By Shahzad Chaudhry
India’s gains: Uri has changed the paradigm of perceptions on Kashmir. Where Kashmir continues to be under an over two-month long curfew, and where over a 100 people have died in the last about 70 days of state repression, with thousands injured, blinded and maimed through the indiscriminate use of pellet guns by India’s over 750,000 permanently stationed forces, Uri is a god-send.
Uri makes the perpetrator a victim and thus one should expect Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to build on the incident and gain multiple objectives in trying to gain a more sympathetic hearing. Her, and India’s, larger thrust will be on framing Pakistan as a terrorist state, which had terrorists – four of them – to attack Indian Brigade HQs on the LOC and kill 18 of its soldiers.
Swaraj will of course be selective in sharing with her audiences the real truth – that many of the victims died because of a fuel tank explosion, possibly put alight by the same four terrorists (let’s give her as much) – and not by direct fire of the infiltrators who were taking on a war-ready deployed brigade in a war zone. No one takes chances with a double-fenced, fully lit at night border where opposing forces are in a proverbial eye-to-eye deployment. Yet these four idiots did, allegedly, and managed to steal their way through the densest military deployment anywhere in the world. Amazing.
Swaraj will cite Mumbai and Pathankot to strengthen her case, and talk about how callously Pakistan has failed to ‘bring those responsible to justice’, despite the cooperation into investigations and the leads offered by India to Pakistan. This last bit about ‘bringing to justice’ will touch some American hearts because this would have been lifted directly out of their playbook.
And through such tirade will be built a picture of the Indian state – a regional behemoth and an emerging global player, with global ambitions – an unfortunate, listless, victim of Pakistan’s terror in Kashmir. Forcing India to defend against the ongoing spate of Pakistan-inspired agitation by 5-80 year-old Kashmiris chanting ‘Azadi’. The youngest victim, killed by the Indian forces just last week, was only twelve.
To summarise: the Indian state is the victim; Pakistan sponsors terror and terrorises India; Kashmiris are Pakistan-inspired anarchists; defending itself against such cross-border menace is India’s right, including what it might propose to the world to do with Pakistan.
Implicitly thus, India creates its raison d’ etat for facing off the Kashmiri agitation and killing over a 100 of them. Its also creates the ground for right of reprisal against alleged Pakistani highhandedness and lack of conformity to the norms of international behaviour. If indeed, India pulls this off it will have played a masterly hand of completely reversing the paradigm of perception about it in the backdrop of the atrocities in Kashmir. Uri is a god-send to them which can simply reverse all that was adverse and would have found prominence at the UNGA.
India’s loss: 18 soldiers.
Kashmir’s loss: The indigenous Kashmiri ‘Intifada’ has caught the imagination of Kashmir’s young. It is likely to be eclipsed by a cleverly orchestrated incident at Uri which in manifestation is huge, and whose implications might be even bigger if India and Pakistan were propelled any further towards beating their war-drums. At the least it might activate intense hostility at the LoC.
Either would relegate the Kashmiri freedom movement to a sideshow, and halt in its tracks what has taken them the sacrifice of many lives in rekindling.
The Kashmiris in this case would not only be net losers but trashed to the whims of a bully that will impose justifications, even harder, to continue its ruthless oppression in the name of fighting terror.
Kashmir’s gain: Nil.
Pakistan’s loss: It was for the first time since Mumbai 2008 that Pakistan found a moral high ground vis-a-vis India’s treachery and dastardliness against innocent civilians in Kashmir which it could now expose to the world. Shedding a 20-year self-imposed hiatus to keep the Kashmir issue at a backburner to give dialogue a chance, it decided to do away with the restraint and bring forth the at the UNGA the humanitarian aspects of Kashmiri suffering needing immediate attention in the light of the UN resolutions.
This was to be Pakistan’s highpoint; and India’s low. India was on the defensive before the entire world. This was also the moment for the Kashmiris; their occupying state was to be in the dock before the world assembly. Uri changed that. It may not still entirely deny the moment to both Pakistan and Kashmir to tell the world of Indian highhandedness, but Uri surely will sully the moment. What was to be monumental is more likely to appear subdued.
India will now build on the Uri incident to reinforce its own allegations of cross-border terrorism. It has for a long time savoured the idea of declaring Pakistan a terror state, and while it may not be able to achieve that objective in this one outing, it will muddy the waters enough in the backdrop of Uri, making it a no-gainer for Pakistan if not an entire loss. On the other hand, India will have curtailed its losses if not gained much at New York.
Conclusion: With stakes as high as that – Pakistan and the Kashmiris on the cusp of genuine international attention to their cause, with a likelihood of significant success and India on a terrible moral defensive – it is entirely unlikely that Pakistan or the Kashmiris would act so irresponsibly as to bust the moment. For the cynic, that includes all players in Pakistan’s power structure who are invested in the solution to the Kashmir issue. Such was the criticality of the moment.
That leaves us with India and the very pointed question: would it kill its own soldiers to gain political and diplomatic mileage? Surely not Dilbir Singh, the Indian army chief. But there are bigger players in the Indian Establishment who have sworn to defeat the (alleged) threat from Pakistan by playing more mischievous games. A video of Ajit Doval’s talk at a university is a testimony hard to beat. If not him, someone like him contrived this masterly plan to upstage Pakistan.
This is how it would have enacted: with a series of cut-outs in between, a chain activates to reach a set of militants, maybe Kashmiris, maybe members of some terror group in Afghanistan handily connected to Pakistan, or a mix that is asked to carry out the mission in Uri.
To them this is a bona fide cause, big enough to lay their lives for without ever knowing who was pulling the strings. They enter India not from across Uri as is alleged, but further north where the LoC is passable. Either the Indian army is inept or complicit at a certain level, otherwise no one could have dared breach the war-zone defences of a deployed unit. But it happened; and the consequences it delivered are there for all to see.
States are known to have played even bigger games. They take out their own leaders and sacrifice ambassadors for strategic gains. Statecraft is tough play. You can’t count anything out. The 18 soldiers will get their nation’s honours while India will change the paradigm of perception on Kashmir. Now if that is not strategic enough, what is? From a virtual loss to a net gain.