offering excuses to the Kashmiris, but resignations in favour of someone who can. It is utterly shameful that injured soldiers cannot expect any attention from the civil authorities other than piles of blame in the form of apologies on their behalf. They are as wronged as the Kashmiris. Occupying Kashmir is not their hobby.
The army needs to realize that there is very little conventional war left in the world. Warfare is sophisticated. There are facets and layers. It is now possible to kill every person in sight and still lose a war. It is not impossible that the very people they protect have been ‘brainwashed’ by the enemy. After all, don’t most of us believe that the army only kills evil people? Why wouldn’t the Kashmiris believe that the Army kills anyone who wants Kashmir to be free? Both are equally false. This isnt’ a sterile, yes-no situation. It is crucial to remember that every contact with a person is a moment that you build an enemy or ally. The idea is that the enemies we engage are those we recognize as enemy. Unintended ‘crimes’ may happen, but they should be acknowledged as failures of the process and refined. Most importantly, intentional crimes MUST be punished. Rapes, assaulting kids and such stuff can’t be ‘mistaken’ – it is intent. It is crime. It gets punished in regular civilian courts. The Army must not be above the law. This, more than anything else is the single biggest step every Indian must ask for, if we believe that Kashmir is a part of India.
I am planning to write three letters to the Kashmiris, to the government and to the Armed forces.
The people of Kashmir are in a vulnerable situation. They have few choices and even less dignity allowed to them. The priority for them is vastly different from the priority of the government or the army. They need their dignity restored before they will feel able to make responsible choices. Till then, it is a story of fight or fight, because flight is not an option. Anti-India is a creation of Indian policy. If two brothers inherit a house, and one of them decides what is better for the other and leaves no choice, they WILL end up in a fight over how their inheritance gets divided. It will only be worse if the question of legitimacy comes in as an argument against the other’s desires. Kashmir has paid for decades for the crimes of Pakistan in sponsoring militancy. It is important to realize that they are the ones we are protecting. If they are brainwashed, as many claim, our objective is not in wiping them out, but in halting the psychological harm being projected. If a hardliner or whatever the term is, is an authentic Kashmiri, even if he has ties in Pakistan, surely he deserves a voice? Kashmir was whole once – everyone has ties in Pakistan. For that matter, India too. Its time to face that and stop pretending that desire to merge with India is patriotism and desire to merge with Pakistan is brainwashing and desire for independence is insanity. Desire is desire. It doesn’t require logic.
I don’t know why no one has spoken of this, but there needs to be a platform for the Kashmiris, the government and the army to find ways to protect the land without devastating the people right along with the offenders. The ‘enemy’ needs to be defined, and communication needs to be established between those not enemies. It may not be open arms and emotional declarations – wounds and suspicions heal slow. But we could begin with protocols that ensure mutual respect and see how we can build on that. Even if Kashmir were to be totally free tomorrow, it still would need a friendly India, so this isn’t a betrayal of people’s desires, but a sandbox for a future, so to say.
Let us not hurry to decisions, but first create an environment where excellent choices can be made – whatever they are. Like a plebiscite can’t be done in Kashmir, because the conditions for it have been destroyed, absorbing Kashmir into India can’t be done either, because the conditions for that have been destroyed too. An independent Kashmir is going to be a political and security nightmare in the vicinity of India, Pakistan and China. So, for now, we can accept that we don’t have the possibility for good choices and work toward creating them.