It has been more than three months since the Modi Government’s bold and wholly unprecedented step of amending Article 370 that has led to the reorganization of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, the UT of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Despite some dissenting voices, especially from Pakistan, the reorganization has received overwhelming public support, not only from citizens across the rest of the country, but also from the vast majority of residents of Jammu and Ladakh Regions.
This was to be expected since Ladakhis and Jammuites felt discriminated against when it came to regional development, access to education or employment opportunities, most of which tended to be cornered by the majority community from the Kashmir Valley.
On the other hand, Kashmiris from the Valley find themselves at the epicenter of an earthquake that has literally shifted the ground from under their feet. They are suddenly confronted by an unfamiliar world that bears little resemblance to what they had grown up in and in which control over events has been snatched out of their grasp. Complacency has given way to the fear of the unknown, probably not dissimilar, in many respects, to what minority white South Africans faced after the sudden collapse of apartheid.
More importantly, however, Jammu and Kashmir continues to remain in lockdown with mobile internet blocked, access restricted and political leaders and party workers continuing to be held in custody. Such a state of affairs cannot carry on indefinitely as it is a cause for frustration among the people. It also suggests that the Government may have run out of ideas and is not quite sure of what the next steps should be.
It is also unhelpful as it not only detracts from the substantive steps already initiated to bring about normalcy, but also raises misgivings as to Government’s real intentions. The rising tide of adverse opinion, both domestic and international, is a clear indication of this trend.
In the prevailing circumstances it would be erroneous on the part of the government to now adopt a cautious and incremental approach, as it seems to have done, but instead to move boldly with transformational reforms, which while risky would pay rich dividends. In this context the next big step must be with regard to reforming the security architecture and processes that perforce plays an all important role in every aspect of life there.
Insurgencies as is well known, and undoubtedly Kashmir has been in the throes of one over the past three decades, cannot remain in stasis indefinitely. Without resolution they only gain in momentum and intensity till they develop into a full-fledged civil war of the type we witnessed between the LTTE and the Srilankan Government not so long ago. All counter insurgency operations are thus predicated on the belief that insurgencies cannot be resolved wholly through the use of force, and being in essence, political movements, require political solutions. This is because insurgencies cannot survive without popular support.
The signing of the Mizoram Peace Accord of 1986 between the Government of India and the Mizo National Front (MNF) that ended the two decade old insurgency in Mizoram is a perfect example of this.
Moreover, this initiative of the Government could not have come at a more propitious time. As things stand, the Security Forces, especially the Army which is at the forefront of all Counter Insurgency operations, find themselves facing a profound dilemma on how to navigate ahead.
For quite some time now, the Army has to had to, on one hand, deal with an increasingly hostile population that is not afraid to show its support for home grown insurgents, while on the other, it finds its hands tied down by observations of the Supreme Court on the manner in which such operations can be conducted. The Court has by its observations, pertaining to a case in Manipur, nullified, in all but name, the protections provided to personnel involved in such operations under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
It is also no secret that since the height of insurgency in the early and mid- 1990’s, the Army has nearly doubled its numbers in the Valley despite a ten- fold reduction in the number of insurgents active there. Yet, distressingly, it is finding it progressively more difficult to carry out effective area domination and intelligence gathering from its company operating bases in the hinterland, apart from difficulties in logistically maintaining them, all because of interference from unarmed civilian mobs resorting to stone pelting, aimed at assisting trapped militants escape.
However robust the response to such incidents may be, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and it remains a self-defeating proposition in the long run, as it only adds to the spiraling violence and does little in the way of winning hearts and minds. Thus, the “Grid” pattern of deployment on which the key ingredients of our counter insurgency strategy and concept of operations are based and which has worked effectively for us over decades, not just in Kashmir but elsewhere as well, are being gradually degraded and rendered ineffective.
The Army, thus, has little option but to radically change its strategy, concept of operations and deployment patterns for the conduct of counter insurgency operations. Fortunately, over a period of time, operations have become increasingly intelligence driven, as technical intelligence inputs have become the key factor, rather than the earlier reliance on human intelligence sources, for the launch of precision strikes based on near real- time specific intelligence.
This has, in turn, ensured that civilian populations do not face unnecessary harassment of the type that cordon and search operations entailed in the past, while also reducing the chances of accidental civilian casualties. Added to this, the governments determined steps to block financial support, especially from abroad, reaching the militants as also its pro-active stance along the Line of Control, including a willingness to launch preemptive strikes on terror launch pads and training camps, has greatly constrained Pakistan’s capacity to support the militancy or push in militants.
All of this raises two pertinent questions that need to be answered. Firstly, are the local police and PMF deployed, capable of handling anti-militancy operations on their own? Secondly, are there any other steps that can be taken to further reduce Pakistan’s ability to interfere within?
As to the former question, an unbiased and logical examination would clearly suggest that the Police and PMF are today fully capable of handling the violence that may occur because not only are these at very low levels, but also the Police and PMF have attained the requisite levels of skills in being able to deal with it.
Unfortunately, given the very nature of civilian bureaucracies and military hierarchies, they tend to be extremely risk averse and hidebound, and therefore there is little doubt that they would willingly suggest any change in the status quo ante. Clearly, any changes in strategy, tactics, deployment and associated issues will have to be thrust on them by the political leadership.
If Mr. Modi is to continue with his radical transformative approach to resolving the Kashmir imbroglio, it seems the opportune time for the Government to remove the Army from its counter insurgency role and repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act except along a 3-5 Km belt along the Line of Control/ IB.
The Rashtriya Rifles units can be re-deployed in a Counter Infiltration role behind the LOC/IB to provide depth to forces already deployed there. As an added security measure Army Special Forces units could be tasked to provide assistance to Police/PMF when required for carrying out precision strikes against militant targets. Off course, necessary legal provisions will have to be notified to cover their employment.
The advantages of such a step being taken are obvious and will have an immediate and positive impact on the security situation there. It will also have a positive impact on public opinion, domestic and international and give an added fillip to the government’s diplomatic approach on the Kashmir issue. The strengthening of the Counter Infiltration profile will make it that much harder for Pakistan to push in militants, while rationalization of forces will allow the Army to reorient units for their primary tasks.
In the contingency the events do not go as envisaged and the insurgency takes a turn for the worse, Rashtriya Rifles units are available in situ to reinforce Police/PMF in an early time frame. The real question is will Mr. Modi and his cabinet colleagues be willing to bite the bullet? We shall know in just a few short months.