The real problem is not the terrorists or separatists, but the fragmented approach of the government. All stakeholders should ideally work in an integrated manner and not independent of each other. If the military is taking tough action against the terrorists, the police must act against the workers on the ground to prevent the atmosphere from being vitiated by them. The political leadership should play a role in keeping the channels of communication open so that at every stage there is a window of opportunity to negotiate and cool down the tempers.
People of Kashmir believed that resolution of conflict was possible and peace was achievable if a political consensus was achieved between India and Pakistan. It was indeed cautious optimism but surely not a forsaken idea. The period between 1990 and 2006 saw cross-border terrorism driving the agenda in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). After the initial euphoria, local support started dwindling for terrorists and a majority of Kashmiri Awam realised the futility of a proxy war because this started hurting the Awam economically, politically and proved to be a threat to their own security. Thus for peace and development, the choice was obvious. This was also facilitated by an effective counter-insurgency grid and improved law and order situation.
But in 2010, the proxy war took a turn for the worse and the focus was on Intifada or agitational strategy since terror outfits were under tremendous pressure from security forces. This agitational strategy has been carefully crafted and security forces have no answer to this shift in strategy. Organised stone pelting, public disorder and obstruction in the conduct of anti-terror operations have become a powerful tool to break the counter-terror strategy of the Indian Army. The ground situation that was considered stable has become volatile and the Valley is plunging into instability.
The ground situation that was considered stable has become volatile and the Valley is plunging into instability…
Lost Opportunities or Lost Possibilities?
There are two sides to J&K; the first is the physical territory that is divided into four parts -the Jammu Division, Kashmir Valley, Ladakh and POK including the Northern Areas. The other side to Kashmir is found in the minds of its Awam, politicians, strategists, soldiers and ideologues.1 Kashmir may be physically divided but the fracture of the other Kashmir is the one that is causing this instability and preventing any move towards conflict resolution.
The period between 2006 and 2010 was most significant for conflict resolution and framework for political solution of Kashmir. The violence level was down, infiltration was reduced considerably and its Awam was tired of violence and Bandhs. The desire for economic development and peace was overarching. This period was considered a window of opportunity for conflict termination and setting the stage for conflict resolution. The people and the government misjudged the temporary peace and many commentators started anticipating it as the end of conflict. Allowing the opportunity to go a begging turned out to be the undoing of the establishment. Intelligence agencies failed to recognise that this stage would not remain for long and it is not the end of the conflict; rather it took a pivotal turn where the centre stage shifted from terrorism to agitation. The political sabre rattling commenced and became louder for the withdrawal of AFSPA and demilitarisation of the Valley. The momentum of operations somehow slowed down and this opportunity was exploited by the separatists to occupy the public space that it had lost.
By 2010, the terrorists and separatists who were marginalised found a new weapon to make their presence felt and regained the lost ground by adopting an agitational strategy. The current uprising is because the youth are fearless and born post-1990. They have seen violence and encounters in daily life and this is manifest as a rise in the number of local terrorist confrontations with the security forces and the government of the day. A Commanding Officer of the Rashtriya Rifles told the author that soldiers can deal with terrorists with weapons; but have no answer to unarmed terrorists. It is a smart strategy to dislocate the counter-terror strategy. The shifting strategy of Pakistan has created the following pitfalls in J&K:
The current uprising is because the youth are fearless and born post-1990…
- The most affluent part of J&K (the Valley) is most unstable and the instability is slowly creeping into the South of Pir Panjal.
- Kashmir Valley is witnessing “a portent and a new indigenous warfare”. Stone-pelting, protests and mass participation in militant funerals is a very cost-effective way of thumbing their noses at India. A greater number of people are showing their willingness to participate in such acts of defiance because it is relatively innocuous.2 Public support to terrorists and separatists has increased manifold and unlike in the past, women are emerging as a major force multiplier to this changed strategy. This extraordinary situation has been brought about since the number of local terrorists has increased manifold.
- Security forces have to deal with the twin challenges of terrorism and public order. According to a security force officer, “We are now in a phase where we end up being in both a counter-insurgency operation and a law-and-order scene as well. The line between the two is disappearing.”3
- In 2010, Robert Bradnock – an Associate Fellow at the Chatham House think-tank in London carried out an Opinion Poll on both sides of J&K and 80 per cent of the respondents believed that conflict resolution in the state is important.4 Today, the situation is fast changing; azadi is what youngsters want to talk about, not jobs. A 21-yearold B.Tech student said, “India wants to own us, but the problem is, we don’t want to be part of it, we have never been a part of it. We want recognition of our own identity. We want azadi.”5 Youth, including children, are subverted and there is a complete disconnect between the government and the youth.
- Support to terrorists is not symbolic, but genuine which was not the case before 2010. The crowd that attended the funeral of Shakir Ahmad, a Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist in Pulwama district,6 was far larger than the funeral of Mufti Muhammad, the former Chief Minister of J&K. Jihadis are treated as folk heroes.
- The mainstay of the separatist movement has shifted from cross border terrorism to subversion and radicalisation of youth below the age of 21 years.
India has not been able to wipe out the perception of the people of J&K that the hostility is not against the Awam but against Pakistan…
- Public and cognitive space stand encroached by separatists, as a result the ideologues are able to spiral instability on trivial issues relevant or irrelevant.
- Pakistan proxy has ensured that it is in a position to manipulate the internal situation in J&K and its neighbourhood.
- The current shift in strategy of Pakistan driven by an ideology to ‘bleed India by 1,000 cuts’ and ‘divide India by 1,000 agitations’ is gaining momentum. This strategy has worked and has provided impetus to a proxy war that was almost brought to grinding halt by a potent CI/CT grid.
- Educated and tech-savvy youth are joining terror organisations and the number of home-grown terrorists is increasing by the day. As per local police records, 70 young local men had joined terrorism in South Kashmir alone in the last one year. Tech-savvy terrorists are using social media to recruit followers.7
- According to one estimate, Kashmir has more than 6,000 unemployed doctors and 2,000 unemployed bio-technologists. Over 78,000 people in the age group of 18-25 years have some kind of computer education but no jobs.8 These educated youth are potential high profile Jihadis unless they are absorbed in constructive activities.
- “Giving people jobs is a step, but it is not a solution.”9 Even those who have government jobs are either overtly or covertly supporting the Jihadis and separatists. Shakoor Ahmed, a constable has fled with four AK-47 rifles along with 13 magazines and is believed to have joined the terror ranks in South Kashmir.10 Employment generation is not the answer to conflict resolution.
Is Shifting Strategy An Answer?
The moot question is, how do we fight this war? There is no definite answer, but it should be fought with a two-pronged approach. First is persuasion, perception and rapprochement to address the ideological fissures between the people and the government. The principle of freedom, justice, peace and tolerance11 must be applied while dealing with own citizens who perceive that they are victims of circumstances and most vulnerable. Second is a strong defence and proactive approach to deal with terrorists and those who have chosen the gun as a tool of conflict resolution.
Sub-conventional wars cannot be fought with conventional means…
The current trends can be reversed by a strategy that is not driven purely by military operations. Conflict resolution through military operations has its pitfalls and continuing with the strategy of fait accompli is unlikely to allow the situation to remain stable for long. The epicentre of the proxy war remains in POK and Pakistan. Thus as long as the epicentre remains unaffected/undisturbed, the proxy war will continue to cause instability in J&K. The strategy of wearing out the adversary and separatists is unlikely to yield results in J&K because it is manipulated by Pakistan through proxies and people of Kashmir have no real leverage except to get manipulated.
The majority of the Kashmiri Awam yearn for peace and more than 90 per cent of the population, especially in Rajouri and Poonch wanted the LOC to be in place,12 since they feel that its removal and free movement will compromise peace and stability. In light of the above facts, there is a need to take a relook at the fait accompli strategy in vogue.
Negative Effect of Kinetic Action
If the population is the centre of gravity, all actions of the state power should be to eliminate the insecurities that are directed towards the people by adversaries. It is a bad strategy to handle the intifida or agitational strategy by security forces, because kinetic action to counter Jihadis and political dissent has the potential to create negative impact. Use of military power should be discreet and directed towards terrorists without impacting the daily life and security of the population. Therefore, the role of intelligence agencies assumes significance.
“Informational Fire” Vs Conventional Fire
India has not been able to wipe out the perception of the people of J&K that the hostility is not against the Awam but against Pakistan and its proxies. The most appropriate weapon to set the perception right is informational fire, backed by transparent action, credible and reliable information to ensure that the strategy of misinformation of Pakistan and Hurriyat is defeated. Informational fire should be used to document evidence that discredit the insurgent’s motives in the eyes of the locals. Though soldiers can be used as ‘informational’ warriors, informational fire should be released in public domain not by military or its surrogate agencies but by other agencies that are seen as more credible and independent.