The on-going protests in Kashmir following the killing of Burhan Wani were met by police firing resulting in over 40 deaths and over 2,000 injured including hundreds of blindings due to pellet-shot. This is of serious concern to every thinking Indian, whichever side of the argument he/she happens to be on, because large-scale social unrest in any part of India is a brake on the peaceful atmosphere essential for true progress and people-oriented development elsewhere in India. Worse, the situation in Kashmir appears to be getting out of control, as police raided newspaper offices and printing presses early on the morning of July 16, confiscating printed copies, after having earlier shut down the internet, cable TV networks and telephone lines. The escalation appears to be a spiral of protest, stone-pelting mobs, shooting, more protesting mobs, more stone-pelting, more shooting.
Many have questioned the fact that similar large-scale violence and mayhem which took place in Haryana, by a section of the Jat community protesting about reservation in February 2016, and resulted in deaths, many rapes and huge destruction of public property, was met with rather mild if any serious official response.
There are hundreds of other on-going protests and social upheavals within India, but these are matters for Indians and India’s central and state governments to argue about and resolve by political means. They are matters internal to the Indian State and Nation. Any official agency outside of India passing comments or pontificating on these matters would be interference in the internal affairs of India.
On the current Kashmir situation, there are two distinct “camps”, one being those who are objecting to the use of “excessive” State force against “predominantly peaceful, unarmed protest” and condemning the deaths and blindings by pellet-shot of so many youths. They hold that since Kashmir is an integral and inalienable part of India, Kashmiris are also Indians, and such police/military violence against Indians over decades is not justified, and demand review of AFSPA leading to its repeal. The other “camp” views the situation as fundamentally a law-and-order problem of fractious people, to be handled by police/military force, rather than its reality as primarily a political problem to be handled by a combination of political dialogue and State force. They therefore ask how, without police/military force (and AFSPA for the military), can mobs be dispersed to restore law and order. Both camps appear to ignore the opinion of the people of Kashmir on the matter of their “self-determination” being central to the decades-long conflict between India and Pakistan, on the status of Kashmir. (Noting that the Kashmir valley is called “India Occupied Kashmir” or IOK by Pakistan).
In this situation, India’s superior strategic partner, USA, has officially commented on the on-going Kashmir social unrest. [“J&K violence a matter of grave concern: US”; The Hindu, New Delhi; July 16, 2016; p.12.] The US State Department spokesperson, Elizabeth Trudeau, briefing the media in Washington, said that USA has spoken to both Pakistan and India on the matter, thus externalizing to Pakistan, a matter which is internal to India. This will weaken India’s position in talks with Pakistan on Kashmir and its training of militants and infiltrating them into Kashmir. To date, Government of India (GoI) has not objected to this US interference. Indeed, even during UPA rule, USA’s statements on India’s internal affairs and even on USA’s NSA spying on India was met with equivocation at best, but usually the silence of acceptance of a subordinate position.
Trudeau has also stated that the death of protestors was a matter of “grave concern” for Washington. This holier-than-thou attitude is presumptuous, especially considering the months-long and increasing violence by USA’s militarized police forces targetting their own Afro-American populations across USA (“Black-Lives-Matter”), the increasing shootings in universities and schools by US citizens, etc. India should have immediately told Big Brother Uncle Sam that he should look at his own internal situation with graver concern than what is happening in Kashmir. Not, of course, that GoI can afford to treat lightly, gloss over or “write-off” (like NPAs in our public sector banks!) the death of protestors in Kashmir, because the Indian people are already taking GoI to task. But GoI’s silence to Big Brother’s unasked-for comments on the one hand and attempts to seal-off the Valley from the rest of India on the other, are worrying.
The subordinate even servile attitude to USA’s habitual arrogance was noticed in the diffident body language of then PM Dr.Manmohan Singh when he dealt with US presidents G.W.Bush as well as Obama [Vombatkere, S.G., “The Tales That Pictures Tell: Body Language in Strategy and Negotiations”; September 1, 2013; http://www.countercurrents.org/vombatkere010913.htm; Countercurrents.org]. [Two pictures of Singh with Bush and Singh with Obama are ATTACHED] But with PM Modi, the body langage is quite the opposite – he exudes self confidence. [Two pictures of Modi with Obama ATTACHED]. The tone, content and the manner of delivery of Modi’s speeches also indicates the confidence of an India which demands a seat at the UNSC high table. With all this, one would expect that Mr.Modi’s government would not remain silent at USA’s uncalled for remarks on the Kashmir violence and at least very politely, as diplomatic niceties demand, tell off Uncle Sam. But GoI’s silence leaves one wondering whether it indicates a certain fundamental weakness in India’s foreign policy with USA, and implicit acceptance of a subordinate position in the much-vaunted strategic relationship with USA.
It is not outside the bounds of possibility that India’s silence may encourage Big Brother to “assess” that India is incapable of handling Kashmir, and offer to send US forces to “help” – an offer that would reinforce its superiority in the strategic relationship. With the Indian Armed Forces being actively demotivated by GoI’s decisions on OROP and Seventh Pay Commission, and interference with its chain of command and promotion boards, this would be the knockout blow to our Army’s confidence. In sum, GoI’s handling of the Kashmir situation is worrying enough, but its pitiful silence to Big Brother’s unasked-for comments, is deeply worrying.
By S G Vombatkere
(Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired in 1996 as Additional DG Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ AG’s Branch. He is a member of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). With over 480 published papers in national and international journals and seminars, his current area of interest is strategic and development-related issues. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)