Homeland Security

Kashmir: The Victim of a Non-Linear Conflict Trap
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Issue Courtesy: CLAWS | Date : 11 Jan , 2019

Strategy of Conflict Trap

Civil wars have replaced conflicts between states as the most pervasive and violent armed struggles in the world. The conflict in Kashmir is also a by-product of the unending and forever war between India and Pakistan. The more extended the conflict, the greater the complexity. The most logical question should be: How did we get here? There is no simple answer to this complex question. But the most probable reason is that, maybe, we could not fully comprehend the capacity of Pakistan to orchestrate this new form of warfare that could be, unending and inexorable. This new form of warfare is non-linear in character, it is unstructured, unorthodox, unstable, irregular, unpredictable and inconsistent. The non-linear character of the conflict in Kashmir has turned it into a conflict trap. Through this conflict separatists and proxies of Pakistan have managed to avoid domain isolation and fracturing, so as to preserve their freedom of action.[i]

There is a need to understand the concept of a conflict trap and why Kashmir fits into this matrix. The objective of a conflict trap is to ensure that conflict is unending and inexorable, by creating multiple stakeholders who do not allow space for conflict resolution. There are three important imperatives that ensure that conflict gets into a spiral and ultimately becomes a conflict trap. First, the perception of victimhood and exclusion among people from the mainstream, on the basis of ethnicity and religion. Second, the willingness of the disaffected population to trigger an armed struggle against the state, and third, when a society is fractured on the lines of ethnicity, religion and political ideology and speaks in different voices. Collier argues that the ‘conflict trap’ is created  through various channels: a polarised population that fosters  deep resentments and builds up  organisational capacity for a prolonged conflict; undermines democratic political institutions; and exacerbates  conditions such as poverty, that promote terrorism/insurgency and  cause the flight of capital; by destabilising neighbouring regions and shrinking the space for reconciliation and dialogue.[ii] The ideologically diverse armed and unarmed groups, give impetus to the conflict whenever it shows signs of fatigue, or in case there is a need to switch strategies. The pre-condition for an insurgency or violent movement to become a conflict trap is ambiguity and a non-linear nature. It then becomes fluid and has the potential to create crises on many fronts.[iii] Today Pakistan has the leverage to escalate, defuse and switch strategies from violent to non-violent means apart from extending the conflict into new areas.

Understanding the Conflict Trap in Kashmir

The conflict trap in Kashmir is orchestrated in such a manner, that it continues even when people wish to end it. The stakeholders speak in diverse voices and society is polarised on ethnic, ideological and religious lines. An armed conflict is orchestrated and the control of the conflict lies beyond the influence and leverage of the Indian state. A closer look reveals that the two factions of the Hurriyat speak in different voices – one faction wants Kashmir to merge with Pakistan while the other one wants an independent Jammu & Kashmir. Similarly, the terror organisations are also divided. The LeT, the JeM and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen want to merge with Pakistan but the Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind led by Zakir Musa talks about the Islamic State. Incidentally, the armed and unarmed jihadi groups and political organisations such as Hurriyat, in spite of their diverse ideological background are supported by Pakistan. Pakistan has employed the strategy of “Diverse Voices with Common Objective” to keep the conflict on the boil. When the terror organisations are under extreme pressure from the security forces, the focus is shifted towards ‘Intifada;’ and when there is pressure on Hurriyat and radicals, the focus is on increasing the intensity of acts of terrorism. When pressure is brought to bear upon armed and unarmed Jihadis, the endeavour has been to extend the conflict to neighbouring areas by way of terror attacks. The narco-terror nexus and stone pelting is another dimension that has been added to the complex conflict by Pakistan. An inter-dependence has been created between these two components of instability in Kashmir. The youth is now addicted to drugs and stone pelting is a source of money, to buy drugs. Unless this nexus is targeted and dismantled, it will keep this conflict simmering.

The big question is that when parties to the conflict speak in different languages and the perception of Azadi is different for different stakeholders, conflict resolution also varies. The predicament for the government is, where to start and with whom to negotiate? Even if the ISI as the overall architect of the conflict, pulls back for some reason, it has created enough inertia, for the conflict to sustain itself at least for some time. The reasons why conflict in Kashmir could be defined as conflict trap is because ethnic-social conflict, political divisive discourse, cross border violence, the public uprising against the state operate in the same space. Even if one domain is addressed another domain has the resilience to sustain this unending conflict. They become even more volatile when there is synergy between disaffected population, armed and unarmed Jihadis. Under such circumstances, there is no space for conflict resolution unless there is synchronised and synergised approach to conflict resolution. 

The conflict trap over a period of time becomes a pivot for the escalation or spilling over of the conflict to new areas. In this case, the setting is perfect for expanding the area to other Muslim dominated regions of India by portraying the conflict in Kashmir as anti-Muslim. Similarly, the endeavour will be to spill over the conflict to areas where a separatist or secessionist ideology, continues to simmer. In this case, it is Punjab where militancy has been subdued, but the idea of Khalistan still remains alive in the minds of radicals. In fact, a conflict trap feeds and sustain itself on the basis of an ideology that cannot be destroyed by a gun. The conflict trap in Kashmir has led to growth collapse, political uncertainty, erosion of institutions of governance, an insecure society and caused irreversible psychological damage to the children of the conflict. In the setting of Kashmir, the separatists and proxies of Pakistan have retained freedom of action and denied space for peace and reconciliation. It would require a nuanced strategy to dismantle the conflict trap in Kashmir.

Synchronised and Synergised Strategy Required To Dismantle Conflict Trap

The big question is:  Are we seeking to fight this conflict from a tactical point of view? Or are we seeking to defeat a strategy by a superior strategy? Breaking the cycle of societal fragility and violence is imperative for dismantling the conflict trap in Kashmir. The conflict in Kashmir has to be seen from the point of view of a ‘whole of state’ approach. It would require the multiple and synchronised targeting of each domain. Addressing the multi-domain and non-linear conflict as a security problem is a defeated and tired ideology that can only add to the complexity to the conflict. The issue is: Who controls this campaign against a much-nuanced strategy put forth by Pakistan and do they understand grey zone conflicts? Are they professionally capable of taking decisions, given that the conflict has become nonlinear and is fast acquiring the characteristics of a complex conflict trap? Without sitting on judgement, it is imperative that if India has still not created a command and control structure to deal with the conflict in Kashmir to dismantle the trap till now, it must do so urgently.  

The situation in Kashmir requires deeper understanding and all stakeholders should come on the same page with clear-cut responsibilities. Is it centre or the state that is in command of the situation? If it is the state, in that case, who is the single authority that has a deep understanding of the nuances of fighting a non-linear conflict trap? To dismantle this conflict trap it is imperative to understand that the distinctions between civilians and combatants, radicalisation and anger are blurred the situation demands a response that is necessary to achieve success. The suggested approach given below in the figure requires synchronised and synergised action if the Kashmir conflict trap is to be ended. A fractured approach is only helping the ISI and separatists to keep this conflict raging and reaching a point of no return.


The success of separatists and secessionist forces lies in their capability to escalate the conflict as and when the fatigue factor sets in, or the movement starts losing momentum. At the same time, the state must acquire leverages to prevent this renewed momentum. What are those actions that can provide a cushion so that situation can be managed without allowing it to exacerbate? In Kashmir, unarmed Jihadis have exploited the loopholes in the law arising from ambiguity in their status whether they are culpable of abetting terrorism and violence or not. It is a costly mistake to offer unconditional immunity to non-combatant civilians, who harm the prospects of peace. It is time now to declare that stone pelting is an act of terror and those who abet and participate in such activities should be prepared to face the legal consequences as well as appropriate actions by the security forces. The government should use provisions under the law against the separatists before they create irreversible instability within state and society. At the same time it is imperative to use the intelligence agencies to disengage and isolate the terrorists and ideologues from the public. Even if it means going dark, to fight the dark forces is in order because there is no taint in fighting dirty with an unethical adversary. Even taking out Jihadis and apprehended terrorists from Kashmir valley to Ladakh or other states should be thought through so that they are disconnected from the locals. Military operations as an independent variable may not be able to shape the overall environment in Jammu & Kashmir, without bringing about a change in the ideological orientation of the masses.[iv] Ultimately the difficult task of conflict resolution is the responsibility of political leadership and social organisations.


[i] Gen. David G. Perkins, “Multi-Domain Battle The Advent of Twenty-First Century War”, Military Review, Nov-Dec, 2017.

[ii] Collier, Paul, Lani Elliot, H˚avard Hegre, Anke Hoeffler, Marta Reynal-Querol and Nicholas Sambanis,

Breaking the Conflict Trap. Civil War and Development Policy,  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

[iii] Colonel Qiao Liang and Colonel Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted War, Beijing, 1998.

Courtesy: http://www.claws.in/1962/kashmir-the-victim-of-a-non-linear-conflict-trap-brig-narender-kumar-sm-vsm.html

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Brig Narender Kumar (Retd.)

Senior Fellow, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

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