Justice Markandeya Katju avers that India-Pakistan ties cannot improve because the Pakistani Army runs Pakistan. [“Why India-Pak Ties Can’t Improve” ; The Statesman; August 29, 2019; https://www.thestatesman.com/opinion/india-pak-ties-cant-improve-1502793708.html]. Katju also says: “... a time may come when the impoverished people of Pakistan may say enough is enough, and there may be a popular uprising against the army loot, somewhat like a French Revolution”.

While Katju analyses the situation in Pakistan, he strangely fails to even mention Kashmir. Kashmir has dominated India-Pakistan relations since 1947, and has been the cause of Pakistan’s repeated military misadventures and low intensity warfare against India. Any discussion of India-Pakistan ties cannot be complete without considering Kashmir and Kashmiris in an exceeding complex situation fraught with existential risks of subcontinental dimensions.

The Pakistani Army has ruled over Pakistan and its people through fear and force over decades to create its own empire within Pakistan, and is itself veritably the “Pakistan State”. Pakistan’s military-over-civil superiority has been aided and abetted over the decades by western nations and latterly by China, for their respective geo-political strategic aims.

The Pakistani Army depends for its very survival on maintaining India as the enemy of Pakistan and by its self-certification as Pakistan’s saviour against India. This position of Pakistan follows decades of indoctrination of the Pakistani public initiated by General (self-proclaimed President in 1977) Zia ul Haq, by which the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has India as its enemy-number-one. Kashmir remains the focus of Pakistan and the raison d’etre of the Pakistani Army.

Going forward from where Katju stopped, essentially there are two possibilities:

(a) The Pakistan Army is "tamed" by India and the international community into allowing a civilian government which genuinely represents the interests of the impoverished Pakistani people, to take charge and govern, instead of the Pakistan Army. Our moves in J&K starting 05 August 2019 could be a step in that direction, and one hopes that the domestic and international fallout of 370 & 35A has been thought through for the next decade and not merely 2024. Notwithstanding, even if a civilian Pakistan government with less or no Pakistan Army influence does somehow emerge, it is most unlikely to change the stance of Pakistan regarding Kashmir.

(b) There is a "people's revolution" in Pakistan a la Katju. This will certainly be ruthlessly crushed by the Pakistani Army. But if the Pakistani Army is unsuccessful as it was in East Pakistan, it will destabilize Pakistan, which however may survive following the deep unrest within, including fragmentation of Balochistan. This could take the Pakistani Army out of power, in which case power will surely be seized by the Clergy which has always secretly shared power with the Pakistani Army. Total or near-total political power will be with the Clergy (as in Iran after removal of Shah Mohd Reza Pahlavi) but with a weakened Pakistan. This will be destabilizing for the South Asia region. Pakistan’s “nuclear button” will be in even more hostile, unreliable and unpredictable hands. All this is without considering the ‘China factor’. But with or without China, a weakened Pakistan will not change its stance regarding Kashmir.

With no change in Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir, it is likely to remain at the focus of India-Pak relations in the foreseeable future. The continuing hostility between India and Pakistan is diverting political attention and funds for development within India, towards internal and external security. The post 370-35A lockdown in Kashmir, now in its fourth week, with large pre-emptive induction of security forces may do little for peace and tranquility in Kashmir. However, alongside dividing the former State into UTs and assuming political control at the Centre, government has promised “development” starting with creation of 50,000 government jobs for Kashmiris. Of course, it is well understood that no meaningful development is possible without at least a measure of peace and tranquillity in society.

With Art.35A gone, the influx of population across the socio-economic spectrum into Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, hitherto protected by Art.35A, will surely bring in its wake huge disaffection as land is bought up, jobs get more competitive and demographic changes (religious denomination and population density) take effect. The denouement is awaited as Kashmiris strain under the on-going massive lockdown, and government promises peace and development.

Reverting to the centrality of Kashmir in the India-Pakistan conundrum, some questions which concern India’s strategy are:

(a) The people of Kashmir (Indian citizens even with Art.370 & 35A, and now Indian citizens in every sense after Art.370 & 35A have been removed) have become alienated by dishonest politics and other corrupt practices over the decades. What role will an essentially alienated population play in the India-Pakistan dynamics on internal and external security?

(b) Will increasing police/military force levels in Kashmir bring peace other than an enforced peace? How long can this be enforced, and is this the desirable kind of peace? Can what is essentially a political problem caused by political mismanagement over decades, be solved by instruments of force like police/military?

(c) Can military brinkmanship in response to Pakistan's direct and indirect interference in our domestic affairs bring any peace dividends? Although peace-at-any-cost does not appear to be an option, is peace in Kashmir and elsewhere in the subcontinent in the interest of development, at least high up in the priority list of strategic aims?

(d) The opinion of the international community is that abrogation of 370 & 35A is India’s internal affair, and so has gone against Pakistan. Will this victory of international diplomacy help the internal situation in Kashmir?

(e) The tension between India and Pakistan was and continues to be clandestinely fueled by Western powers for their geo-political advantage, always with Kashmir at the focus. How do we get out of this adverse political-diplomatic situation? What do we make of the China-Pak axis, and how do we get out of the Pakistan-is-the-enemy mindset which colours our strategic thinking? Could we be heading from the on-going “half-front” conflict into a two-and-a-half front conflict, which will impact our economy severely?

There are sections of the Indian polity which are baying for war to punish Pakistan. It is fair to say that such persons are far removed from the harsh realities of war and its irreversible losses of lives and livelihoods. As in the past, India’s armed forces will never hesitate to fight a war when it is forced upon India. But especially in present times of nuclear weapons, war should always be a last option, and in any case not be dictated by a war-mongering minority who live safely far from war zones. In the unfortunate event of a nuclear exchange, the entire country may well become a war zone.

Careful consideration of the questions above, from the internal and external security angles with India’s peace and development firmly in view, may suggest a realistic way out of the present situation towards peace and development.

Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere, VSM, retired from army service as Addl DG Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ, New Delhi.