Just 48 hours after J&K Chief Minister Mr. Omar Abdullah suggested that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) be withdrawn from some parts of the state, terrorist grenade attacks occurred. The timing of the attacks raised eyebrows. Senior National Conference leader and Mr. Omar Abdullah’s uncle, Mr. Mustapha Kemal, quickly concluded that the army was behind the attacks in order to dispel notions that normalcy was returning to the state that justified withdrawal of AFSPA. The army has expressed the view that a withdrawal of AFSPA would be premature. But the army made clear that the final decision rested with the Union Home Ministry. Noting the army’s view that countered the Chief Minister’s assessment, Mr. Mustapha Kemal added 2 plus 2 and totaled 22. The state wise Bandh organized by separatist groups further embarrassed the Chief Minister. Mr. Mustapha Kemal and others who think like him because of the timing of the terrorist attacks need to reappraise their hasty conclusion.
They suspect the army because it opposed the early withdrawal of AFSPA. But the army personnel would like nothing better than to go home. The army’s view is based only upon professional assessment. Believing that the army has a vested interest in staying on in the state Mr. Mustapha Kemal arrived at his hasty conclusion. He needs to be reminded of certain aspects in the convoluted situation that exists today in J&K. Who really has the biggest vested interest in not disturbing the status quo and maintaining the army’s presence in J&K? This might come as a shocker. It is Pakistan and the ISI that would like the status quo to continue. Following are the reasons.
The smart strategists of the ISI know very well that Kashmir cannot be wrested militarily. Nor can it be wrested by increased terrorist attacks. It can be separated from India only through an internationally pressured political settlement. That would be best realized by prolonging the status quo. Kashmir under the Indian army’s occupation, with ISI funded separatists demanding secession, with terrorists keeping the state destabilized, with the inevitable human rights excesses that follow from ham handed J&K police operations, all these present the ideal scenario for international powers to step in and pressure India to relent.
Consider what would happen if the Indian army were to withdraw from the state. Pakistan sponsored terrorists would have no enemy to hit. If terrorists target civilian population the public mood against separatists and against secession would escalate. Also, if things go out of hand, a full scale intervention by the Indian army would appear justified in the eyes of the world. That is why the best bet for Pakistan and the ISI would be to prolong the status quo. It allows human rights violations to increase. It encourages alienation of the Kashmiri people from the Indian government. The ISI therefore has the biggest vested interest in the Indian army staying on in J&K to mar India’s international image.
All this could be resolved on a happy note of course if New Delhi and Islamabad could realize a peace settlement that satisfies the core interests of India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri people. But that requires vision and will. Both are in very short supply among leaders of both governments.