Thursday, January 01, 2009

The wrong answer

Since the Mumbai attacks (and, indeed, before), several prominent Indian voices have said that we should tackle terror firmly, like, in particular, Israel. In fact several industrialists have demanded that Israel's Mossad train our own security and intelligence agencies.

Let us imagine what would have happened if we had dealt with, say, Kashmir the way Israel dealt with Gaza:

  • We would have granted a narrow strip of the Kashmir valley, measuring about 350 square kilometres, "independence" and withdrawn our forces from there. However, we would have maintained control of all entry and exit points into the strip, and they would be dependent on us for imports, exports, essential supplies, power, and everything else.
  • We would have demanded that they elect a democratic government. Then we would have declared that we don't approve of the separatist party whom they did elect, and blockaded them, starving them of fuel, food, medicines, electricity, and other essential supplies.
  • When the residents of the valley, in frustration and anger, launch rockets at us (that mostly don't manage to hit anything), we will give them an ultimatum to stop. When they declare a ceasefire, we generally ignore the matter. When they offer to extend the ceasefire in return for lifting the blockade, we refuse.
  • When we don't lift the blockade, and the separatists step up rocket attacks, we go ahead and bomb the daylights out of them. (The bombing would have been planned for several months, and any gestures by the separatists, or "terrorists", would be irrelevant.) Having packed 1.4 million people into 360 square kilometres, we can safely accuse the "terrorists" of cowardice in "hiding" among the civilian population. Real terrorists, of course, live in isolated houses with "Bomb me" painted on the roof.

As of this writing, I'm not sure what the next step is. But if anyone thinks Israel has ensured its safety with this bombing campaign, or that India has anything positive to learn from such tactics -- well, I'm glad such people don't seem to be in our government right now.

What India has actually done in Kashmir is not good, either. Though we like to point at Pakistan-occupied Kashmir's (and, indeed, all Pakistan's) lack of democracy, we have shamelessly rigged elections throughout Kashmir's history, to stop the undesirable guys from winning. It was after the 1989 elections were rigged that the valley erupted in violence, and if the violence has abated, it is more because of weariness than any new friendliness towards India. Despite the reduction in violence, we have not reduced the presence of our security forces, seen as an occupying force (just as, say, a huge contingent of non-Tamil troops enforcing "peace" in Tamil Nadu would be seen as an occupying force). Our media largely ignores the daily abuses that occur under these troops, as they must -- there never has been an external military that did not abuse the local population. There have been widespread reports of voters being escorted by the police to polling stations. Worst of all, now that violence has abated, non-violent protestors are being gunned down. For the (generally pro-India) Wall Street Journal's take on all this, see here; for a Kashmiri perspective, see here.

I don't know what the solution is to the Kashmir problem, but I do know that Israel doesn't have a solution to offer us. If we are to look for places to learn from, perhaps we can look to Britain (the Northern Ireland problem) or Spain (the Basque and Catalan problems). But not Israel, please.


Sunil Mukhi said...

Your post was primarily about Kashmir rather than Israel, but I can't resist a comment on Israel's current bombing spree. Yesterday CNN showed us a debate between Avishai something (I forget), a radio host in Israel, and David (or Daniel?) Levy, heading an Israeli interest group in the US.

Avishai was just way over the top, talking about how Israel had a right to its biblical homeland, the land of his forefathers, the land where Jacob blah blah... (do I have a right to my homeland from the same era? Do the native Americans??).

Levy, on the other hand was earnestly pleading for good sense and pointing out that the current approach would buy only trouble and never peace. By the end of the debate, Levy was so frustrated that he said Avishai reminded him of the way "Hamas and Iran" talk!

It seems the problem is always between people having the same ideology but living on opposite sides of the divide... It's quite the same for India and Pakistan, isn't it.

But back to Israel, I'm always intrigued at how Muslims who take theocratic or excessively historical positions are instantly labelled "backward", perhaps rightly, but Jewish fundamentalists somehow don't attract the same label.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

For the most part, it seemed to me that the Israeli media has a more realistic view of the whole thing and the US media is completely blinkered, but I suppose you get all sorts everywhere and we tend to see a filtered version of the Israeli media.

There are faults on all sides but Israel's government likes to pick specific points (in this case, rocket attacks) as provocations, ignoring not just the entire previous history but even the immediate history (the blockade); and the US media mostly goes along with the argument. Several months ago Jimmy Carter called the blockade a "terrible human rights crime", but even that didn't get much notice, and what little comment I saw was negative (Carter is anti-Israel, etc).

Anonymous said...

The rigged elections in Kashmir happened in 1987 not in 1989.

As far as these elections are concerned, when Huriyat has accepted that people turned out in large numbers--''we need to introspect''--arguing that voters were led to the booths makes little sense.

And while large scale rigging which no doubt happened in Kashmir (as incidentally in large tracts of the India--the election commission was a toothless tiger for a long time), it was hardly motivated by the desire not make the wrong guys but simply because of the need for capturing power--as in 1987 Congress and NC collaborated to win the elections.

Kashmiris are hardly as innocent as they pretend to be but that is a story for another day.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Rohit: about 1987 - mea culpa.

About Hurriyat's accepting that most people voted voluntarily: links? Anyway, I doubt anyone has numbers on this, and it is indeed possible that a majority of those who turned out did so voluntarily -- but the reports of police rounding up voters did not flatter our democracy: quite the opposite. If India wants to keep Kashmir we have to realise that popular opinion (in Kashmir and elsewhere) of our actions matters, eventually.

About elections being rigged elsewhere in India in the 1980s: true -- but the method was generally "booth-capturing" and "ballot-box stuffing", not fake counting. The NC were favoured by Delhi in 1987, and the elections were rigged to favour them -- it was not just "may the biggest goondas win".

Anant said...

Good post!

Rahul Basu said...

Rahul: India's mistakes in Kashmir are legion and the human rights abuses do nothing to enhance India's reputation. And placing an army, trained to fight a clear enemy, amongst a civilian population is a recipe for disaster as we can see and as you also point out.

Having said that, I frankly do not know what the solution is. The army is there because hordes of well trained and armed terrorists are sent across the border to foment trouble (this has reduced but I am not sure for how long). So removing the army overnight is hardly a solution at this stage. At the same time, if we want Kashmir to be part of India we cannot but hold elections. I don't know exactly how many people were rounded up to vote (and as far as we know nobody was asked to vote for any particular candidate, something that seems to happen in many parts of Bihar) but it is true that a large number of candidates stood for election including independents, meaning that there seems to have been some serious attention given to elections. It definitely does not mean that separatism sentiment is dead as some people claim, but if perhaps if there some sincerity some positive steps can be taken to address various issues. And a solution also needs to address the status of the homeless Kashmiri Pandits who were driven out.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that perhaps some good might come out of these elections, if the politicians are serious about it. Let us not look at the purely negative side. And after Mumbai, I for one, do not discount the possibility of the Pak Army and the ISI from muddying the waters if they think things are not going the way they want them to. And then we will be back in the morass, once again (not that we are really out of it).

Finally I think the Kashmir viewpoint that you link to is an extreme one. I am certain all Kashmiris do not hold the same view.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Rahul: I agree the Kashmir situation is better than it was. But with reduction in terrorism, I think, should come a reduction (perhaps not complete withdrawal) of army, or at least a redeployment to the border.

Regarding ISI fomenting trouble, Siddharth Varadarajan made some interesting points. If we are to believe that the ISI instigated the Mumbai attacks, why did they not try to disrupt the Kashmir elections? Farooq Abdullah made it a point to thank militants for allowing the elections to proceed peacefully. He gives two possible answers: first, that the ISI thought a Mumbai attack would be more effective; second, that there is behind-the-scenes cooperation between India and Pakistan that caused the latter to lie low during the elections, and the Mumbai attacks were on LeT's own initiative and not instigated by the ISI. I suppose there is a third possibility, that Mumbai was a softer target given the high amount of security in Kashmir -- this is however much the same as Varadarajan's first point: while low-profile attacks would have been enough to scare voters in Kashmir, they would have attracted little attention internationally, and it would have been much harder to attack a high-profile target in Srinagar.

Anonymous said...


While stray incidents of voter intimidation might be there--impossible to verify anyway--the elections were free and fair largely. I don't think we can say much more than that even for elections elsewhere in our land. (See for example, this piece in Rediff:

About the links you asked for, see these interviews in IE,

Szerelem said...

Off topic, but since you mentioned Israel - Tony Karon had an excellent post

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Rohit: thanks for the links. My point is that perceptions matter in Kashmir, more than in the rest of India. Also there is no perception of Delhi influencing elections in Tamil Nadu: it is all local politics and local strongmen. Still, now that the elections have taken place peacefully and with a high turnout, it is up to the new government to conduct itself transparently and honestly, and for the central government to allow it to do so.

Rahul Basu said...

Rahul: Since this post started off with Israel, here is an article from Salon that I got through Karela Fry, that you might want to see. Nice quote also from Orwell's "Notes on Nationhood" which I think applies to many of us, Israeli, Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis....

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Rahul: thanks. Greenwald is generally good. I would think that Indians who want to identify with "people like us" would identify with the Palestinians in Gaza, and not with Israel -- so the lack of interest in India surprises me.

Anonymous said...

Actually I admire how Israel gets away with all the murders in spite of the vocal and influential "liberal" elites of America thanks to the strong Israel lobby in US. Even Pak gets away with theatrical plays in its own way. And Indian reaction like the typical academic papers sounds logical and morally upright in an attempt not to be put in a defensive position by not allowing direct comparison of Kashmir with the Palestine issue/Israel reaction.

Anonymous said...

I meant this link for the theatrical play in the above comment

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Suresh said...

Your attempt to speculate on the consequences of India dealing with Kashmir in a manner similar to Israel dealing with Gaza are misplaced. Israel does not claim that the Gazans are Israelis; India, on the other hand, does assert that the Kashmiris are Indians even if many Kashmiris don't want that privilege...India, therefore, *cannot* treat the Kashmiris as aliens and it cannot just "grant independence to a narrow strip of the Kashmir valley" as you put it. Those who want to treat the Kashmiris as aliens - some of the right-wing nuts - have no idea what they are talking about.

It is worth also noting that "the Kashmir problem" is just the problem of the "Kashmir valley." Many people in Ladakh and Jammu actually resent being lumped together with the Kashmiris and there have been periodical attempts in both places to partition the state. Frankly, I think they have a point. However, many in India - I could name Kuldip Nayar for one - oppose this because it would give "support to the two-nation theory by partitioning the state along religious lines." Bizarre: so the people of Jammu and Ladakh are to suffer for the "greater good"! Such stupidity will only result in two additional separatist movements in a few more years. (This is not to say that the state should be partitioned; merely that the reasons for not doing so are strange.) One of the unfortunate consequences of the Kashmir tragedy has been that we (in the rest of India) have forgotten that the people of Jammu and Ladakh have their own problems too.

Anonymous said...

Kashmiris can go to other parts of India, work there, vote there and are full fledged citizens of india whereas gazans have none of these advantages. If Israel has started out as a secular republic instead of a relegious entity, the problem of gaza wouldnt have been there. So Israel and India are 180° opposed.

Anonymous said...

A bit of balance might help. As Revathi pointed out:

"Kashmiris can go to other parts of India, work there, vote there and are full fledged citizens of india whereas gazans have none of these advantages".

I agree with Rahul Basu when he says that India's mistakes in Kashmir are legion and human rights violation doesnt help.

What remains to be pointed out though, that there was yet another blunder. The thousands of Kashmiri pandits who were driven out from there homes had to stay out of their homes. Not a single human rights group ever would speak for them; nor would the government.

Its a tad stupid of the jihadists in Kashmir if they think they can try to flush out a part of legit population of Kashmir in name of freedom struggle. Which is probably why there are some many folks out here, who believe that Israel's way of zero tolerance is the way to go. There has been enough tolerance before the recent "human rights violation" stuff, and look where it brought us. A big conflict and thousands of people driven out from their homes about whom the left wing "intellectuals" wont ever give a s***.