It is day 89 of unrest in Kashmir. But no one is talking about thousands of pellet-ridden faces and bodies of men, women, and children in Kashmir that are victims of sheer brutality by the Indian Army. The Uri attack happened on September 18 before the United Nations General Assembly(UNGA) session, and India used the incident as a chance at face-saving with regards to Kashmir. The world was prepared to ask India questions about gross human rights violations and the killings of innocent and unarmed civilians who had gathered to mourn Burhan Wani. But by the time the UNGA session took place, the circumstances had shifted from India being the perpetrator of violence to the victim of terrorism. A familiar story, but one which had not hit India hard since Mumbai 2008, making the Pathankot incident look like an aberration. From the platform of the UNGA, India pointed fingers at Pakistan, demanding in essence that the world see it as a state sponsor of terrorism. No initial investigation into Uri had taken place by that time and there wasn’t any evidence of state complicity. But India won on the UNGA stage for it utilized the incident to shift the world’s attention from its atrocities and brutal killings in Kashmir. It succeeded, and for a while no one cared about the pelleted Kashmiri faces or countless dead bodies that demanded acknowledgement and some respect.
Fast forward to September 29, 11 days after the Uri attack, India announced that given actionable intelligence, it conducted “surgical strikes” on terrorist launch pads inside Pakistan-administered Kashmir and preempted a major terrorist attempt on various civilian targets in India. Pakistan immediately denied that surgical strikes took place inside Pakistani territory. If we are to deconstruct the Indian narrative around the strikes, it defies logic that 150 plus Indian commandos crossed the Line of Control (LoC), went 3 kilometers in, engaged targets, annihilated terrorist launch pads, and safely went back without engaging in a firefight with Pakistani forces stationed on the LoC. And mind you, that LoC, which post Uri was on high alert—especially given the warmongering that went on, on both sides of the border, after India blamed Pakistan for the Uri attack. India maintained that the target was not the Pakistan Army but terrorists so Pakistan shouldn’t take it personally. To Pakistan it sounded like the most clichéd break up line with a twist: ‘It’s not you, it’s them.’ Such statements might serve India at the international level and make it look mature but Pakistan is not buying it.
Let’s move on. So, what’s next? If another attack happens, will India be able to champion a repeat performance? Now that it has shown its cards to Pakistan, will it be able to conduct surgical strikes inside Pakistan again if Uri 2.0 happens? What will be India’s next level of response? How will it calibrate similar responses to acts of terrorism allegedly emanating from Pakistan without engaging the Pakistan Army next time? How will it ensure that Pakistan will not respond or that escalation will be controlled?
This is not the end, just the beginning. The attack in Baramullah on an Indian Army camp on Sunday, and the subsequent exchange between the two armies across the LoC should be evidence enough of the blowback India should be prepared to face after the strikes. Again, there is no use blaming Pakistan for this recent attack. This is not the level of response Pakistan will give if it chooses to respond to Indian “surgical strikes.”
Until and unless India acknowledges that it has a Kashmir problem that needs a solution, it will live under the threat of perpetual insecurity irrespective of its conventional might or nuclear weapons. Weapons will not make India secure. Surgical strikes will not deter terrorists. Clichéd as it may be, one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. If India wants to rise as an Asian giant, it needs to acknowledge the indigenous Kashmiri freedom struggle for what it is. No one has said it better than Arundhati Roy: “India needs azadi from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India.” There is no solution in war. Let’s talk.