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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 10 New Delhi February 23, 2019

Chest-thumping and War-mongering must give way to Trust, Peace and Friendship

Sunday 24 February 2019, by Sandeep Pandey

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 the Hazratganj main crossing in Lucknow on February 16, 2019 evening, two days after the dastardly terrorist act in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, in which 40 Central Reserve Police Forces’ personnel were killed. While the condolence meeting by Dalit 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 the Indian Government, as claimed by the Prime Minister, has already given a fitting reply to Pakistan after the Uri terrorist attack in the form of a surgical strike? There is a clamour among the Hindutva hardliners for a stronger surgical strike. If the 2016 surgical strike has not deterred the 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, the Government of India’s hardline position against Pakistan and refusal to engage in dialogue has made the situation worse.

In Afghanistan the United States is preparing to pull out its troops, leaving India 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 the Taliban. Now he ridicules Narendra Modi as someone who tells him that India has built a library, undermining the Parliament building made by the previous Indian Government, in Kabul. Meanwhile, Narendra Modi, who did not spare any international fora to demand isolation of Pakistan for its role in promoting terror, failed to convince even one important nation. China blocks the Indian attempt at the United Nations to declare the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief, Masood Azhar, the man behind 2001 Parliament attack and also behind the recent Pulwama incident, as a global terrorist. Russia, till sometime back considered close to India, is now building a military partnership with Pakistan.

The Indian Government, like in the past terrorist attacks, continues to blame Pakistan for the Pulwama terrorist attack. Can the Pakistan Government be held responsible for the JeM’s act? India thinks so, but the rest of the world doesn’t agree with this point of view. Will the Pakistan Government risk supporting such an attack on India when it is just about to host the US-Taliban talks in Islamabad and it 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 it is increasingly making India helpless. In no position to launch a full-fledged war because of the impending danger of the use of nuclear weapons, it is in India’s interest to buy peace with Pakistan and restore normalcy in Kashmir.

Facing marginalisation in the Afghanistan peace talks, the Indian Government, through its Army chief Bipin Rawat, has signalled that it is willing to talk to the Taliban. 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 the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, which possibly has more hold on the people than any political party there. In fact, it questioned Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi for having had telephonic talks with the Hurriyat leaders recently. It doesn’t believe in dialogue and doesn’t want anybody to dialogue with anybody else. This holier-than-thou attitude has played havoc with the J&K people.

If the Indian Government has no qualms about talking to the Taliban, then it should reconsider its position of avoiding dialogue with Pakistan and the Kashmiri political actors. Imran Khan has pre-empted India by taking the Kartarpur Corridor initiative forcing it to cooperate as the Indian Government cannot afford to hurt the religious sentiments of the Sikh community. It should initiate a 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; he 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 the Indian Government must engage the Hurriyat leaders, pave the way for the State elections, possibly along with the general elections, and help in the formation of the next elected government. But most importantly, the Army and para-military forces have to be pulled out from inside Kashmir. The Indian Government has to trust the J&K Government once to run its affairs on its own with the help of the local police to control the law and order situation like in other State. The Army’s role should be only limited to protecting the borders. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act must be given a silent burial, the vocal demand for which was made by Omar Abdullah when he was serving as the State CM. 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 the 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 firepower. Both governments will have to jointly deal with terrorists because terror organisations based in Pakistan are hurting the Pakistani population probably more than the Indian population, something which the very people realise from the Indian point of view.

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