After the successful holding of elections yet again in J&K, and the establishment of a new government in the state, the stage is set for allowing political initiatives to complete the normalisation process. Violence levels in the state have been low since 2008 and the total fatalities year on year, both civilians and security forces combined, remains in double digits.
Perforce, the compulsions of coalition politics, which has thrown up a ruling coalition with divergent political ideologies, will help to stabilise the state rather then splinter it further on regional fault lines.
On an equally positive level, the attrition suffered by terrorists remains high, and averages four terrorists killed to one SF killed in action (KIA) for the period 2008 to 2012 and two terrorist killed for each SF KIA for the period 2013-2014. The strategy employed by the security forces in preventing infiltration has also been remarkably successful, with reports suggesting that terrorists have not been able to make up the losses suffered by them in the state, through infiltration from across the border. Terrorist strength is thus gradually reducing in the state.
As per the IG Police (Kashmir), Mr Abdul Ghani Mir, only residual militancy prevails, and the major component of militants operating in the state are foreigners, with only a handful of local militants working with them.
Politically, the situation holds great promise. The successful conduct of elections, despite boycott calls by separatists and militants, is a clear pointer to the desire of people who wish to move towards the path of development and progress. A generation has already been lost and perhaps the realisation has dawned, that playing to the tunes of Pakistan is counter productive. More importantly, the clear mandate given by the people living in the three Divisions of J&K, for the political party of their choice, spells hope that all parts of the state will now have an appropriate share of the development pie. Perforce, the compulsions of coalition politics, which has thrown up a ruling coalition with divergent political ideologies, will help to stabilise the state rather then splinter it further on regional fault lines.
While the situation is thus moving towards normalcy, to presume that Pakistan will refrain from attempting to push terrorists across the border into India would be wishful thinking. The terror infrastructure against India remains intact in Pakistan, aided and abetted by the state and its manifestation is visible in the repeated attempts made by Pakistan intrying to push terrorists through, which has led to increased instances of cross border firing. In the changed political and security environment, the terrorists would in all likelihood look into a change in strategy, through which a wedge could be created between the security forces and the public. Anti terrorist operations would perforce have to be handled with a higher degree of sensitivity to avoid collateral damage and this throws up a fresh set of challenges.
The Army reacted promptly, killing all the militants, but the incident highlights the impact which social media can have on the morale of troops operating in J&K. This is another challenge that would need to be addressed.
The death of two boys who were fired upon by troops when they refused to stop at a mobile vehicle check post, in Nowgam on 3 November 2014, saw widespread protests in the Valley. In a bid to douse public anger, the senior military leadership in the state condoled the death of the two boys and started an inquiry into the incident. There was resentment at the action taken by the Army leadership, as many felt that the troops were only doing their duty.
Subsequently, an attack by militants on an administrative base of 31 Field Regiment in Baramula District on 5 December,in which an officer and seven men were killed in action, led to adverse comments in the social media, with many people wrongly stating that the army personnel allowed the terrorists to get through, instead of stopping them at the check post, for fear of action being taken against them. This was patently false, as the terrorists did not come in vehicles but sneaked through into the area on foot, taking advantage of the broken ground and the darkness. The Army reacted promptly, killing all the militants, but the incident highlights the impact which social media can have on the morale of troops operating in J&K. This is another challenge that would need to be addressed.
More recently, the Army lost a senior officer in an operation, when Col MN Rai, the CO of 42 Rashtriya Rifles was KIA, while offering a couple of terrorist holed up in a house, in a village about 30 km from Srinagar an opportunity to surrender.The action of Col Rai exemplifies the front line leadership which has been the hallmark of the Army, but it underlines yet another danger. In an effort to avoid collateral damage, there will be a tendency among senior officers to personally supervise operations which in the context of the present situation in J&K is not desirable. This aspect would need to be addressed. While all loss of life must be prevented, the loss of senior officers must be prevented at all costs as success by terrorists to target the Army leadership, is a strong motivator for terrorists of all hues.
What the Army needs is a revised strategy to move with the times. Terrorist propaganda as well as the efforts of some elements in civil society who remain ignorant of the real issues involved will continue to target AFSPA, which is simply an enabling law allowing the military to operate in areas affected by militancy and terrorism. This has to be effectively countered through a focussed awareness campaign. It would be a good idea to select unit and formation commanders for posting to such areas, based on their known track record. It would be beneficial if such commanders were formally sensitised to the challenges of operating in the state before being posted in.
…all personnel are all dressed in combat uniform, akin to the Army, which gives an impression, not only to people living in the state but to the outside world as well, that the state’s security is being handled by the Army only. This needs to change.
Other initiatives could be cultivating local language skills by unit personnel, to enable better outreach. Instead of formal language training in military establishments, this could be done by making provisions at the unit level for hiring a local teacher for the purpose. Success needs to be measured on the basis of a units capability in restoring normalcy in an area, rather than on statistical evidence of terrorists neutralised. Such small steps could make a huge difference in strengthening the bonds between the public and their Army.
At the national level, there is the need for a concerted and well directed perception management campaign to wean the public away from conflict. In the age of the electronic media, it is also important to send the right signals to the public at home and abroad. While Army presence in populated areas has reduced to a minimum, visual images offer a different picture. From the local police to the Central Armed Police Forces like the BSF and CRPF, all personnel are all dressed in combat uniform, akin to the Army, which gives an impression, not only to people living in the state but to the outside world as well, that the state’s security is being handled by the Army only. This needs to change.
The uniform of the local police must be distinct, perhaps modelled on the lines of the police forces in the West, which would be unique to them. This would give the correct perspective of the local police handling security in the state, increase confidence levels of the local people in their own police forces and give a sense of pride and belonging to the police personnel. Likewise, the CAPF, must also don the khaki only, and not the combat dress worn by the Army. Only then can the reality of reduced Army presence in populated areas be also perceived to be so.