With the recent spike in terrorist activities in Kashmir, it looks like the ‘good times’ ushered by the abrogation of Article 370 are over. It was an optimistic three-year phase that speculated about all that was bright in the future of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh: people empowerment, equity and fairness, comprehensive development, a three-tier system of grassroots democracy, integration of the territory into the mainstream nation, etc.
What however was not speculated about, or (probably?) brushed under the carpet is the one subject that has been like a constant thorn for the past 75 years: Security.
India has demonstrated a historic queasiness about addressing its security concerns. Security of the state, the sanctity of its borders, and the continuous elimination of prospective threats to them are inviolable to any state’s national security objectives and agenda; they are the innermost core to the concept of a nation-state. Economic growth, development, international relations, or tech advancements follow later. After all, what is a nation-state that fails to protect its territorial integrity or its people? How can it even exist in the long run?
India – no matter what our leftist history books have to say – has been a rather resilient nation. The Islamic invaders from the west and northwest took several hundred years and scores of concerted attempts to break in before finally succeeding. And even after 700 years of continuous occupation by the different Turko-Uzbek dynasties and Britain, that roughened bunch of people of the soil not only continued to exist, but a large number of them held on to their cultural and religious roots braving and surviving countless battles, conversions, genocides, orchestrated famines, and two partitions, to make Bharatvarsha the longest continual civilization in the history of mankind.
Given that kind of a record of invasion and occupation, the cornerstone of Indian domestic and foreign policy should have been security. After all, the common Indian, through their grit and persistence and never-say-die attitude had kept their end of the deal: they had endured.
It was the state’s responsibility to insure their future. But the Indian state’s initial behaviour remained remarkably callous. Rather than getting real, India tried to establish a fuzzy benchmark of morality and high-ground in international relations where none existed, and it was China in 1962 that taught us a vital post-Independence lesson on security: Borders are crucial. What applied in the medieval era applied in the 20th century.
And though India heeded some and changed its overall outlook at least while dealing with Pakistan – the successful culmination of which was demonstrated in 1971, yet New Delhi retained the same dismissive, often cavalier attitude towards border security. This came back to bite us in different avatars across different dates: millions of illegal Bangladeshi or thousands of Rohingyas crossing the border and upsetting Indian demography, Kashmir terrorism of the 90s, Kargil in 1999 and the 26/11 Taj attacks. And countless incidents in between and afterwards.
How has been India’s domestic security aside from its indifference toward the health of its borders? Since we are thinking about the Kashmir terrorist attacks, let’s consider terrorism. Maoist terrorism is the case of an ideology based political agenda that does not recognize the legitimacy of a state. Islamic terrorism is the case of a religio-political ideology with the same worldview. There can be a couple of arguments about the limits of Maoist terrorism versus the limitlessness of Islamist Terrorism and such, but that is not the point here. The point is: terrorism is a political tool with a religious or ideological fulcrum. The Maoists want to create a separate state and so do the Islamists. One uses an aberrated industrial ideology and the other uses a preindustrial medieval one, but both aim towards the same end goal: a state, by force.
And how does the Indian government treat this? To give it to you in a nutshell:
a) The Indian government treats what is clearly a security issue that has both domestic and international roots and consequences – as a law and order problem. If a religious/ideological low-intensity, hybrid warfare against a legitimate state with an idea to overturn it gets relegated to being a law and order issue, then simply speaking, that state is incapable of / unwilling to attack the fundamentals of it.
b) In order to brush the clear and present dangers of terrorism under the carpet and pretend that they do not exist, the different Indian governments over time, different political parties, and most mainstream media houses even have issues using the term ‘terrorist’. They prefer the word ‘radical’ instead. By its definition, radical is quite a huge umbrella providing shelter to all kinds of voices – from a slightly aggressive social media commentator to a terrorist who has been trained in Pakistan and who crosses the border into India with the idea to kill the maximum number of ‘infidels’. (Recommended read: Subrata K Mitra and Jivanta Schottli’s paper titled The New Dynamics of Indian Foreign Policy and its Ambiguities)
One might already guess the answer to this remarkable reluctance of different governments over time to address this issue: the compulsion of vote bank politics. Indian democracy, while it loves to compare itself with the first world functioning democracies, does not draw legitimacy from the conventional deliverables of a democratic system of governance, but as John Kampfner in his book Freedom for Sale had once noted, it derives so by organizing successful elections; in India, democracy is all about being voted to power. Unfortunately, voting blocks have not managed to graduate from caste and communalism to national security.
Whether among the political class or among the voters, terrorism understands the spaces that exist. And till Indians as a community do not get out of the grasp of their conventional electoral drivers and learn to comprehend security as a basic right, governments will keep feigning competence by trying to tackle religion/ideology driven hybrid battles with law and order books that provide zero advantage because they were written before this kind of asymmetric warfare was born.
That would be like putting a band-aid on cancer, and terrorism will persist, no matter what happens to Kashmir.
(Arindam Mukherjee is a Calcutta-based author and a Learning & Development professional who likes to dabble in Eurasian geopolitics during his spare time.)
(Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own.)