Army in Kashmir – Adfar Shah

Adfar Shah

Military or Army or Fauj or security forces as generally called in local context have undoubtedly played a major role since 1989.They have done good, bad, worst, lived many true and false blames, taken massive and sensitive challenges, helped people in many calamities and tried to improve their public handling tactics amid a plethora of failures and trust deficit. Though there is always a scope for improvement in terms of justice delivery however much has changed when it comes to the relation between Army and civilians except the recent Pathribal case closing that once gain posed a bigger psychological challenge to them seeing the reactions from Kashmiri’s. 

Armies trained and equipped for conventional warfare and expected to fight a well defined enemy, when employed to fight, a hybrid warfare are assigned politico – military aims, they develop a philosophy, adopt new warfare concepts, re-train and re-equip themselves to bring themselves to a level of advantage vis-a-vis the adversary and take on the challenges. Indian Army deployed in Kashmir, faced totally different circumstances, yet due to the quality of soldiers (sometimes erring & sometimes fantastic) and the leadership (sometimes in tatters & sometimes charismatic), it could somehow maintain the professionalism that was expected except some grave mistakes.

When the Army was tasked by the GoI to bring the volatile, uncertainty and complex Valley of 1990s to perhaps the state of normalcy (through still fragile with lot of enemy perception for the Army) that exists today, was it given a well defined role, objective and means, suitable for fighting a war so very different from the ones that it was used to handle? Though some Kashmir analysts blame Army for failure of the political process in J&K, implying that the political strategy is contingent upon the military strategy. Accepting such beliefs as true, means that the democratic decision making process in India are not the exclusive domains of legislatures. The truth, however, was Army did not even have the suitable frames of reference to work. To counter insurgency, Army needed clear cut directions, boundaries and means for management of the cognitive domains. For lack of these and the lack of well defined aims, perhaps Army was forced to craft its military objectives, without which its commanders and men would have remained confused about what to achieve and how far to go. Even Army was blamed for political meddling in Kashmir recently ( a defence comedy indeed). Whatever Army did, may have been beyond the traditional domains of the Army, but tools such as Sadhbhavana and host of developmental activities that Army undertook, some at behest of locals, some on request of activists and some even on the recommendations of the politicians, cannot be termed as being anti-political. While on one hand, interactions with Sarpanches and grass root politicians (the third tier of a functional democracy) is acceptable, why are politicians at State and National level considered untouchables? Does it truly mean being apolitical? If so, then in a hybrid war, whom does Army engage with?

Good old ethics of Army, there are other numerous challenges encountered by the military commanders at all levels. Firstly, how do commanders maintain the correct orientation of their subordinates? In absence of clear objectives and legitimate means, how do commanders define their methodologies? Secondly, training of heterogeneous components of combat resources and working in synchronisation with the less capable, less trained and differently ethicalized forces. This gets further compounded when the dresses and looks are the same. But, what if the principles of synergy dictate that the elder force should take the blames for the younger ones? Then the dilemma comes – what is more important, guarding conventional ethos and character or securing tactical togetherness. Too much of lack of synergy also affects the day to day issues related to human rights violations like now seen in the Pathribal case eve by the mainstream politicians.

Third challenge is the intelligence generation. The dynamics of intelligence range from ethical ways to somewhat unethical or less ethical ways. Even at the cost of being sympathetic to a man in charge of hundred men with guns, zero error, as expected from the forces may be too big a demand for the armed forces, yet they should mean business on it and should arrange speedy trials of erring soldiers for the sake of the suffering Kashmiri populace who hate AFSPA, who never believe the justice system of the security forces.

Fourth issue is coping up with the residual subversion in various institutions which manifests in terms of security threat, inhibited dealings and failure to translate the plans into implementation. While, Army may not be directly affected, the dividends of peace may not reach the lower end.

Fifth big challenge for Army being the big brother out of other Security Forces is eliciting accountability of various security agencies operating within the conflict zone and ensuring effective coordination and synergy at all stages of the counter insurgency operations. There are organisational egos, methods of functioning, limitations and above all the Force ethos. How to match them is a big issue. Even bigger issue is to absorb the acts of other forces and drawing a functional module to work in unison without making grave mistakes like fake encounters.

Sixth issue relates to the preservation of combat power, reducing the visibility and maintenance of morale. For the fraction of common masses, which carry all time grudge against the very presence of the forces, it gives them a chance to depict as if Army is the cause of all the ills where as other agencies have not done miracles for peace.

Given these challenges, the road for Army to evolve and successfully fight a hybrid warfare is full of bumpy rides. Everything revolves around the higher leadership to absorb these challenges and manage the resultant dilemmas. Going through the sufferings, when finally peace comes, expectation explosion is bound to happen. After all, why should the people not hope to reap the benefits of peace? Like Aam Admi Party in Delhi, people have all the reasons to expect a magic wand. No one wants to talk about the failure of others for last 67 years of independence. Even at the cost of being unreasonable, people will have demands hopes and expectations from those who have the potential to deliver.

The only way is to upgrade every soldier’s ability to effectively take care of the sensitivities. Whether it is training or personally talking to them repeatedly or orienting his subordinates to become preachers on his behalf .

Tail Piece

Armed forces still need miles to go as far as the respect towards the local is concerned. There are still so many questions for them to answer like mishandlings in the past but the good news is their resolve for transparency pledge to do justice and Pathribal is their real test. No collateral damage in 2013 depicts the improving professionalism of armed forces with great respect for human lives.

There is a dire need of the internal transformation of Indian Armed forces; they have to be local sensitive and gender sensitive to fit well in the system. Leaders of the Army have to think beyond counterinsurgency tactics also and develop a prolific local understanding and sensitivity. They have to deliver justice and fight for the justice of the victims.

Pathribal poses certain painful questions. Who killed innocent Sikhs? Who killed innocent civilians for Sikh killers later? Why have the actual killers of Sikhs not been arrested so far? Who to be held responsible for such a disappointing closure of case? Is AFSPA really army friendly or public friendly and should it continue amid so much of distrust in army’s justice system? Who are the real victims, slain Sikhs or five civilians killed later or the blamed army personnel? Are we back at the square one?

(Adfar Shah is a Delhi Based (Kashmiri) Sociologist and Columnist. Mail at adfer.syed@gmail.com).

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