A rudderless boat in stormy waters

  • Ajaz Ahmed
  • Publish Date: Feb 10 2016 3:50PM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 17 2016 5:13PM
A rudderless boat in stormy waters

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.  - Sun Tzu (The Art of War)


There are anecdotes about ultra-conservative societies where a healer would be expected to treat a sick lady only on the basis of symptoms related through a male chaperone. Any direct conversation by the healer with the sick lady was out of question not to speak of his actually examining her. Hampered by such inviolable taboos one can very well imagine the effectiveness of the treatment delivered by the healer and the consequent fate of the sick lady. The analogy can be easily applied to the Kashmir issue and the on-going struggle in Kashmir. There are many issues related to the problem which remain buried under taboos and hence have rarely ever been touched upon for fear that any such attempt might be termed ‘anti-movement’. This coupled with the extreme sensitivity, bordering on intolerance, to criticism on part of the leaders of the armed struggle as well as the political struggle in Kashmir has undoubtedly been detrimental to the struggle. Any discussion on reviewing and revisiting the Kashmir issue and the strategies and struggle for it can be possible only after these taboo issues are also discussed and deliberated upon.

The Kashmir ‘issue’, a legacy of the British rule in the Indian sub-continent, has been around for 68 years now and remains an unresolved ‘problem’ till date. The local population has suffered division of their land as well as tremendous mortal as well as material losses over these seven decades with no end to their miseries in sight. Moreover, this issue has already led to at least three overt wars between India and Pakistan not to speak of covert inimical activity and has been termed a potential nuclear flashpoint. While this makes Kashmir a problem of international dimensions, the fact remains that it is the local population which is directly affected by the conflict resulting from this unresolved issue. The insurgency that started in the nineties of the last century is already a quarter of a century old and it is not the first instance when the Kashmiri people took an initiative to get the issue resolved as per their aspirations. Their efforts have now run the full gamut from guerrilla warfare to peaceful activism. Yet the issue continues to resist any resolution. Of course any change in the status quo on Kashmir situation is no mean task involving as it does two other rival stake holders with at least one of them being a potential world power with considerable military might. However, at the same time the Kashmir conflict is itself beset with myriad conflicts which have in no less measure been responsible for reducing it to a tangled mess and a farce.
Seven decades of suffering and yet there seems to be no clear cut idea what all it is about. It might be clear, at least at times, what the people here are fighting against but the same clarity is not there regarding what they are fighting for. Is it independence? Or merger with Pakistan? The debate has never quite reached any conclusion. Even if it is granted that seceding from India is a goal into itself the whole thing still remains largely undefined for the problem has a geographical aspect too. When people here talk of secession what are the geographical borders of the seceding portion? Of course the most obvious answer to this would be the state of Jammu & Kashmir as it stood at the time of the last ruling monarch ruling independently. This rather trite answer too poses a problem. The territory under the Maharajah’s rule included areas of the Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh and of course the areas which are being administered by Pakistan. Now one might ask whether the people of Jammu and Ladakh support the struggle for secession from India and a consequent independent nation or a merger with Pakistan? The answer to this question is rather obvious and yet this issue has been consistently ignored and in fact remains one of the inviolable taboos.

The state of Jammu & Kashmir as it existed at the time its Dogra ruler chose to align with India was just a cobbled-together combination of the territorial acquisitions of a chieftain of Jammu, regardless of the means employed. Is there any other reason that the state of Jammu and Kashmir exists as it does with regard to its geographical boundaries? Why is it so difficult to accept this fact and why the logic defying insistence on maintaining this territorial structure, whether it continues with India, chooses independence or merges with Pakistan? That too when the ethnicity, culture as well as religious ideology of these three regions is entirely different with very little meeting ground if any. Without deliberating upon this mostly bypassed aspect of the problem a definite goal cannot be identified nor any strategy outlined regarding any struggle against the present status of the region.

Speaking of ethnicity, culture and religion, what is the ideological basis for the struggle for secession and the existing post-secession options? Is it to be religion? Culture? Ethnicity? Geographical contiguity? Ideology is the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ and needs to be clearly outlined to provide the argument and justification for a particular demand. With regard to the Kashmir issue this area also continues to remain nebulous which further adds to the confusion and has been a major factor for the struggle ending up more in mutual strife than anything else. It is only once the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ are dealt with that the ‘how’ can be pondered upon. One would imagine that seven decades would be enough time to have a clear cut idea regarding these three factors. However, facts speak otherwise. If after all these decades or – if we consider only the existing strife – a quarter of century the people are still debating on the sole strategy of ‘hartals’, there is something wrong somewhere. In fact it is an irony that instead of remaining a strategy, possibly one strategy among others against the issue at hand, the strategy of ‘hartals’ has itself ended up becoming an issue! If something is ineffective and yet continues to be employed as strategy it ceases to be so and degenerates into mere tokenism. Now, of course, tokenism has its uses too but it cannot be used to replace strategy. There is then a need to deliberate upon strategy or rather strategies to be employed taking care to chose a strategy that is coherent and effective rather than being a mere token.

There is nothing unusual about difference of opinion in a political movement or for that matter even in an armed struggle but the degree to which it was prevalent in the armed struggle of nineties in Kashmir bordered on chaos. If this was a deliberate strategy on part of the sponsors one can’t help but wonder as to what could have been the objective of such a strategy that at times caused the struggle to degenerate into internecine warfare though a fairly accurate guess can be ventured. Can it be denied that this disarray amongst the ranks of the armed insurgency contributed towards the emergence of counter-insurgency? Is it perhaps because of the fact that while there is no doubt that a strong sentiment for self-determination exists in Kashmir, the ‘moral’ and ‘material’ support from across the border comes with riders in terms of ideology and strategy? Has this conditional support and the counter-measures instituted by India reduced the indigenous struggle of the Kashmiri people to a mere proxy war between two neighboring countries being fought by the Kashmiris?

In recent times there have been allegations and counter-allegations leading to a debate on whether it is the leaders or the people who are responsible for the debacle faced by the ongoing struggle. The leaders of the movement have not been able to hold their own camp together, how can they expect to hold the people. On the other hand people too have been pretty inconsistent too, a glaring example of which was the massive participation in elections shortly after the mass movement of 2010. It is true that the people have rendered sacrifices for the movement and have shown exemplary courage and resistance at times but any struggle for independence or secession cannot follow the pattern of an instalment plan. Rebuilding and restructuring something involves a lot of tearing down too. Material progress and prosperity cannot go side by side with a struggle for self-determination. You cannot talk of resistance one day and tourism the next day, it is like attempting to eat a cake and keep it as well. If the people of Kashmir have any aspirations or a goal for their struggle they have to decide how badly they desire this goal. A struggle that is outsourced does not remain a genuine struggle but in fact becomes a harbinger of worse things to come.

There is need for a massive rethinking among the leaders as well as the people of Kashmir. Or else the struggle for achieving their thwarted aspirations can bring them more miseries and towards no end too. There is a dire need to revisit the Kashmir conflict and rethink various issues related to it as well as the strategies involved. It would do well for the people as well as their leaders to understand that sailing in a rudderless boat in stormy waters is indeed a perilous journey with no end except perhaps a fatal one.