Michael KreponKashmir on the Boil

Kashmir is on the boil again. Unrest has been on the rise for months now. The involvement of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence can be safely assumed, but less than in previous flare-ups, if clashes along the Line of Control dividing Kashmir are used as an indicator. In any event, the ability of outsiders to make trouble is usually proportionate to the degree that Indian authorities mess up. As the Indian Express has editorialized, “the turmoil in the Valley has shown up the glaring absence in the present dispensation of a political approach to the Kashmir issue.”

A boiling point was inevitable, as Surinder Singh Oberoi confidently predicted in a talk at Stimson last May. The level of violence has spiked again after the killing of Burhan Wani. When I began following Kashmir and visiting the Valley twenty years ago, militant leaders were trained in Pakistan and took their cues from Rawalpindi. Burhan Wani reflects a new phase of home-grown militancy fueled by social media, as this dispatch from Srinagar, written by Wajahat Qazi, a former official of the State Government, attests:

“Burhan Wani — the young militant from Kashmir who had gained iconic status among the Vale’s Gen Next — is no more. Wani was killed in what the police have called an “encounter”. A heavy pall of gloom and an emotionally fraught condition hangs over Kashmir after his death. If a parallel may be drawn here or a metaphor employed, it seems that a wound has been reopened in Kashmir’s collective consciousness. This is evident and writ large on the visages of people and the outpouring of grief across the length and breadth of Kashmir.

“There is another parallel at work here. For the Gen Next of Kashmir, Wani was the iconic and emblematic personification of their aspirations and emotional calculus. For the older cohort of Kashmiris incubated in the eighties and nineties, Wani’s death recalls that of another young Kashmiri, Ashfaq Majeed Wani.

“A common strand runs through both Burhan’s and Ashfaq Majeed’s life trajectories and deaths. Both represented and reflected the deepest yearnings and aspirations of Kashmiris. And both were inspirational for a vast majority of the people. Eerily, both were in their twenties when they gained iconic status and died. The people of Kashmir sublimated and projected their deepest yearnings onto them. Both stuck their neck out and placed themselves in mortal danger. Both were willing to pay the highest price for Kashmir.”

Kashmir will always be crisis-prone as long as there is poor governance in Muslim-majority areas, the ISI keeps its hand in, and political leaders in New Delhi, Islamabad, and Srinagar shy away from seeking progress toward a Kashmir settlement. Their failure to try has been a rational calculation: to advance serious proposals, as opposed to maximal demands, is to invite serious blowback. So political leaders let things slide. And things slide downhill. The ineffectuality of the coalition government in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir makes matters worse.

As the violence builds, the U.S. media will catch up and start to take notice. The Obama Administration is assuredly watching closely, wondering how much the violence will spiral, and the degree to which Rawalpindi will seek to feed the fire.

Grievances in Kashmir linger because New Delhi views governance of the Valley as a management problem. Cynicism breeds resentment. Wars and crises over Kashmir have been followed by sharpened grievances rather than by diplomatic initiatives. When diplomacy has episodically been tried, it has been half-hearted and easily countered. Consequently, it’s only a matter of time between crises. Intervals vary, but now is the time.


  1. Ghulam Farid (History)

    Krepon seems to be obsessed with ISI. Why?

    • Michael Krepon (History)

      I am obsessed with ferns, moss and the Boston Red Sox (a baseball team). The ISI? Maybe if I lived in Pakistan. But, no.

    • Leandro (History)

      For further clarification, a simplistic statistical model shows that a nuclear tipped 250 kt Agni-III missile used against Islamabad would probably burn most ferns and moss in a 3 mile radius from ground zero.

      Yet, a second model shows that since nuclear weapons were operationally deployed for the first time in 1945 (twice), 71 years have passed without nuclear explosions over Asian populated cities, and the Boston Red Sox only won three out of 70 World Series, a pretty awful odd considering nuclear peace obviously favours the New York Yankees with 27 wins. (Further research about the performance of Boston pitchers under nuclear winter conditions is still pending).

      Please state clearly whether you worry the most about Pakistani vegetation or a Red Sox win!

    • Michael Krepon (History)

      That three mile radius is a bit tight, no? Weapon effects also reaching Rawalpindi, a city of cantonments, including GHQ, the Strategic Plan Division, etc. Ergo, the presumption of a single detonation with Islamabad as DGZ is, shall we say, faulty.
      Interesting ferns around Islamabad.
      Red Sox pitching does not require the nuclear winter scenario. It is faltering in the heat of summer.

  2. Leandro (History)

    Krepon seems to be “obsessed” with the fault line between two mid-range nuclear capable countries, a stage that includes a variety of actors and factors that range from historical grievances, religious differences, state and non-state groups and institutions and, yes, ISI. About them, he actually wrote that it is safely to assume they’re involved in the crisis brewing, but less than in past situations.

    He also mentions that fertile ground for the current situation has been irrigated by a range of other farmers, namely the regional and national civilian authorities… of India.

    But then Krepon also seems “obsessed” about most other scenarios where a (two) nuclear stockpile(s) and its eventual use is under the umbrella of a larger scheme by a semi-rogue intelligence service that is as self-serving as it is providing for its country’s objectives.

    So instead of questioning whether Krepon is flatly crazed about ISI in general, why not keep about the issue at hand, meaning, Kashmir is in yet another process of heating up old disputes, with a range of rational and less than rational decision makers involved, and that process might eventually end up in an old-new shooting spree (meaning, perhaps, a new skirmish of a decades old war) that can drag two nuclear armed regional contenders to face each other openly once again. Hopefully, in a conventional way.

    IMHO, Nationalism is not always a good place to start when evaluating articles posted in an arms control blog.

  3. Aazar Kund (History)

    I am lost over lack of attention and media coverage over human rights violation in Kashmir particularly from West which considers itself champion of human rights. India is involved in brutal and extra judicial killings of innocent civilians. India wants to crush the indigenous freedom struggle.

    • Michael Krepon (History)

      I can suggest three reasons “for the lack of attention and media coverage” on what’s happening in Muslim-majority areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, known in Pakistan as Indian-Held Kashmir. Others can add more.
      1) True, the loss of life is grievous. Regrettably, the loss of life is more grievous in many more places. (See today’s coverage of the carnage in Nice.) The world is a bloody mess. If you feel indignant about the lack of coverage of events in the Valley, consider how people concerned about what’s happening in, say, South Sudan, feel.
      2) Yes, the USG is sensitive to Indian sensitivities.
      3) The USG also does not wish to lend support to the Government of Pakistan’s campaign to raise the profile of the Kashmir issue. Nothing good happens to Pakistan and nothing good happens to Kashmiris whenever Islamabad raises the Kashmir issue up the flagpole.

  4. Afan Khan (History)

    FYI, MK, while the use of “Rawalpindi” might be quite clever, ISI HQ is in Islamabad. GHQ is also going start shifting from (IIRC) 2018. Wonder what you’ll use then? E Sector? Marghalla Hills? F-10 roundabout (the new GHQ is right in front of that).

    • Michael Krepon (History)

      What would you suggest?

  5. Afan Khan (History)

    Incidentally, why can you “assume” ISI involvement. Very last thing Pakistan needs right now is another hot border. The reletive calmness on the LOC over the last few years has probably helped Pakistan move units; if not from the LOC itself, those that would have otherwise been held in reserve for that sector, to the West, Army Aviation, and the PAF Northern Command is engaged heavily in the West, neither of whom are immediately free to take up new assignments.

    Fairly lazy and stereotypical presumptions, unless you have some actual evidence that you8 are not sharing.

    • Michael Krepon (History)

      I see. So we can assume RAW involvement in Baluchistan, but not ISI involvement in Kashmir?

  6. Michael Krepon (History)
  7. Michael Krepon (History)

    For those of us looking for indicators of an expanding dragnet in Pakistan: