For political leaders, normal is the exercise of novelty. When normal becomes obsolete, they must set new benchmarks. Debate and dialogue is becoming less of a norm for dispute resolution. The sword is becoming mightier than the word as leaders are choosing arsenal over argument to protect humanity from the savagery of terrorism.
Handling terrorism is not an art, which South Block’s pinstripes panjandrums and please-all politicians can acquire at ease. To savage terrorism itself, a nation needs an operational infrastructure manned by people with the stomach for replacing ponderous phrases with arms. Jammu and Kashmir has been hemorrhaging for decades. The military machine of mayhem across the border has spilled the blood of civilians and soldiers alike on the Indian side of the border.
After the surgical strikes on September 29, Pakistan-sponsored jihadists are maiming, beheading, shooting and shelling India’s forces along the LoC. Ever since the strikes killed around 50 Pak trained terrorists, vengeful Islamist fundamentalists have chosen Indian soldiers and defence installations as their targets. During the past two months, they have killed around 30 officers and jawans—the highest body count in the last decade. The Indian Army has eliminated over 150 terrorists since January 2016, which is the highest scalp count in the recent past. The rising number of military-terrorist encounters clearly indicates that insurgents have chosen defence personnel as their primary targets. The number of civilians killed by militants has substantially fallen to double digit numbers from its peak of around 500 in 2007.
If India has to protect its warriors and their families, it has to change its moribund institutional framework dealing with Kashmir. For almost 70 years, we have treated Kashmir as a diplomatic problem. The doves in Indian diplomacy have been talking soft and carrying even a smaller stick, persuading the leadership to refrain from choosing a permanent military solution. But ever since fundamentalist Islam escalated its global reach, India became its preferred laboratory and playground. Over a million Indians have lost their lives in the state in the last quarter century. Jihadists have spilled innocent blood in various parts of the world, including the United States. But never have even once global leaders ignored the nuances of opportunistic compassion to put their heads together and eliminate the menace.
In this decade have emerged two leaders who are ideologically and individually determined to demolish the terror doctrine. In both India and the US‑ the world’s two most powerful and largest democracies, the people have chosen leaders who are politically incorrect, socially singular and personally unique. Both practice disruptionist diplomacy and personalised politics. And terror is the major challenge to their authority. But US President-elect Donald Trump has decided to militarise American diplomacy to handle terror. He has chosen persons with service backgrounds and avowed anti-Islamist philosophy for the mission. Examples:
● James Mattis will be Donald Trump’s Defence Secretary. He is a retired Marine Corps General and served in uniform for our four decades. He led US military operations in Iraq. Most American presidents have been choosing civilians or generals who retired over a decade ago. American federal law prohibits any general, whose superannuantion hasn’t completed seven years, from becoming the Defence Secretary. Trump will seek special Congressional approval for Mattis because he wants the defence of his country to be handled by an Army veteran. The only exception was in 1950 when the Congress waived the seven-year bar for the appointment of General George Marshall as secretary for defence.
● Trump has chosen Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor. He is a retired Lieutenant General, who has also served as the director of the Defence Intelligence Agency. He is famous for comparing Islamism to fascism when he told CNN: “We are facing another ‘ism,’ just like we faced Nazism, and fascism, and imperialism.... This is Islamism, it is a vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people on this planet and it has to be excised.”
Trump need not be Narendra Modi’s political model. But he is well advised to use the experience and expertise of former generals to deal with Kashmir. In J&K, the fight is not between the armies of India and Pakistan but between two diametrically opposed establishments. The Pak army is in the terror turret directing its fusillade against the Indian army and civilians. The ISI is funding and controlling insurgency in the Valley. But the Indian military is mandated to take its final orders from civil service officers who are at little risk.
Dithering diplomats and laid back Track Two frequent flyers have been dining off detente for almost seven decades. If Modi can resort to the unprecedented move of demonetising over 85 per cent of Indian currency for a cause in a 20-minute speech, he is also well equipped to paint Kashmir policy with a dash of military green. He can start with the appointment of a retired general as Governor. The current occupant of Raj Bhavan has outlived his hands-off and tee off administrative culture. Since most strategic decisions are taken in South Block, Modi can induct uniformed officers in both the External Affairs and Defence Ministries at the level of special secretaries who will report directly to their respective ministers and the Prime Minister.
Since anti-terror ops are undertaken with military precision and cutting-edge equipment, appointing an additional National Security Advisor with a military intelligence background to assist the National Security Council, will augment the effort. Many an Indian Prime Minister has in the past used diplomatic decency to deal with Pakistan, while hoping to win a Nobel Peace Prize. None of them could break the nexus between professional peace brokers and neo-liberals. A festering Kashmir is both their financial sustenance and an entry pass to the corridors of power. Only a Modi-fied Kashmir policy can make them redundant and become a genuine game changer if taken it to a logical end.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla