Of Gupkar, GoI, Great Game: In Conversation With Ajai Sahni

Ajai Sahni is an author on counter-terrorism, and serves as the Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.

A larger sense prevails in many Indian think tanks that most of the current Kashmir-centric “carrot and no stick” decisions have to do with the shifting sands in the region, where the classic great game is getting intriguing with new maneuvers.

With Uncle Sam packing its bags from the “Graveyard of Empires” and the telling “satellite images” coming from the cold desert, 7-Lok Kalyan Marg is getting ready to play host to over a dozen Kashmiri politicians, including the much-trounced “Gupkar Gang” on June 24.

But beyond the reported agenda of the roundtable conference, some security experts say nothing can be predicted about “some decision-makers” in New Delhi.

“They stood up in Parliament and said Statehood will be restored, but these things are being decided by a small clique of a few individuals and they can do whatever they want,” Dr. Ajai Sahni, a security expert, said.

But the consequences of such a decision are unlikely to be good, he warned. “You must’ve observed that the abrogation of Article 370 changed nothing. Even the Hindu votebank in Jammu, which earlier celebrated the removal of special status, is now realising that their jobs and land can go as well.”

In an freewheeling chat with Kashmir Observer, Dr. Sahni talks about the political current in Kashmir, the momentous move in Afghanistan and the rise of the dragon.

Reportedly, PAGD is all set for talks.

Do you see any political breakthrough in Kashmir anytime soon?

It depends on what the few individuals in charge in Delhi decide, and I don’t think there’s going to be any reversal on Article 370. They’ve their own agenda, they can’t undo it.

The purpose of this move was to humiliate. And the humiliation of the Kashmiri population gave them political returns.

Now, any backtracking on that will hurt their votebank.

But now when New Delhi is finally calling local unionists for talks, should one assume that Centre can’t run Kashmir affairs without old hands?

Well, I think, by now, it has become very clear that it isn’t business usual for New Delhi in Kashmir.

You may try to control everything with money and proxies in Kashmir, but it won’t always succeed.

Although some people may cooperate, you need a strong, deep-rooted local leadership and you can’t act without the help of established parties, particularly in the Valley.

They might’ve a votebank in Jammu, but it’ll be difficult in Kashmir.

But why didn’t New Delhi’s Third Front click in Kashmir?

They tried but failed completely. After all, the political front can only be created through political support. Having a press conference and announcing the creation of a new political party, doesn’t create a political entity.

Also, those were the people who had very little credibility. And whatever the credibility they had, was eventually lost because of their association with a puppet front.

Do you think Gupkar Alliance can give some challenges to New Delhi?

It depended on what New Delhi was trying to do.

However, it’s very clear that Gupkar Alliance would like to see the restoration of some kind of political activity. But it needs to be seen what the Centre is offering them.

If they make an offer, then certainly they’ll accept it—but it must be democratic.

The alliance would want that according to their terms, rather than terms dictated by the Centre, because they also have to survive politically.

If rumours are to be believed, New Delhi is reportedly making up some new moves in Kashmir. Can they afford it right now?

While I do understand the movement of the forces but I can’t predict anything about this particular regime. They can do anything.

They’ve stood up in Parliament and said that this transformation of Jammu and Kashmir is temporary and we’ll restore statehood.

Now, if you tell me that they’re going to further split the region into two territories or states, it can be done, since it is the arbitrary decision of a few people.

This is not something that has been discussed in Parliament or that has received democratic sanction.

At the end of the day, these things are being decided by a small clique of a few individuals and they can do whatever they want. But at the same time, the consequences are unlikely to be good.

You must’ve observed that the abrogation of Article 370 changed nothing. Even the Hindu votebank in Jammu, which earlier celebrated the removal of special status, is now realising that their jobs and land can go as well.

Despite the fact that the Article had been almost completely hollowed out, it was an error, a mistake, particularly in terms of how and when it was done.

The last political meeting of Kashmiri leaders with PM Modi before the abrogation of Article 370

But do you also feel the silence post abrogation of Article 370 can become an outburst anytime?

No, I don’t think so — because the use of extreme force in Kashmir has been very successful.

Also, this is not the case of Kashmir only. You can witness it anywhere.

If you use this quantum of force against such a wide population, it’ll succeed.

It’ll create resentment and anger but the modern state has the capacity to suppress the outward manifestations indefinitely – particularly to the extent that it is restricted to a single province or a part thereof.

So, you mean to say this worked for New Delhi?

No, all I’m saying is that there’ll be no great explosion of violence.

But let me tell you, I’m a critic of such moves. One has to eventually take the people along. And just because people don’t engage in an outburst of extreme violence doesn’t mean the nation’s interest has been served.

The nation’s interest will be served if the problem in Kashmir is resolved between New Delhi and the people of Kashmir.

The nation’s interest will be served if the problem in Kashmir is resolved between New Delhi and the people of Kashmir. And the problem will only deteriorate by constantly creating and reinforcing resentment.

It’ll ultimately hit your economy as well because you’ve to spend a lot of funds on forces and other things.

As long as this issue is not resolved between Delhi and the people of Kashmir, Kashmir will remain a mere possession of the country. To transfer that possession into an asset, you need to get a political resolution.

But what will be the end result of New Delhi’s Kashmir handling post-abrogation of Article 370?

Let me correct you first. It’s not New Delhi. Like I said, these are a few individuals who currently control power in New Delhi. New Delhi existed before they came to power, and will endure after they have been replaced.

Regarding your question, this regime believes in force, control and dominance. They don’t believe in taking people along with them. And they’re applying the same strategy in the rest of the country as well.

Earlier, when the voices of dissent were being suppressed in Kashmir, nobody was bothered about it. But now, as the suppression of dissent is happening all across the country, so others are expressing concern.

Coming to shifting sands in South Asia, will America’s departure from Afghanistan cast any shadow in the valley?

See, this depends entirely on what really happens within Afghanistan.

It needs to be seen whether Kabul falls to the Taliban or not, or if there’s any civil war within the country. If that happens, there may be no surplus of extremist forces to direct towards Kashmir and the impact may not be very great.

However, there’s a psychological factor that needs to be taken into the consideration. Even when the Soviet withdrawal occurred, that was perceived as tremendous victory for Islam against a global superpower.

If that kind of psyche takes roots, then may be other forces, other than the Taliban and its affiliates, may arise to take forward this new mission.

US forces leaving Afghanistan.

But by opening channels of communication with Afghan Taliban factions, do you think New Delhi has the apprehensions of Taliban’s tilt towards Kashmir?

I don’t see any coherent policy in India’s approach to the Taliban. They only see the withdrawal of western forces giving much influence to the Taliban.

But if there was a desire to have a relationship with the Taliban, that should have been established much earlier when the peace process was started. That wasn’t done.

This last-minute approach, whatever its intention may be, is unlikely to have any major impact on the Taliban.

The Taliban is even currently issuing statements that Indian projects in Afghanistan should be withdrawn.

But what’s China up to? Is the dragon a party in the Kashmir dispute now?

Well, they’re already in Kashmir. They’re deeply involved in the larger Kashmir region, have taken possession of parts of Kashmir and built their Karkoram Highway and are all-time friends with Pakistan. Beijing sides with Islamabad whenever New Delhi tries to raise the issue of terrorism at the UN.

Evidently, China feels that it can use Pakistan to destabilise India. And there’re indications that their interference in Kashmir is escalating.

The direct interventions in Ladakh demonstrate further that China has already decided to escalate tensions with India. Whether this will work for both China and Pakistan needs to be seen, but at the same time, it’s also a fact that India failed to mobilise international support against the duo, which may encourage them to escalate further.

If they do it, a war may be forced on India. But it remains to be seen whether New Delhi can meet the challenge of a two-front war.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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