Sunday, 31 August 2008

Kashmir and beyond : Further Thoughts

In my last post (Kashmir : Give them Azadi) the implicit assumption I had made was that the entire Jammy division was predominantly Hindu and would thus stay with India. As the map above indicates (if it is accurate), this is not the case. This changes several things since this means that the section of Jammu that is likely to stay with India unequivocally is not contiguous to Ladakh (in which sector India will not have any problems winning any plebiscite) making the strategic cost of giving all the Muslim parts of Kashmir azadi a lot higher, and making it very very difficult to contain anti-India activities (should there be any, and as I have indicated previously, we must expect the worst) in Himachal, Jammu and Ladakh. Also, this leaves Ladakh very exposed indeed, since it will then be precariously placed between 2 hostile powers, with only one road connecting it to India (the Manali-Leh highway) which is open only 2 months or so in a year. In the case of large scale aggression, the defence of Ladakh will be untenable.

Of course, it is possible that the Muslims of the Jammu division will not want to be part of a new state dominated by the Kashmiri's of the Valley (and such a split was indeed indicated in the participation of Muslims in the recent protests in Jammu). If this is indeed the case, then my analysis of the previous post holds. There is of course a third possibility - we hold on to the whole of Jammu division regardless of how it votes, but that rather defeats the purpose of the whole exercise I think. However, as the map below indicates (IF it is correct), the Muslim parts of Jammu division share a common language and culture with the Valley, so the reports of Muslim participation in the protests in Jammu likely referred to the Indian Muslims living in Jammu the city and surrounding areas.

This does severely restrict the possibilities that India has in terms of granting Independence. I am inclined to view these maps with scepticism however, since they originate from a site that seems Pakistani, and both the maps just might have a certain amount of disinformation built in. (It is however, a fascinating site with lots of geographical information about Kashmir and the surrounding region and detailed survey maps)

The more I read about the tensions and conflicts in our neighborhood and beyond, the more convinced I am that India needs to scale up its military in a significant way, the debilitating shortage of officers in the Army and pilots in the Air Force is shameful, and the Govt. of India must take urgent steps to rectify these circumstances. Also, a blue water navy, AWACS and in Flight Refueling systems to increase the range of our aircraft are necessary if we are to harbor hopes of power projection into the heart of the Eurasian landmass. Kashmir is the closest modern India has ever been to this region, and Indira Col above the Siachen glacier is the magnificent watershed between the Indian Subcontinent and Central Asia. We have spent a lot of blood and money on being there, and handing it to anyone on a platter is hardly an option.

I am thinking in terms of "empire" of course (Arundhati Roy would be very angry indeed), and in many ways that is not helpful, but one has to appreciate the fact that there are places which from time immemorial have been points where races, cultures and peoples (which organize themselves into Empires ) have crashed into each other. Never in history has the Himalaya been straddled by a kingdom, never has the Gangetic plain and Tibetan plateau been part of the same nation. Never has India broken through the Northern wall that isolates us, this is the nearest we have ever come - at Indira Col. Will an Indian force ever control lands on either side of that dramatic, beautiful and immensely powerful geographic laxman rekha ? Not in the forseeable future. But we are making progress - there will soon be a fully functional IAF base in Tajikistan at Ayni,/Farkhor which is 2 km from the Afghan border, not very far from the Wakhan corridor and Pakistan, and if we can maintian good relations with Russia (which is not a given any more, after the fracas about the Admiral Gorshkov and our current affair with America) more can follow.

How many ironies History throws up ! Once upon a time the Wakhan corridor was given to Afghanistan by the British to create a buffer between the ever expanding Russian Empire and Britains Indian possessions. The British fears of a Russian invasion of Afghanistan (which prompted the Brits to fight 2 disastrous wars in Afghanistan themselves) in order to threaten the greatest colonial prize of them all - India - never materialized as long the British were here. When the Soviets (Russians by any other name..) did invade, it was the Americans who were most worried, because they had interests in Iranian oil, so they financed and helped (through Saudi intermediaries - Osama) a Tajik warlord - Ahemed Shah Massoud to make the war too expensive for the Soviets who ultimately withdrew after suffering heavy losses. In this process they used Pakistan (formerly a part of British India) to create and train the Islamic army of brainwashed irregulars, who later went out of control and overran Afghanistan. When America wanted to go after these guys because they were hiding Osama (who after 9/11 was Public enemy No. 1), the Americans turned to - guess who - Ahemed Shah Massoud, relying heavily on Russian(!) and Indian support to equip and train the Northern Alliance of warlords which eventually overthrew the Taliban. Through this, India finally got a foothold in Afghanistan, and opened a military hospital in Farkhor on the Tajik-Afghan border (with blessings from Russia of course). When Al Queida (formed by Massoud's former comrades in arms) managed to attack the Lion of Panjshir, the hero of the war against the Soviets, using a bomb concealed in a camera taken by 2 chaps posing as western journalists, he was rushed to the foreign medical hospital in a former Soviet country and breathed his last tended by Indian doctors.

Central Asia is extremely energy rich (alone reason enough to go there), provides access to immense resources and trade routes, is a reasonable sized market, has vast spaces for Indians to settle on, and is important for our security - if we are in a position strong enough to open a Western front on Pakistan, they will never attack us. However, if India is to have a realistic chance of breaking out of the subcontinent in terms of influence and economic reach we must find a way to stabilize Kashmir and consolidate our military presence there in terms of large, long range, sophisticated airbases and eventually, we must open the ancient trade routes to central Asia, and we can only do this if we are in a position of overwhelming strength which we will never be unless there is Peace in Kashmir. Apart from Kashmir, India needs to settle the fires that rage through it before thinking of exerting its influence overseas. Naxalism and the closely related phenomenon of alienation of poor rural and tribal communities, infrastructure development and a subtle but implacable nationalism achieved through a vigorous and positive campaign to engage and integrate the minorities into the mainstream. Carefuly chosen infrastructure projects and wise investments in heavy industry and careful nurturing of the agricultural sector to preserve social cohesion in rural India are all vital to ensure that India grows out of the "sub" and takes its rightful place on its continent and the world.

Image sources : Blank on the map, Maplandia


atwice said...

Thanks, I've learned a lot from these two posts.. Understanding the situation needs research, and the popular media is just insufficient to get there.

Interesting point about the energy resources in Central Asia.. We do need a Lot of energy to keep growing at a brisk pace..Any investment in the renewable sector would take at least ten years to be competitive, and that's time we don't have.. ( I still think we need to invest in that area too )

... said...

There are a couple of points. The division isn't precisely Hindu vs Muslim. There are a number of other divisions. The Gujjar and Bakerwals, predominantly Muslim, tend to be pro-India. Election results in those regions have high turnouts - 80% and above, and since the Army put up schools and provided resources in those regions, they have generally positive feelings towards India. The same holds for the Kargil and Ladakh region. Remember it was a shepherd, a Bakerwal, that alereted Indian forces to the infiltration. Moreover there are a half-million or more Shia Muslims, possibly up to a million, and they don't have any love for Pakistan. There was only one Shia Kashmiri militant group ever, and it wasn't very active.

In a few words: it's complicated.

This is why it's extremely important for India to strengthen and deepen institutions of representation in the Valley. Nor is a plebiscite something India should fear. There is no future in repressing the will of the people. But azaadi means many things. If nothing else it means living in a situation where you can stay out late at night, where you can party and express your opinion. Where there isn't a person with a submachine gun looking over your shoulder at every ten yards.

It isn't simply just giving up.

Psmith said...

@Aarthy : I agree, renewable energy is the way to go. any other arrangement is a stopgap arrangement at best.

@... : you are right. As you point out, the situation is a lot more subtle than I have made it out to be (and I have spent less than 2 months in Kashmir, and most of those in Ladakh - so most of my information is off the web. Thank you for the insight) and I whole heartedly agree with what you have to say about azaadi and giving people the chance to live fulfilling lives in a secure and free environment. That failure of the Indian state is probably the root of all others, and arguably, not only in Kashmir.

... said...

The many failures of the Indian state are galling, and infuriating, precisely because we would want better. But it's important to remember that, since Independence, India has raised literacy rates from below 20% to above 50%, life expectancy has risen from the mid 30s to the 60s, industry has grown and mobility has risen. Across the board. Not one famine has occurred.

This is in stark contrast to the colonial years, when industry was destroyed, tens of millions died in recurrent famines, and caste and religious differences were firmly entrenched in structures of governance.

We could have done a lot better, and there is a hell of a long way to go. There will be failures, betrayals, and unanticipated tragedies. If we taken our independence for granted we fail in the promise of the country. We're still getting there. In places like Kashmir and the North-East, we've barely started and crippled ourselves. For those reasons it becomes important to invest more efforts -- not money, you can't buy honest loyalty -- and also belief in these areas. You'd be surprised how hard people are willing to work for a better tomorrow, especially if the government exercises a light touch of help, advice and support rather than something there simply 'administering' all the lives under its control.

I'm glad at how thoughtfully you are looking at things. Gives most of us older, somewhat cynical bastards, something to hope for.

Niket said...

I completely agree with ...

Azadi is definitely not India simply giving up.

We need to provide the Kashmiris a beacon of hope for the future. (sounds like a politician, but that is the reality!)

And I feel radical Muslims will continue to have and create problems with all Nation states as their belief system is based on intolerance, fanaticism etc etc.

I again reiterate in this comment. Check the following link.