Non- Linear Conflict in J&K Require Convergence of Divergent Strategies
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 02 May , 2018

The Mutilated Reality of J&K


Aristotle and Cicero defined anger, as the perception of an unjust slight that is accompanied by a desire for revenge.[1] In Kashmir, the sense of being slighted has made the situation not only unpredictable, but also volatile. So what has led to this desire for revenge and against whom? Is it against the prevailing system, or is it against the establishment for failing to meet the aspirations of the people? The answer may lie in the words of Nelson Mandela when he compared violent conflict to a bonfire: the wood is the persisting economic inequality; the ethnic and religious differences constitute the gasoline; and the spark that ignites it the irresponsible actions of self-interested politicians.[2] In view of this, the situation in Kashmir is a fallout of the failure of the political leadership, to moderate the mood of the masses, by providing good governance and leadership. Consequently, an entire generation has grown up under the shadow of the gun, with the result that it has lost the fear of the gun. They have little understanding of the cultural richness of Kashmir, harmonious social interaction between communities and the liberty to live in a traditional way. One may argue as to why the youth are behaving in a manner that will hamper societal growth, even as they are fully aware that they are not only harming their own future, but also the future of the state and the society. One reason for this could perhaps be the sudden disruption in the cultural heritage and Kashmiri way of life. Kashmir has been cut off from its heritage, while its present is hazy. Their perceptions are influenced by false propaganda and their sense of reasoning is fogged by false sense of victimhood. Perception of victimhood is created by denigrating their liberal traditions. The notion of Azadi was not getting enough traction because of divided opinion of people within and outside the Kashmir Valley thus a twist has been given that Islam in Kashmir is under threat. In the backdrop of the above, the biggest threat to a society and state is not external aggression or the threat to life and property, but the derangement of the public psycheby creating doubts about their heritage and history. The other pitfalls of continued conflict include anerosion of the value system that gives rise to a conflict economy, conflict politics and conflict as an industry. In other words whatever belonged to the people have been lost including culture and communal harmony. The conflict in Kashmir has divided people, created intolerance, disaffection towards state and society and rationality to judge what is right and what is wrong. The public and political space does not exist and population is now captive to the misinformation and anti- India narrative.  

Non Linear Character of Conflict in Kashmir

Nonlinear conflict is something that is not structured, unorthodox and unpredictable. It denotes the warfare that is unstable, irregular, unpredictable and inconsistent. Considering the broad definition it appears that the conflict in Kashmir is now mutated into nonlinear in character. The advantage is that separatists and proxies of Pakistan can avoid domain isolation and fracturing to preserve freedom of action.[3]

They can switch from agitational policy to acts of terrorism or violation of cease fire across LOC to battle of narrative. Thus making it difficult to contest all aspects of this warfare effectively. The most visible tool used by Pakistan in nonlinear conflict is acts of terrorism including indiscriminate violence and coercion to create criminal disorder[4] in the society. Along the Line of Control Pakistan is continuously engaging Indian Army with wide ranging covert and overt military operations. Hinterland instability is being carried out by fifth columnists supported by subversive social media and internet with a strategy of “Lead from the behind”[5].

Success of nonlinear warfare is that it endeavours to encircle the state by kinetic and non-kinetic means by striking societal fabrics and institutions of governance simultaneously. It is penetrative and strive to control and deny public and private space. Targets are cognitive and physical domain and often take advantage of unaddressed gaps or through uncontested space. Whenever the coercive or non-state actors appear to be losing at that time agitational/Intifada takes the lead and terror groups retreat to the background. Overall endeavour is to keep the conflict below the threshold of conventional war thus ensuring that conventional forces remains unusable force under such circumstances. In nutshell conflict in Kashmir has taken the shape of “unrestricted war that surpasses all boundaries and restrictions. It is non-military and military in character and creates a crisis on many fronts.”[6]

We may be able to control geography but demography is disaffected with the political system and institutions of governance. Thus docketing it as single domain under proxy war may be incorrect analysis as a result response may not be holistic in nature leaving wide gaps and uncontested space.

Response to such a complex multi layered conflict ideally should not be restricted to employment of military force alone. The response has to be multi agency targeting kinetic and non-kinetic realms simultaneously and in a synergised manner. The most visible success of this campaign has to be defeating the terrorists and exposing the fifth columnists. Success can be measured in terms of denying exposed flanks and strangulating adversary physically and psychologically. Tactical victory on ground is though important but not a sign of victory in such a protracted conflict. 

Is Political Disengagement the Cause of Disaffection?

The situation in Kashmir has reached a stage where people have lost trust with the institution of governance and political process. The anger and disaffection has resulted from the political alienation, lack of responsiveness of the institutions of governance and political disengagement with the masses. The political disaffection can be defined as subjective feeling of powerlessness, cynicism and lack of confidence in the political process, politicians and democratic institutions.[7]

Political dissent or alienation with a political ideology can be rectified by voting out such a system but disaffection is complete loss of faith and trust with the political system. Case in point is denouncing democratic institutions and demanding Sharia instead is the result of disaffection with the entire system. Kashmir was suffering till 1990 from political alienation; but the alienation turned into disaffection now because none of the political alternatives showed any inclination to restore faith and trust among the people in democratic institutions; one after another the state institutions collapsed.[8]

Political disengagement in fact is reduction in interaction between public and political representatives. As a result the young generation neither respect the accession treaty nor interested in any dialogue within the constitutional framework. They have moved beyond Azadi and autonomy and are not keen to engage in the dialogue to discuss the plebiscite or any other model to find solution to the conflict. Demand for Sharia is increasing and main stream political parties only function from Srinagar or Delhi. Reduced engagement of political leadership with public, lack of comprehension of the nature of conflict, fatigued perception about conflict and tired ideology to find solution to the complex conflict is also one of the reasons of disaffection of people with the state and its institutions. Radicalisation of masses make it near impossible to create space for debate and dialogue for reconciliation.

Military Operations Imperative to Restore Authority of the State

There are six main counter terror models followed by armies, across the world. Russia adopted the ‘scorched earth’ policy and planted millions of mines in Afghanistan thus forcing the displacement of the rural population from their traditional farm lands that gave impetus to the conflict economy and rise of drug warlords in Afghanistan. China has adopted the iron curtain policy and the complete suppression of Uighur population, to the extent that they are not even allowed to practice their religion and traditions. The summary executions of suspects are routine. Pakistan used its entire military might, including air force, tanks and artillery to eliminate terrorists and suspects, and in the bargain, killed thousands of innocent children and women. A city like Miramshah, in North Waziristan, with apopulation of over a million was completely razed to the ground. Israel has a policy of undertaking black operations, to execute terrorists, anywhere in the world. US also has the policy of annihilation and liberal use of autonomous weapons system and extensive use of air and missile against suspected terror targets. This leads to the realisation that the model of counter terror operations adopted by India, is the most humane and people friendly. Though there may be divergent views on dealing with the current situation in Kashmir, but what is also important is that, under the given circumstances, it is only the army that is maintaining some kind of order, in disorder. The most important tasks army is required to perform at this juncture, is counter terrorism, counter infiltration and domination of the Line of Control (LoC). Army should not get involve at this stage in agitational or Intifada and this should be handled purely by police and state administration.

According to Edward Luttwak, “Police states or militarisation of state cannot regulate a society.”[9]Consent and coercion in right balance may be able to bring some order in disorder. He further writes that, “insurgents and terrorists do not always win, actually they usually lose. But their defeats can rarely be attributed to counter-insurgency warfare”.[10]But it is also true that unless state authority is restored, a population will refuse to obey an unstable government. Under such circumstances, the role of the security forces becomes important, but not overarching, in conflict management. 

Revive Sense of History and Sense of Geography

It is imperative to understand the public sentiments and group psychology of people of Kashmir. Why are people engaging in social, cultural and physical violence, when the rational self-interest of the citizens of the state is being compromised by an unholy nexus of proxies of Pakistan, terrorists and the ISI of Pakistan. Are the people of the Kashmir valley challenging the political, social and economic order, for reasons of ideology, beliefs and values? Liberal states are meant to accommodate different beliefs and emotions and to give heterogeneous groups a sense of identity. In fact, the identity of this geographically and demographically divergent state, was given by Kashmiriyat. The citizens of Jammu and Kashmir were deemed to be emotional, but rational decision makers, but they were indoctrinated into believing that the panacea for all problems of the state was Azadi. When people started to realise that this wasan illusion, the situation started to stabilise and the state began limping back to normalcy, especially between 2006 – 2010.But the political leadership and bureaucracy failed to seize the opportunity, to build a sustainable peace and deny space to separatist forces.

The second issue for debate is, that if people were feeling wronged, did the state use appropriate means to deal with a social and political problem? Identity of a state is closely linked to the geography, demography, cultural and historical heritage. When the culture and history of a state becomes casualty of the cultural and structural violence the identity on the basis of geography and history loses relevance. The fall out of this campaign by separatists and ISI of Pakistan was that a link with the sense of history and sense of geography was severed and obliterated from the minds of young Kashmiri. The geographical construct and heritage of the state has no meaning for the youth. He is impervious to the history and culture of Kashmir or the principles on which the state was founded. He has even moved away from the rhetoric of Azadi. The new narrative that ‘Islam in Kashmir is under threat’ is dangerous and a majority of the semi-literate rural youth, who have become the torchbearers of agitational politics, have managed to muzzle the sane voices of the elders and intellectuals. This is a major threat which, if not addressed, will result in the anger getting converted into ideology and the outcome could be catastrophic. This has the potential of gaining traction among Muslim youth, even in other parts of the country where they feel slighted by the system, or political ideologies. One irrational act by the government and security forces, especially with regard to religious sentiments, will create un-manageable chaos. The only way to integrate the state again is revival of sense of geography of Jammu & Kashmir with its rich history. 

Ideas: The Most Potent Tool for Dealing with Non Linear Conflicts

The non-linearcharacter of conflict in Jammu & Kashmir has now acquired elements of: anger; disaffection with the establishment; proxy war; a war of perception; and a war for Sharia. The non-linear character of the conflict must make one resist the temptation to reduce conflict to a single cause,[11] whether economic deprivation, radicalisation, failure of the political elites to deliver governance or an adversary. In such circumstances, events are so sudden and the ground situation so unpredictable, that it is difficult to identify the underlying forces at work. The Hurriyat, at one point of time, was considered the lynchpin of the movement, but today it is marginalised and the mantle of continuing the conflict, has passed on to the youth. At the moment, it appears to be a leaderless struggle, but the gun wielding terror groups or proxies of Pakistan, continue to control the population, through a network of over ground workers. During my last visit to the Valley, I was told by a young man that a daily roster is maintained in each village, to keep track of  all the able bodied men who do not show up  for the stone pelting and the bandhs. They are then warned and identified. Even those who are part of the stone pelting gangs but do not participate in stone throwing, are also singled out and warned of serious consequences. Such are the crowd control measures that have been put in place by the terror groups. If this situation is allowed to persist, it will not be easy to reverse the situation, unless there is an unexpected turn of events within Pakistan, or the Kashmir valley, per se. They have forgotten that people living in other parts of the state also have the same rights and aspirations, that can’t be over ridden by senseless violence. Non-linear conflict are multi-layered conflicts and sometimes it is perception that dominates and sometimes physical violence. By character non-linear conflicts cannot be dealt with a set pattern response, either by the military or by apolitical counter narrative. The most potent weapons for winning a non-linear conflict are, ideas that can keep the adversary guessing about your next course of action. 

Social Reconstruction an Imperative for Conflict Management

The biggest issue in Kashmiri society is that of cultural violence (If a section of society does not allow other citizens to practice their tradition, culture and religion, as per their choice and imposes a life style that is alien to them, that is cultural violence). Cultural violence has destroyed rationale thinking in the younger generation and it left no space for reconciliation. The fallout is that Kashmiri society today is on the path of self-destruction and its disaffected population has scant respect for social justice. In an environment where social institutions are crumbling and society is shaken up by deep convulsions, that threaten its very existence,[12]the only way out, is social reconstruction. If separatists’ forces have taken more than three decades to get  this far, it will take a minimum of one decade, to reverse the trend, i.e if social reconstruction is undertaken in right earnest. Social reconstruction is time consuming and will face stiff resistance from the terror outfits, religious hardliners and separatists. However, state support would be necessary for it to succeed. Social scientists will have to sit down and deliberate to develop a vision for the society that is better than that being put forward  by the hardliners and terror groups. The vision should be “the most humane and inclusivein which present societal problems do not exist and in which social justice for all citizens prevails. The principles of liberty, equality, justice, and freedom to the possible set of institution[s] and people must be ensured.”[13]

This will be the first, and the last step, towards arresting the slide and making the current generation realise, what is right and what is wrong. Other allied actions will include, an evaluation of the education curriculum and cultural activities. The results will not be visible immediately but state and society will have to persevere through dialogue, discussion, revival of Kashmiriyat and invoking the teachings of Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, the founder of Sufi Islam in Kashmir. The underlying principle behind all these approaches would be to avoid getting side tracked, just for the sake of narrow political gains. 

Application of Modern Tools to Assess Psychology of Conflict

Most vital aspect of conflict management and conflict resolution is to understand the psychology of conflict. Mediator or interlocutor is blind if he has no tool to understand the changing psychology of the parties to the conflict. It is important to map all sections of the society from political leadership to common people on the streets. There is a need to map the divergent ideologies, politics of conflict, population that is favourably disposed to the establishment and section of population that is keen for conflict resolution within the framework of the constitution. It is also important to map the relationship of geography with the demography to identify the influence areas of separatists to design a counter narrative. Artificial intelligence could help in identifying the disaffected population from those who are angry with the system and want system to be accountable to the people. Tools of perception management and psychological mentoring of the disaffected population are important to counter adverse narrative and create an environment of rationality.

The other aspect of battle of narrative is that it is a combination of cyber and war of perception. Estonia could fight state on state war with Russia and achieve parity. Russia could influence US elections and Cambridge Analytica could carry out social engineering in India to create favourable vote bank. Thus it is high time that to deal with conflict in Kashmir a new tool kit must be used to assist decision makers, security forces and interlocutor to penetrate and create space for dialogue, discussion and reconciliation.  


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. Thus, multiple interactive systems that include, military, social reconstruction, a positive narrative, social justice for all and economic empowerment are  the only way forward, for managing the  non-linear conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. One must remember that multiple actors in non-linear conflict need not be allies or cooperative partners they could also be competitor. Therefore it is imperative for the state to identify and penetrate either both or one of them to manipulate and use one against the other. India needs to cast aside the notion that non-linear conflict in Kashmir can be resolved through conventional military response. It is a fatigued and tired idea and no single tool can handle such a complex conflict. Therefore, a holistic multi agency and multi domain response is imperative to deal with conflict in Jammu & Kashmir.


[1] Jayne Elizabeth Knight, ‘The Politics of Anger In Roman Society: A Study Of Orators And Emperors’, 70 Bce-68 Ce, University Of British Columbia, August 2015.

[2] Steven Mock, Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Ideological Conflict Project: Theoretical and Methodological Foundations,Centre for International Governance Innovation, 2015, P 1.

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

[4]F Hoffman, Conflict in 21st Century:The Rise of Hybrid Wars,Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Virginia,2007,P7-8.

[5] Can Kasapoglu, Russia’s Renewed Military Thinking: Non Linear Warfare and Reflexive Control, NATO Defence College, Rome, Paper No 121, Nov 2015.

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

[7]Mariano Torcal, Political Disaffection And Democratization History In New Democracies, Working Paper No 308 – October 2003, P 2.

[8]Narender Kumar, A Social and Psychological Approach to Conflict management in Jammu & Kashmir, Vivekananda International Foundation,  April 17, 2018.

[9] Edward Luttwak, ‘Counterinsurgency as Military Malpractice’,  Small War Journal Feb 2007.


[11]Steven, N 2

[12] ‘Social Reconstruction Ideology’, Accessed from  on April 05, 2006 p 134.

[13] Ibid.

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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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