Kashmir: a theatre of war?

Fragile Kashmir would not be able to sustain being a theatre for a conventional war

Aneela Shahzad February 21, 2020
The writer is a geopolitical analyst. She also writes at globaltab.net and tweets @AneelaShahzad

Last month speaking at the Raisina Dialogue, the Indian Chief of Defence, General Bipin, told a global audience that Kashmiri girls and boys as young as 10 and 12 were being radicalised and that “these people” could be “isolated” from radicalisation. He then said, “There are people who have completely been radicalised… these people need to be taken out separately… into deradicalisation camps.” He also admitted that India already had deradicalisation ‘camps’ running in the country.

This certainly came as a blow to the Indians who are proud of their democratic values, but the Kashmiris were simply devastated. Three months within the repealing of Article 370, Indian authorities had admitted arresting 7,000 Kashmiris, mostly youth — families of many of whom were not informed about their whereabouts. Where are they then, if no one really knows? Are they in the ‘camps’? Not to forget the hundreds of politicians under house-arrests, and newspaper offices that have been locked up. Was that also part of a corrective conditioning?

Going further in their fascism, the Modi regime enacted the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December, and proposed a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) — both discriminatory laws that divide India on the lines of religion, race and class. Over 200 million Muslims living in India feel like second-class citizens now and fear that the NRC, if used stringently, might render many of them stateless. The question is that will the NRC be used as a demographic weapon in Kashmir, too?

It seems that India’s urgency in its pursuit of becoming a regional power has only multiplied under the Hindutva rule. But at the same time, the avarice for power has put the ruling party at battle with its own people — the Hindutva mindset has cut out enemies from within. Showing to be an apt internationalist, Modi has been pursuing ambitious plans like the Act East, the Sagarmala, and the Mausam Project in the Indian Ocean littoral. Yet his ambition to boost India’s military might is the most dangerous — one that would lead to the compounding of power and intolerance in India.

In 2013, India set a naval base on the North Andaman Island, from where its surveillance and airstrike capacity will encompass the Malacca Strait and parts of the South China Sea. In the West, it is strengthening strategic ties with the UAE and Seychelles; so much for reaching out to the world and trying to bring the Indo-Pacific under its wings. But is India aspiring towards the path of war with its neighbours too?

General Bipin’s latest flag-waving of “India is looking at setting up a separate theatre command for Jammu and Kashmir”, seems to mean precisely that. Bipin’s revelation, “India will have two to five theatre commands… along the western and northern borders…” rings the alarm. Previously, the northern theatre was thought for countering the China border and the western theatre for the Pakistan border — already creating precedence for war in the neighbourhood. But what does “a separate theatre command for Jammu and Kashmir” mean?

Does it mean that India will deliberately convert Jammu and Kashmir into a ‘theatre of war’? Will India drag its war with Pakistan or China into Kashmir? This could certainly be the case if, according to Bipin, “security challenges” in Occupied Kashmir will then be handled by the “theatre command” meaning that “security” in Kashmir will no longer be dealt under “counter-terrorism” but under war footing — a war against the Kashmiri people.

Already, Kashmir is among the top ten conflicts that the International Crisis Group has highlighted for 2020. So has the Munich Security Conference Report 2020, which says, “While the security situation in Afghanistan remains volatile, Kashmir, another regional hotspot, has reignited… the situation deteriorated further when India stripped the Muslim majority region of Jammu and Kashmir off its autonomy rights and imposed a security lockdown, during which Kashmiris suffered arrests, shortage of medicine, communication cuts and a rising death toll of both civilians and militant fighters.”

Connecting Kashmir with the situation in Afghanistan is merited, as the US would find itself in a defeated position if it has to withdraw all its forces from the country. In that case, it would want to entice India to start a war with Pakistan so that scores can be settled there. Modi signed an agreement with Obama in 2016 allowing the US to use its land, air and naval bases. This not only shows how much the two are banking on each other as allies, rather it manifests the reality that India is the only reliable ally the US has in the region.

But is the US really an ally for India, if it instigates it to become a theatre of war? This would probably be a win-win for the US, who is particularly fond of proxy warfare in far-off states with minimum boots on ground but for India and Pakistan, it would mean that in case of a nuclear outbreak, according to the Munich Report, 50 to 125 million immediate deaths would occur along with utter devastation to the climate and land. Now, if the theatre is specifically diverted towards Kashmir, what will become its fate?

Even if a next Pakistan-India conflict does not turn into a nuclear war, fragile Kashmir would not be able to sustain being a theatre for a conventional war either, and demographic change would just be collateral damage.

So, how far will the Modi regime go to satisfy their Hindutva in Kashmir, which demands nothing less than a demographic change? Will they go for war? The only way they could bet on success in such a war would be on devising a conventional war, wherein Pakistan could be kept from using the nuclear option and wherein the US would join it in the theatre and China be convinced not to. A most improbable equation, only finding its way in the minds of the deranged. 

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2020.

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