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#4791, 2 January 2015
From Kashmir to Kabul
D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS

The year that just got ended, despite what critics would find faults with, was not all that bad. Despite the multiple negative developments in the region, there were still some visible positive outputs, that provides for optimism in 2015.

Let us start from J&K. Undoubtedly, the elections to State Legislative Assembly and the fractured mandate was the biggest development in 2014. While the fracture mandate has beans of certain negative growth, it also provides a window of opportunity at the regional and national levels. True, PDP has won more seats in Kashmir Valley and BJP in Jammu region, with neither of them having enough seats to form the government on their own.

Certainly, it is a fractured mandate. But does that provide an opportunity to find glue that will address the fault lines? In this context, the time being taken by PDP and BJP to make a claim should not be criticised. The 2014 mandate is clearly for PDP and BJP. Equally important is the fact that the mandate was against NC and Congress. So aligning with NC or Congress to stake claim to form a government means, working against the mandate. That would also mean political opportunism.

If the mandate is divided between BJP and PDP, an alliance between the two should be the second best outcome, in case if neither of them have enough strength on their own. Will this also be seen as political opportunism? Why should it be? Two regions have opted for two different political parties with different ideologies. The ideologies may be different, so would be their political slogans at the popular level. At the practical level, do these two political parties diverge so completely, that they cannot come together? So whether it is nationalism (of every variety) or Article 370 or AFSPA – the differences are not totally unbridgeable.

Both the political parties should find a common minimum programme, given the fact that the two regions have voiced their preference for these two parties. In fact, BJP and PDP working together will bring the two regions also to work together and strike a common minimum charter. Given the differences and political constituencies, both BJP and PDP would like to take time to reach a conclusion.

Such a coalition may still have to face a bumpy road. However, it will be less dangerous than any other political combination, which will be against the mandate. Consider keeping BJP and PDP away from power; it essentially means vetoing the vote of one entire region. So the fractured mandate and the time being taken to form the coalition, is not essentially a negative development. Perhaps, there is a light at the end of both sides of the Jawahar Tunnel in 2015.

Across the Line of Control (LoC) and the international border, in Pakistan, finally there seems to be some positive developments in their war against terrorism. The horrible massacre on children in Peshawar school, killing more than 130 innocent people have resulted in three major developments. First, the military and political establishment has taken a decisive step to fight back TTP. There have been a series of military actions and execution, conveying a bold message to the Pakistani Taliban. When compared to how the previous year (2014) started with a predominant push to “talk” to the Taliban and engage them in a “dialogue”, it ended with a military push. Ideally this should have been the strategy from the beginning; the positive story is, at least 2015 begins with a military response to Taliban in Pakistan.

Second major development for Pakistan, which shows some signs of positive outlook is Imran Khan’s decision to call off the political impasse, following the mayhem in Peshawar. What began as a political rally in August 2014, became a series of destabilising strategy, with Plan B, Plan C and and so on. Imran Khan, had he continued with his multiple “Plans”, it would have been a political suicide for the PTI and also for Pakistan’s political stability. Perhaps, the Peshawar attack also gave a face saving opportunity to Imran Khan to return to politicking from blackmailing.

Third major development within Pakistan after the Peshawar attack was the response from civil society against violence, extremism and more importantly the Taliban. True, there are still few more, who support the Taliban in Pakistan, like the cleric from Lal Masjid; but there is a clear indication that the rest of the society is worried about moving further down in this path. One is not sure, whether the Peshawar attack will become a tipping point in how the civil society perceives the Taliban, but there are enough reactions to realise that there has been a severe jolt. Hope in 2015, Pakistan’s civil society is clear not only about the Taliban, but also draws a clear line in terms of supporting militant movements on both sides of its borders in India and Afghanistan.

Finally, on the far west of South Asia, how significant will 2015 be, for Afghanistan? Many projected 2014 as the tipping point in the transition process. It appears, 2014 has ended with two major developments or transitions. First was the successful elections and the much debated political transition in Afghanistan. An era led by Karzai came to an end, and a new beginning has been made with Ashraf Ghani. On his part he also seems to have taken new initiatives, distinctly different from Karzai. More than the signing of BSA with the US, it was his visit to Pakistan and an attempt to reset Pak-Afghan relations that is seen as a new initiative. Will he succeed in 2015? He has to lead a functional coalition within Afghanistan in collaboration with Abdullah Abdullah, and ensure that the regional equations, especially with Pakistan remain stable and sustainable.

Similarly, with the American military operations formally coming to an end in 2014, there is a new security, political and economic challenge for Afghanistan. Though there were pessimistic projections about the Afghan security forces falling like a pack of card, such an eventuality is not seen in the immediate future. Despite the increased attacks by the Taliban during November-December 2014. The Afghan national security forces are holding. It is not as bad, as it was projected. And that is a positive beginning for Afghanistan in 2015.

Perhaps 2015 will be the tipping point. Despite multiple negative developments during 2014, there are enough silver linings from Kashmir to Kabul. There is enough hope to march on, and make this year count. Welcome 2015.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir

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