The Politico-Military Disconnect in Kashmir
The recent statement by the Northern Army Commander and the army chief requesting all stakeholders to come together to bring peace to the flaming valley as also participate in supporting a political solution, should have been made ages ago. The Home Minister was in the valley last week, aiming to discuss with a variety of groups seeking a solution, which still seems to allude.
The announcement of a visit by an all- party delegation is likely to also remain unsatisfactory, to say the least. The alluding of a solution is due to missed opportunities and laxity on the part of Governments. The present unrest has been persisting for over fifty days. It recedes and then rejuvenates with alarming speed. The four districts affected are those where the Hurriyat influence holds sway. The one organization which has remained deeply involved in the valley, since the dawn of freedom, has been the army and hence remains a major stakeholder, in creating the right environment for determining a solution.
Opposition parties have been criticizing the Government, as also making loose comments on restricting the capacity of security forces, in effectively dealing with the situation, while enhancing their vulnerabilities, when attacked. These very opposition parties, have dominated the state and centre for decades, but did not even attempt to find a solution, during their tenure. They presently feel that they occupy a chair of righteousness and can advise and criticize from the backseat. In fact, alarm bells should have rung years ago, when stone throwing mobs, actively participated in distracting security forces, engaged in battling militants. That was the first indicator of the population moving away from the mainstream.
The army was inducted into the valley for anti- militant operations in 1990, in addition to its role of securing the LOC, once the situation became grave. The initial phase of the militancy was extremely active, which only the senior generation of Kashmiris would recall. Operations were a battle of attrition, with high casualties on both sides and continued till the fencing came up. It was during this phase that Pakistani trained militants would treat Kashmiri locals shabbily. They would demand and take their food stocks and subsequently harass and mistreat their women. The locals at that stage supported the security forces, as they were the only ones, who came to their rescue.
With the fencing of the Line of Control (LOC), completed in 2004, the induction of militants reduced. The security forces began gaining the upper hand and militants were pushed into remote jungles. The last few years has witnessed lesser induction and hence reduced violence. The period which witnessed minimum militancy was 2006 to 2010, after which local participation in militancy increased. This was the time, that the Government in power, seizing the opportunity, should have sought a political solution. The Hurriyat existed, however was not as influential. The national leadership always knew that genuine talks with Pakistan was not the answer, therefore engaging at the local level, could have prevented what we are facing presently. The state leadership then played safe and ignorant, doing little to enforce development and improve civic services. The polity failed, when they had the chance.
The army has always been a dominant force in the region. Its tasks range from ensuring security of the LOC, battling militancy and conducting a series of development and educational projects at local levels. Militant and anti-infiltration operations are hard and fraught with immense risk. Differentiating between militants and over-ground supporters is difficult, especially with the induction of local youth, into militancy. Thus search operations to flush out militants and special powers accorded to security forces, led to a disconnect with locals. ]
Public memory being short, people forget the times when it was the army which was their saviours, especially during natural calamities like the 2005 earthquake and 2014floods. This disconnect led to the army becoming the hunted instead of the hunter. The youth born during the militancy phase have witnessed road blocks, search operations and encounters on a daily basis, since their childhood, hence have lesser fear of security agencies. While they still fear the army, on account of its no-nonsense attitude and available firepower, they have scant regard for the police and CRPF.
The army has itself to partially blame for the disconnect. The insisting of militant kills as a means of assessing performance, resulted in the over- zealous resorting to fake encounters and extra judicial killings, which alienated the population. The 2010 disturbances were the result of a fake encounter. Further, the army never recommended in any open forum, that the situation was reasonably under control and hence ripe for determining a political solution. It preferred to remain in the background. This increased the politico-military gap.
This gap, lack of strategic thought at the state and national leadership and lethargy was the main cause for allowing the army to linger on without pushing for alternative solutions. The state has the Unified Headquarters which comprises of heads of all security and intelligence agencies operating in the state. It is chaired by the Chief Minister and should have been the forum where decisions to redeploy the army as also pushing for seeking a solution should have emanated. Chief Ministers have come and gone, secure that the security situation remains under control, to enable them to continue to play the political game to remain in power, without seeking a final solution. Now that they have been voted out, they suddenly become enlightened and brim with intelligence.
The present Government, both at the state and centre, have woken up only after the present situation deteriorated. The need to finally seek a solution is correct. Similarly, is the recognition that talking to stooges of, and Pakistan is valueless as there can be no discussion within the constitutional framework. Hence, there has to be a radical solution which would involve moving the instigators out of the region, enforcing peace by increasing security content, then opening dialogue with all. A closer politico – military relationship is essential to ensure the re-creation of an environment for discussion and resolution.