Jammu and Kashmir, Where Are We And Where Are We Going ?

Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM**, VSM** 

Commentaries on Kashmir have been the flavor of the season ever since Shekhar Gupta’s article in Dec 2013 suggested that the time was ripe for the Army to vacate the hinterland and restrict itself to the LC in J&K, declaring a ‘victory’ of sorts for the Indian State. A series of articles in response by informed military leaders argued that there was no question of a victory against our own people and that the Army was as yet relevant. This is because the conflict stabilization stage in J&K was still existent. Any decisions about diluting the Army’s role in the stabilization process would need to be taken in the light of the potential situation in the region as the draw down and vacation of Afghanistan is commenced by the ISAF in Afghanistan. These decisions need not be taken under pressure of adversarial propaganda about the presence of disproportionate strength of the Army in J&K. We also need not be pressurized about the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) presence or begin to think that its job is over because the residual strength of terrorists is extremely low. It needs to be remembered that the RR was raised for a purpose. Some claim it was to defeat insurgency while the truth actually points to the fact that it was raised for the purpose of re-integrating J&K with India; the task of re-integration has not yet been completed and therefore the necessity of the RR’s presence in Kashmir remains.

Currently the main theme of all discussions on Kashmir is the likely effect of the withdrawal of the ISAF by end of 2014. Will it see a repeat of the events of 1989 which witnessed the inception of militancy and entry of foreign militants in Kashmir? The less informed are assuming that Kashmir will see much more turbulence in 2014-15. However, it perhaps may be  incorrect to template 1989 to 2014. The situation is vastly different. There are very few mercenaries in Afghanistan whose main commitment will be to assist the Taliban against the Afghan National Army without much attention towards Kashmir. The Pakistan Army will similarly be more concerned countering the radical insurgency in its own urban centers and the western border besides looking to garner space in the vacuum in Afghanistan. The Indian Army now has 24 years of experience managing insurgency and infiltration; with the LC fence and state of the art surveillance systems, better intelligence and a full counter insurgency grid, it is far better placed to prevent any resurgence. That said, we still need to be watchful about the situation through 2014 with intelligence agencies well focused on the internal situation.

There are some irritants which irk the people of J&K. These need to be taken into account by security practitioners and policy makers in the right perspective. The Afzal Guru hanging, mass or unmarked graves, AFSPA, non-implementation of Panchayati Raj even after conducting elections in 2011, alleged HR violations; the most contentious among them being Pathribal, Kunan Poshpura, Machil and the killing of 117 youth during the turbulence of 2010; are all very emotively connected to the hearts of the people. The reopening of the Article 370 issue has also caused some degree of antipathy. The need for it to be discussed in the context of obstacles to development has not been realised in Kashmir. The public also appears unimpressed with the Army’s decision to prosecute the alleged perpetrators of the Machil incident.

Militancy is down to a low although losses of the security forces are almost at par with those of the militants. This is after a very long time. However, statistics is not the most optimum way to assess the situation in J&K. The integration of J&K which we should be seeking through an unstated aim doesn’t look only at the parameters of violence. Instead we should be looking at the parameters of peace which appear suspiciously out of sync with the emerging environment.   These are issues such as governance, radicalism, financial conduits to the Separatists, trust between the people and the security forces/other organs of the Central Government, self-esteem and dignity of the Kashmiri people, the degree of connect between the Centre and the State, tourism and other revenue and profit earning activities. AFSPA is also an issue which cannot be ignored. We are perhaps not looking at all this with the degree of seriousness required. The Army is shy and its bold measures of employing soft power in 2011-12 no longer bear weight of its dynamism. Besides, after the apparent faux pas of the Keran incident it has limited its media and public outreach. It also fears criticism of interfering in administration when actually the people are happiest when it is proactive. The State Administration is not comfortable with the Army’s assistance and there is no other agency which can work the central agenda of integration.

A slew of measures are required to carry forward the integrative process. With the military situation well under control it is necessary to remain alert on the LC and strengthen the counter infiltration grid to prevent any influx this summer. Alertness in the management of the LC in terms of ceasefire violations and retaliation for any misdemeanor on the part of Pakistan and the sponsored terrorists is a must. Tension on the LC can be expected as a part of Pakistan’s policy of reminding the international community about J&K and calibrating the situation. The Indian public expects pro-activeness and retaliation where necessary and the Army would do well do synchronize its response with the political and diplomatic response which will be expected.

There is a need to review our entire policy on the influx of money into J&K. In the same breath the radical institutions need to be monitored and possibly controlled along with a clear policy on how to tackle radicalism in the educational institutions and the jails. A leaf out of the book of Singapore and how it is controlling the spread of radical philosophy with the help of the clergy could be considered.

The building of confidence, self-esteem, dignity and trust among the people is a social necessity. 24 years of conflict has impinged heavily on them. The Army’s Heart Doctrine, so effectively employed in 2011-12 needs to be revitalized. The Force Ethos being instructed at the Battle Schools needs to ensure that ‘cultural terrain’ of J&K is as much a subject as the physical terrain; it takes most Armies many years to realize the importance of this. Otherwise Human Rights activists have a field day targeting the security forces. Mistakes made by soldiers and policemen must not be condoned but when manipulation by separatist elements occurs it needs a clear policy for timely response.

All the above policies can only be put in place if there is an imaginative, dynamic and pro-active approach. The seeming  lack of connect between Delhi and J&K is apparent  to the Kashmiri public.

Measures to project the emerging normalcy in Kashmir need to be taken by opening J&K to more visits by foreign delegations proving that there is nothing to hide. Archaic measures to control information need early review in this netted world. The power of social media needs to be assessed for a national level perception management campaign to instill greater confidence in the Kashmiri people. There are very few agencies in India that understand Kashmir the way the Army does. This experience and expertise should not be wasted and the Army must be fully co-opted, if not made the lead agency, for such a campaign. We need seminars in Srinagar and various cities of the country to bring about a greater understanding, appreciation and trust between people of J&K and the rest of India.

Lastly, triggers such as AFSPA and Article 370 will be employed by inimical agencies. The Army has to look at alternatives as its stated position of 2011 cannot be carried through indefinitely. Article 370 must not become a rallying point; intellectual discourse on its provisions and implications in terms of obstacles in the path of development need to be considered.

Practitioners of security in J&K would do well to read Gene Sharp’s famous book, “From Dictatorship to Democracy” to understand how there can be so many alternative ways by which nonviolent movements can paralyze a Force and a State. Similarly, Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” could be analyzed to examine how a perception management campaign can be created to sell the idea of integration of J&K with the rest of India, politically, socially, economically and most important, psychologically.

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Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM** is a former General Officer Commanding 15 Corps of the Indian Army. Extract of Talk at USI.

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