War Mongering Must Give Way to Trust, Peace and Friendship

I went to participate in a candle light homage paying event at Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s statue organised by about 200 Dalit students on Hazratganj main crossing in Lucknow on 16 February 2019 evening, two days after the dastardly terrorist act in Pulwana, Jammu and Kashmir, in which 37 Central Reserve Polica Forces’ personnel were killed. While the condolence meeting by Dalits students was sombre with no slogans being raised, at the neighbouring Mahatma Gandhi statue, much smaller nationalist groups of different shades were crying hoarse over each other shouting anti-Pakistan slogans, a sight that may have made Gandhi cringe.

 

The crucial question that arises is why do such terrorist attacks continue to take place, if Indian government, as claimed by the Prime Minister, has already given a fitting reply to Pakistan after the Uri terrorist attack in the form a surgical strike? There is a clamour among the Hindutva hardliners for a stronger surgical strike. If the 2016 surgical strike has not deterred Pakistan based terror groups or the Pakistani Army, what is the guarantee that a fresh one will do? And how much stronger surgical strike can be launched before it triggers a war? And who knows when the war will degenerate into a nuclear one? In fact, Government of India’s hard-line position against Pakistan and refusal to engage in a dialogue has made the situation worse.

 

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, as the United States prepares to pull out its troops, India has been left out in the cold. Donald Trump, who till now had adopted a reprimanding attitude towards Pakistan for having given shelter to terrorist organisations, has now realised its importance in brokering a peace deal with Taliban. Now he ridicules Narendra Modi as someone who tells him that India has built a library in Afghanistan, undermining the Parliament building made by the previous Indian government in Kabul. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who did not spare any international forum to demand isolation of Pakistan for its role in promoting terror, has failed to convince even one important nation. China has blocked the Indian attempt at United Nations to declare Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar, the man behind the 2001 Parliament attack and also behind the recent Pulwama incident, as a global terrorist. Russis, till sometime back considered close to India, is now building a military partnership with Pakistan.

 

The Indian government, like in the past terrorist attacks, has blamed Pakistan for the Pulwama terrorist attack. Can the Pakistani government be held responsible for J-e-M’s act? India thinks so, but the rest of the world doesn’t agree with this point of view. Will the Pakistani government risk supporting such an attack on India when it is just about to host US–Taliban talks in Islamabad and is happy to be back in the good books of the US? It desperately needs US financial help to sustain its security apparatus.

 

India must realise that the victim card it plays is not isolating Pakistan but is increasingly making India helpless. In no position to launch a full fledged war because of the impending danger of use of nuclear weapons, it is in India’s interest to buy peace with Pakistan and restore normalcy in Kashmir.

 

Facing marginalisation in Afghanistan peace talks, the Indian government through its Army Chief Bipin Rawat has signaled that it is willing to talk to Taliban. But this same government refuses to engage with the elected government of Pakistan, failed to pull along a coalition in J&K with the People’s Democratic Party and does not acknowledge the presence of All Parties Hurriyat Conference, which possibly has more hold on people than any political party there. In fact, it questioned Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi for having had telephonic talks with Hurriyat leaders recently. It doesn’t believe in dialogue and doesn’t want anybody else to dialogue with anybody else. This holier than thou attitude has played havoc with the people of J&K.

 

If the Indian government has no qualms about talking to Taliban, then it should reconsider its position on avoiding dialogue with Pakistan and Kashmiri political actors. Imran Khan has preempted India by taking the Kartarpur Corridor initiative, forcing India to cooperate as the Indian government cannot afford to hurt religious sentiments of the Sikh community. It should initiate full fledged dialogue process at the highest level. It cannot hope to have a better combination than Imran Khan–Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the helm of affairs in Pakistan. It is a pity that there are attempts to cow down Navjot Singh Sidhu for advocating dialogue with Pakistan, who seems to be the only Indian politician who is trying to inject some sanity in the otherwise virulent atmosphere created in the country in the name of nationalist politics.

 

To restore peace in J&K, Indian government must engage with Hurriyat leaders, pave the way for State elections (possibly along with the general elections due in May), and help in the formation of the next elected government. The Indian government has to trust J&K government to run its affairs on its own, with the help of local police to control the law and order situation like in other states. The army’s role should be limited to protecting borders only. Armed Forces Special Powers Act must be given a silent burial, a vocal demand for which was made by Omar Abdullah when he was the Chief Minister. In essence, until the Indian government stops treating Kashmir like its colony, peace is unlikely to return to the valley. No government can use pellet guns on its own people.

 

We have moved away from Gandhian values, especially in the current regime headed by Narendra Modi who doesn’t visualise Gandhi’s role beyond the sanitation campaign. And we have to rely on our Constitution to bring back normalcy to Kashmir. Narendra Modi has to expand his publicly declared chest size of 56 inches to allow a larger heart to extend a hand of friendship and peace to the people of Kashmir, its political actors, even those of separatist hues, and Pakistan. It must reach a written or an unwritten arrangement, just like the one with China, not to let soldiers from either side use any fire power. Both governments will have to jointly deal with terrorists because terror organisations based in Pakistan are hurting Pakistani population probably more than Indian population, something which very few people realise in India.

 

(Sandeep Pandey is a social activist and Magsaysay Award recipient.)

 

 

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