Yes, we need to rethink our strategy

  • Mirwaiz Umar Farooq
  • Publish Date: Feb 10 2016 2:52PM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 17 2016 5:38PM
Yes, we need to rethink our strategy

If strategy is defined as the principled application of one’s available resources and means to advance one’s core objectives and enduring interests and if the successful application of strategy results in an increasing expansion in the range of available resources and options to advance those objectives and interests, then it would be fair for us to say that strategy has become somewhat of a lost art in present day Kashmir.

Strategy, properly conceived and applied dynamically over time in Kashmir, should create better choices, more resources and capacities and offer more viable routes and options that lead one closer to our goal. Sadly, what often passes for “strategy” in the present discourse in Kashmir has done the opposite. What we hear too often in Kashmir is actually circumscribed choice, fostering this sense that we Kashmiris have no alternative but to simply press on without adopting any new approaches or new methods, vaguely hoping that persistence alone without any change in approach and methodology will produce a different result. Worse, with few exceptions, this static conception of “strategy” that is put forward by many in Kashmir has been almost entirely reactive. Rather than pursuing innovation and collective dynamic action, things have followed a certain repetitive pattern.

So if the question is do we need to rethink our strategy in Kashmir? Should we explore new approaches and methods of collective organizing and action? The answer is a resounding yes. In fact, the answer to this question should always be yes. This should be the case during setbacks and challenges and during times when we are achieving progress. Strategy is about anticipating and adapting. Continuous thinking and rethinking is at the core of any effective strategy. This is true whether applied in the context of the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination or in any other context. Effective strategy should be proactive and it should be based on the process of collective learning through experimentation and trial and error using new ideas and approaches and – yes – also learning from failures. Strategy requires continuous efforts to assess, adjust, imagine, adapt and evolve in pursuit of one’s goal and interests. To succeed, we must maintain an open mind and we must retain the discipline to confront the brutal realities of our current reality. Likewise, we must be open to identifying and seizing new opportunities.

To say that one does not need to keep rethinking strategy is a recipe for stagnation and certain failure. To halt the process of thinking and rethinking strategy would risk a situation in which we would only end up expending our strength and resources to the point of total exhaustion. That must never happen and, therefore, we have no choice but to keep rethinking, improving and evolving our strategy. Indeed, such a process is incumbent upon any people’s movement if it is to ultimately succeed.

So where do we begin?

First and foremost, I believe we must fully adopt a movement mindset.

We must always keep in mind that ours is a people’s movement that requires broad consensus and active participation from every section of Kashmiri society to achieve strategic coherence, impact and success. For our struggle, the center of gravity really is our people – it is each other. Our strength is in our ability to cooperate and work effectively together as a people’s movement in which each and every person shoulders his or her share of the responsibility to build a bright, free and just future for Kashmir. In a people’s movement, strategic consensus and coherence does not just happen automatically in a top-down fashion. It results from a healthy discussion and debate across the society. So if we want to evolve a more effective strategy for Kashmir, the first area of focus for all of us should be to evolve better and more effective means of having participatory discussions. We must find ways to integrate new ideas and involve people from across our society – particularly Kashmiri youth. In this connection, social media provides us new tools to foster public conversation, participation and consensus. We must embrace and harness these tools to ensure that as many people as possible have an opportunity to contribute their ideas and participate in building a positive and effective strategy for the future. Public participation and taking collective responsibility as a people really is the key to evolving and implementing a more effective strategy for Kashmir.

It is useful to highlight the strategic questions that we need to be collectively asking ourselves in our public discourse in Kashmir. For any strategy, we must be able to essentially answer three basic questions. First, what do we wish to achieve? Second, how do we get there or what are the ways? And, third, what resources are available, or what means will be used?

As for the first question, I believe the ends we are seeking are just and that we are pursuing the right strategic goal – not just for our people here in Jammu & Kashmir, but for the whole of South Asia.

I believe we are correct in our pursuit of the right of self-determination and in our pursuit of a peaceful solution to the Kashmir Dispute through a negotiated settlement between India, Pakistan and the people of Jammu & Kashmir that is based on the collective will of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. The force of this idea rests in the strength of the principles it is based upon which are democratic to the core. This approach not only humanizes the Kashmir Issue; it also offers benefits for all the parties concerned. In the 21st Century, it is simply not possible for militaristic approaches to succeed in the long run. Such unjust approaches neither offer peace, nor stability or prosperity for the region. The legitimate political aspirations of Kashmiris will need to be accommodated as the status quo is neither morally, politically or economically sustainable. Relations cannot be perpetually governed by force and, ultimately, political conflicts like Kashmir cannot be resolved through military means. Furthermore, the world expects that a political solution to the Kashmir Dispute should be reached through dialogue and negotiation.

So, while I will be the first person to say we need to evolve a new and improved strategy for Kashmir, it’s important to highlight where things are headed in the right direction. I believe the strategic goal that we seek is achievable and can lead to a win-win outcome for all – for the people of Jammu & Kashmir, India and Pakistan – as it provides a path towards a lasting peace in South Asia. Basic logic dictates that India and Pakistan cannot resolve this issue on their own. Any lasting solution to the Kashmir Dispute will necessarily require the involvement, endorsement and acceptance of the Kashmiri people. If the course of history is to be truly turned and dividends of peace are to be unleashed, Kashmir is the answer for both India and Pakistan. It is only when a strong, articulate and collective voice from Jammu & Kashmir is included in the process of negotiations and provides both countries a futuristic narrative that allows them to compromise with each other and with us while still saving face, only when a clear Kashmiri voice lets them justify their actions at the negotiating table because the people of Jammu & Kashmir finally say “this is what we want” will there be peace. The problem becomes humanized and thus resolvable.

For this reason, I believe our principled and enduring goal provides us with the basic framework for crafting a sound strategy for Kashmir.

Our fundamental strategy should flow not from simple reactions to the day-to-day events, but from a proactive focus on the enduring interests we have in seeking a just and lasting peace in Kashmir and for South Asia as a whole. Starting with a re-affirmation of this basic strategic direction that we as Kashmiris seek to move in – which is linked to peace in South Asia – it is then possible to move on to the other strategic questions, i.e. how do we get there and what resources and means will be used?

Perhaps it is best to first state the is clear that the Kashmir Conflict cannot be resolved through military means and that war is no longer an option for either India or Pakistan, In whatever future strategy we chart out for Kashmir, we should be unequivocal about focusing squarely on carrying forward a nonviolent movement. This not only makes sense in light of our collective experience in Kashmir and the realities of South Asia, it also makes basic strategic sense in light of global experience and current events. The latest data indicates that nonviolent movements are far more effective than those that use violence, even against the most formidable opponents. A 2011 study of 323 violent and nonviolent resistance campaigns carried out across the globe from 1940 onwards found that nonviolent campaigns using a broad range of tactics were twice as successful as violent campaigns.* Strengthening a nonviolent peoples movement in Kashmir provides us the most effective and participatory way to harness our collective voice, talent and energies as a people.

The real strategic challenge facing all of us is how to mobilize and coordinate the various tools and sources of power and influence that are collectively available to Kashmiris in a more coherent way. Here, I think we must mobilize and deploy what many have called “smart power”, which is the full range of tools currently at our disposal – diplomatic, intellectual, social, economic, political, legal, and cultural. Over the past 20 years, in one way or another, Kashmiris have made use of aspects of each of these tools. To evolve a more effective future strategy, what is now required of all of us is a collective effort to deploy the right combination of these tools and adopt a multi-pronged approach in using them.

It is perhaps beyond the scope of this short article to lay out in detail what a coherent, multi-pronged “smart power” strategy could look like as Kashmir enters 2016. However, I would like to share a few broad ideas that can help contribute to evolving a shared public understanding of our current options to overcome the status quo and advance the Kashmiri struggle for a just and lasting peace.

On the diplomatic front, we must take a bold and proactive approach to advocate for a peaceful solution to the Kashmir Dispute and we must also demonstrate our serious will to negotiate. We must recognize that dialogue and negotiations is a necessary part and parcel of our struggle. We must never shy away from any process that has a chance of moving the Kashmir Issue towards resolution – be it dialogue and negotiations, intra-Kashmir dialogue and consensus-building, or Kashmir-centric Confidence Building Measures. While advocating our rights and aspirations, we must position ourselves as the primary stakeholder for peace in the region - which we are - and we must not allow any room for others to somehow paint Kashmiris as the spoilers of peace in South Asia or as rejectionists or obstructionists. We should encourage any and all efforts to improve relations between India and Pakistan, we must encourage and invite the leadership of India and Pakistan towards statesmanship and we should continue to push for the involvement of Kashmiris in any peace process. If ever a serious opportunity arises, we should stand ready to engage in dialogue to put across a Kashmiri agenda for talks and place Kashmiri interests, aspirations, concerns and ideas on the negotiating table. We should not let any potential opening become a missed opportunity. Alongside efforts to engage the Governments of India and Pakistan, an effective Kashmiri strategy should also involve more rigorous public diplomacy to reach out to public constituencies in India and Pakistan to advocate and build wider support for a solution to the Kashmir Dispute that upholds Kashmiri rights and interests.

Overall, we will have to take a longer-term view. We should recognize and acknowledge that our struggle is a long-term one. Even if the type of inclusive peace process we have been advocating for were to begin tomorrow, no solution could be expected in the immediate future. As we have seen in conflict situations across the globe, peace talks take time to yield tangible progress. In the short-term, we should certainly encourage efforts to improve relations between India and Pakistan and simultaneously our focus should be on how to achieve incremental progress in advancing key Kashmiri interests such as improving conditions on the ground – whether that means demilitarization, visible steps to safeguard human rights, removing restrictions on peaceful protests and political activity, opening up of space for intra-Kashmiri dialogue, etc. We should try to pursue modest gains on all of these issues and other issues like these wherever possible, without compromising our broader political aspirations.

Finally, we must diversify our approach and build a “smart” and vibrant movement in Kashmir. We must not fall into the trap of pursuing a strategy focused solely on advocacy for and the pursuit of meaningful negotiations. We must not corner ourselves by adopting a single-minded course. Beyond diplomatic efforts, deploying “smart power” would mean deploying the full range of tools at our disposal. In this direction, there are a few priorities I would like to highlight in particular. First, there is a need for us to invest heavily in Kashmir’s new generation and create more space and opportunities for our budding youth to participate and take responsibility in shaping our future. Second, we must continue to explore new, creative nonviolent methods and means of raising our collective voice. There is certainly a need to shift away from an over-reliance on methods such as Hartals and explore grassroots organizing and the new tools offered by social media to raise our collective voice. Third, we should make efforts to build a wider and deeper political consensus within Jammu & Kashmir. It is already clear that a basic political consensus is emerging in Jammu & Kashmir that Kashmir is a political issue that needs a political solution. We must build upon this through intra-Kashmir dialogue and consensus building on both sides of the Line of Control. The greater consensus we can develop amongst ourselves within Jammu & Kashmir, the greater our ability to influence the future course of events. Finally, we must focus on strengthening our social, cultural and economic moorings. We must not adopt approaches that weaken our society. We must ensure our survival as a people and strengthen our society in every way possible, including through self-reliance and economic empowerment. Ensuring the survival and welfare of our people and pursuing community-building is paramount for our struggle. This is a vast arena for all of us to collectively explore. In essence, any effort undertaken to strengthen, invigorate and empower our society, economy, politics and culture will inevitably advance Kashmiri interests. Self-empowerment will not only help in the process of securing our political aspirations, it will help us develop the type of inclusive, vibrant, just and enlightened society that gives real meaning to our collective life.

If we start by asking the three basic questions I highlighted, developing a more effective strategy for Kashmir should be relatively easy. Despite all the challenges and problems facing Kashmir, the basic building blocks for a more effective and “smart power” strategy for Kashmir are within our grasp. After all, the resources and means at our disposal are to be mobilized from within us, by harnessing our collective strength and potential as a polity. There are also many inspiring examples from across the globe of people’s rights movements that we can attempt to learn from. If we can adopt a movement mindset and take collective responsibility as a people; if we can reaffirm and focus on our basic strategic objectives and enduring interests; and if we are able to focus on a few of the ideas that I have briefly touched upon to evolve a multi-pronged approach, I am sure that we will be able to collectively rediscover the lost art of strategy in Kashmir.