There is so much that has gone awry in the so-called war on terrorism that a complete list is probably uncompilable – and certainly too much for a blog piece. I have already made many arguments as to why this is not a good way to view or frame our efforts at preventing or thwarting terrorist attacks and will not revisit those yet again. But there are times when something happens and it cries out for analysis with respect to whether that something is indeed tied to counter terrorism.
The event I am referring to is the decision by the Indian government of Prime Minister Modi to change the status of Kashmir. This northwestern region between India and Pakistan, which has been the site of countless skirmishes between the two nations, has had its semi-autonomous legal status scrapped, thus removing its measure of independence. The area is under lockdown and communications have been severed. The Modi government says it has taken this measure to open up economic development and crack down on terrorism.
On that latter front the PM has a point. Kashmir has seen far too many terrorist attacks, many of which had some link to jihadi groups with ties to Pakistan. I find it disingenuous that Pakistan is calling for a UN Security Council meeting on this move, all while engaging in a bit of sabre rattling itself. If it had not been so keen to support terrorists in the first place perhaps the region may have been a better – and safer – place to live.
But the Indian action is likely more complicated than countering terrorism and creating jobs. Hindu nationalists have long cast an envious eye towards Kashmir. Under Modi, these nationalists, and extremists, seem to have been given free rein on many fronts, judging by the PM’s passive and active support. After all there is a lot in Modi’s background that points to his Hindu nationalist leanings. This recent decree may in fact be about allowing Hindu in-migration to change the demographic characteristics of Kashmir, which has a large Muslim population (Hindu extremists hate Muslims, as my forthcoming book When Religion Kills describes).
Some have compared what is unfolding in Kashmir to what China is doing in Xinjiang. The government in Beijing also says it is trying to quell terrorism and improve the local economy. It has also, however, built massive concentration camps for the region’s Uyghur Muslims and is doing its utmost to eradicate their culture and religion. At least India has not begun that kind of plan (yet?).
I find the rise of Hindu nationalism and extremism in India very worrisome. It is one more example of rampant populism and exclusionary politics that seems to be everywhere today, from right wing parties in Europe to Putin’s Russia to Trump’s America. This is not a good development folks.
In the end all this underscores what I have been writing and saying of late: terrorist allegations are being used to justify all kinds of actions, most of which have nothing to do with terrorism. That is unfortunately what happens when you unwisely frame everything through the lens of an existential war on violent extremism. Abuses occur and states take advantage of fear, real or manufactured.
I like to see myself as a glass-half-full kinda guy. Events like this shake my confidence though. We’ll have to see where this all goes. Having a religious conflict break out between two nuclear weapon states can end badly. Let’s hope it doesn’t.