Home >Opinion >Why the Kashmir ceasefire during Ramzan was doomed
With the September 2016 surgical strikes, India had shown a desire to escalate the conflict with Pakistan. That strategy should have been pursued further. Photo: AP
With the September 2016 surgical strikes, India had shown a desire to escalate the conflict with Pakistan. That strategy should have been pursued further. Photo: AP

Why the Kashmir ceasefire during Ramzan was doomed

Whether it is the domestic process in Kashmir or the external strategy against Pakistan, the Narendra Modi government has relied on ad hoc measures

On Sunday, the Union minister of home affairs, Rajnath Singh, announced an end to the ceasefire—more accurately the “non-initiation of combat operations"—in the Kashmir Valley, which was instituted for the month of Ramzan. When the ceasefire was initially announced in mid-May, there was hope that it could be extended to the period of Amarnath Yatra, which begins in less than a fortnight from now. However, the failure of the unilateral ceasefire in keeping peace in the Valley means that restraining the security forces any further was untenable.

The number of terror-related incidents more than doubled during the Kashmir ceasefire. Recruitment by terrorist groups and grenade attacks also witnessed a spike. The killings of Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of Rising Kashmir, and Aurangzeb, an Indian Army soldier, put paid to any hopes for extension of the ceasefire.

The idea of a unilateral ceasefire, to begin with, was a flawed one. It allowed the terrorists and separatists to consolidate their position and stage attacks at their convenience. The idea of a ceasefire was based on a flawed understanding of the results of the ceasefire declared in 2000 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Praveen Swami has shown with casualty figures that Vajpayee’s ceasefire was far from successful.

Moreover, Vajpayee announced the ceasefire at a time when protests in Kashmir were controlled by the Hizbul Mujahideen, based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and the Hurriyat Conference, based in Kashmir. India was also then engaged in some form of dialogue with both groups. Today, the protests have moved beyond the control of both Hizbul Mujahideen and the Hurriyat. They are being led by youth who have taken to guns and stones, and who are far more radicalized than the earlier lot.

Such a ceasefire initiative is invariably justified on emotional grounds and not on cold military logic. It is argued that the declaration of ceasefire will help win the hearts of ordinary Kashmiris who want to celebrate their festivals peacefully. This sounds sensible. However, it is equally important to understand how religious celebrations impact the behaviour of potential terrorist recruits. For example, Marc Sageman, a forensic and clinical psychiatrist, had found in a 2012 study that the number of “insider attacks"—the attack by Afghan security personnel against their partners from the US and its allies in the Afghan war—rose during the month of Ramzan. In interviews with attackers, he found that the increased amount of religious discussions during Ramzan might have provided the trigger. The Indian government should commission similar studies to get a better grip on terrorism and Islamic radicalization in the Valley.

Some commentators have argued that ceasing operations against terrorists inside the Valley will not be effective unless India resumes the full-fledged dialogue process with Pakistan. That will be, effectively, ceding Pakistan a say in internal matters of India. Given the environment, the dialogue process cannot immediately snap back into action. In fact, after a lot of heat on the Line of Control during the last couple of years, the Indian and Pakistani armies did agree on 29 May to “fully implement the ceasefire understanding of 2003 in letter and spirit forthwith." This agreement has come to naught as the Pakistani forces have resorted to unprovoked firing from time to time.

It should not be forgotten that the 2003 ceasefire came into effect on the back of multiple terrorist attacks on India and New Delhi’s threat of harsh reprisals. Indian brinkmanship, including during Operation Parakram, did not help New Delhi achieve all its objectives but, along with American intervention, it did force the then Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf to cut down support to terrorists and resume the dialogue process.

In the past couple of years, the ceasefire along the Line of Control is as good as over. The Indian forces have given as good as they have got. However, a barrage of firing and shelling on the border is not the solution to establishing deterrence. With the September 2016 surgical strikes, India had shown, as Prof. Rajesh Rajagopalan has correctly argued, a desire to escalate the conflict with Pakistan. That strategy should have been pursued further. The key to establishing deterrence is to credibly threaten escalation against the Pakistani army. The costs imposed by firing and shelling on the border are too little to induce any behaviour change among generals in Rawalpindi.

Whether it is the domestic process in Kashmir or the external strategy against Pakistan, the Narendra Modi government has relied on ad hoc measures. If public opinion called for a strong reply to the attack in Uri, New Delhi would make do with surgical strikes without thinking of how to embed such strikes in a longer-term strategy. In order to soothe public opinion in the Valley, the government would announce a unilateral Ramzan ceasefire, again without thinking of the costs and benefits of such a move. It is the result of such impromptu approaches that there are now question marks over the capability of Indian state to conduct elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 2019. It is time for New Delhi to change course.

Should the ceasefire have been continued till the conclusion of Amarnath Yatra? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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