Guest column | Army-politico crossfire can cause collateral damage | punjab$regional-takes | Hindustan Times
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Guest column | Army-politico crossfire can cause collateral damage

It must require remarkable political clumsiness and insensitivity to national security for a seasoned political leader like P Chidambaram to create a controversy around an issue which has grave implications for the future of India as a secular country.

punjab Updated: Feb 20, 2017 18:08 IST
Harcharan Bains
Kashmir is far more than territory for India just as East Pakistan once was for our neighbouring country. Kashmir is integral to India as an idea — not just as geographical entity.
Kashmir is far more than territory for India just as East Pakistan once was for our neighbouring country. Kashmir is integral to India as an idea — not just as geographical entity.(HT Representative Image)

It must require remarkable political clumsiness and insensitivity to national security for a seasoned political leader like P Chidambaram to create a controversy around an issue which has grave implications for the future of India as a secular country. It is unbelievable that a former Union finance minister with Prime Ministerial ‘pretensions’ should be caught arguing with jawans who are braving enemy bullets to ensure not just India’s territorial integrity but also its credentials as a secular democracy.

Kashmir is far more than territory for India just as East Pakistan once was for our neighbouring country. Kashmir is integral to India as an idea — not just as geographical entity.

Fortunately, Indian leadership in general always seems to care enough about the country’s international standing as a civilised nation. We need not be in a “holier than thou” contest with Pakistan and China. But even hard-nosed diplomacy has got a lot to do with fixing one’s selfish and vested interests within the golden frame of political correctness and diplomatic morality. This is one of the small mercies of diplomatic hypocrisy in a world torn increasingly apart by extreme ideologies on the one hand and by terror replacing wars as expressions of violent imperial intent on the other.

In Kashmir, we are battling both these challenges on a magnified scale. What looks like ordinary crossborder terror is in fact nurtured here by its foster parents as a statement of civilisational extremity. It’s neither just sensitive and innocent freedom fighters nor purely mindless terrorists that we are up against in Kashmir. The real battle is against an ideology which by its very presence negates the idea of India.

Tragically, the country is threatened as much by enemies as by its friends wearing colours of extreme, communal jingoism disguised as “insane” nationalism. Bands of nationalists threatening to kill Indians in the name of India by implication threaten the very idea which India takes pride in.

ARMY’S OPTIONS IN KASHMIR

But away from ideological and diplomatic corridors, what are the army’s options in Kashmir? Can and should the army be told to fight with its hands tied behind its back in political handcuffs? Is it the army’s job to address the political dimension of the problem? Is the army even equipped ideologically and trained mentally and physically to manage civilian peace on a long-term basis? In a democracy, is it even advisable for the army to be thus trained?

Almost the first thing that I am tempted to put on my wish list on the Kashmir issue is for all political parties in Srinagar and New Delhi to place a voluntary moratorium on politicking, including public pronouncements and media posturing, for a minimum period of three years. This period must then be utilised to give peace a serious chance through a mix of diplomacy and politics. Since this seems like too much to expect from our politicians, let’s by-pass dreams and get down to brass-tacks. General Bipin Rawat perhaps had the boys’ morale in mind while making that hotly debated statement or, may be, he truly meant business. It’s my view that no one should tell a professional army like ours how to do its job once it has been passed on to it. But it’s doubtful if describing non-compliant civilians as “the enemy” and widening the army’s target by openly including “the people” in it promotes anyone’s cause.

That said, political leaders needed to avoid commenting on the General’s remark and making his already complicated task more tough.

Both the general and the leaders could have chosen other channels to convey their respective messages — the General internally to his boys and political leaders directly to the General through personal communications rather than making a public spectacle of national confusion on a sensitive issue. This could have spared everyone a bad taste in the mouth.

(The writer is adviser to Punjab CM on national affairs and media)