IN the history of Jammu and Kashmir's innumerable encounters, the one at Chadoora on March 28 will probably be just another among the statistics. It may also acquire the notoriety of being the trigger for the summer of 2017. To save one or two terrorists, a mob of locals built up to disrupt the joint operations of the Army, CRPF and the J&K Police. Three civilians were killed in the crossfire, while almost 63 policemen were injured. The separatists immediately called for a lockdown. Attempts to break the curfew, if imposed, will lead to a couple of injuries to stone throwers and you have the return of the entire spectre of 2016 on the streets of the Valley. And this time even without the Darbar having yet returned to Srinagar.
Is this cocking a snook at the Army Chief's warning? Amateur minds will read it exactly as this, decry the Army's inability to find a solution and urge that all involved in breaking the law should be systematically eliminated at the point of many guns. That is boorish, immature and irresponsible. The state still has a duty to control the law and order and calibrate its response. It is not so feeble. For those of us who have seen turbulence in our lifetimes and situations completely out of hand have lived to tell the tale of a few good men who took the challenge and resolved the problem but not without trials. Enough people have seen this happen repeatedly in Jammu and Kashmir itself; perhaps, in not the exact circumstances, yet many akin to these.
Intense emotions in the environment pander to extreme positions. Social media shows people on one side wishing the worst for the other — an unhappy commentary when maturity demands that middle ground be sought. To understand the nuances of how this form of confrontation has emerged, there is a need to look at both the professional and tactical demand of a hybrid conflict situation and the emotive desire of subnationalism. Any insurgent group will seek to progressively acquire the means to put the security forces on the defensive, cause casualties and endeavour to place them at a psychological disadvantage. The unthinking terrorist mind only contends the use of naked violence; bombs, rifles, rockets and IEDs. That does not get to the psyche of the people; it does not involve them to take ownership of their struggle. Not many are aware of the degree of thinking which goes on within separatist ranks and we have students of conflict sitting across the LoC who are reading, analysing and scheming, providing the intellectual guidance so to say. Sponsored proxy wars are not about guns and explosives alone, they are as much about ideas, innovations and the involvement of people. The aspiration of those who are the guides and the ideologues is to force an out-of-proportion response from security forces so that the “martyr effect” is brought into play repeatedly, alienation spirals out of control and the movement receives impetus. For the first few years of the proxy war, it was more about the Army against the terrorist. The Army progressively improved its concept and strategy, neutralising terrorist strength. Then in 1997, the humanisation effect came into being with Sadbhavana. It remained a question of which side could garner the support of the people, large majority of whom sit on the fence for fear of the final outcome of conflict. The years 2007-8 were crucial. The effects of Mufti Sayeed's “healing touch” (commenced in 2002) faded and Atal Bihari Vajpayee's philosophical approach of Insaniyat, Jambooriyat and Kashmiriyat could not be taken to the next level through outreach and engagement, which were the pre-requisites. That is when the separatists changed tack. Seizing initiative, they brought the proxy war to the streets. Thereafter, it has been a combination of terrorist activities, street protests and psychological blending of the minds of the populace towards the movement. The gen next emerged in the forefront by an evolutionary process and not so much by design. In fact, the older generation was wary about allowing the youth to take the leadership; yet it happened. The security forces did well as far as their military-oriented operations were concerned. They limited infiltration and maximised the neutralisation of terrorists but the psychological element eluded them for the sheer want of continuity and inability to doctrinally conceptualise. The Army was brilliant at altering its tactics; intelligence improved exponentially, cooperation was of a higher order, flexibility in size of operations was exercised and counter-infiltration received a great fillip. However, the human aspect remained elusive not for any other reason than for a lack of understanding of the cultural terrain.
That is where the separatists stole a march — bringing the emotional connect to the street. The years 2008-15 witnessed an ardent effort on the part of the separatists to intensify the street. In 2015, with south Kashmir in the throes of Burhan Wani's locally dominated movement it tested the waters with greater turnout of mobs at the funerals of slain terrorists; surprisingly even Pakistani terrorists for whom the emotional surge was limited. It was experimentation with flash mobs more than emotions. Soon, the first flash mobs appeared at encounter sites. The security forces quickened the pace of response to counter the phenomenon but the mobs became emboldened, resulting in the recent encounter at Hajan leading to the Army Chief's statement. It is now a phenomenon which I would classify as the culmination of an evolutionary process of refinement of methods to disrupt operations of the security forces. The combined experience of the Army, Jammu and Kashmir Police and CRPF in handling multifarious threats over a period of time holds them in good stead to find the counter to such disruptive tactics. In 2010, an attempt was made by the separatists with threats of marching to surround the Army camps. The situation was subtly handled with coordinated efforts.
We have seen intense challenges in the Valley. Undeniably, alienation is extremely high but all is not lost. The nation must repose more trust in those who are in charge. Detractors against separatists are insufficiently courageous to raise their voice. What we need to appreciate is that the security forces by themselves cannot take on the separatists’ outreach. That is many years old and based on a time-tested structure. Without a joint strategy forged by the political authority and the security forces, the people's dimension — which the separatists have stolen from the establishment — cannot be restored to the state establishment. After all, the theme political-military integration in hybrid conflict is not for nothing.
The writer, a former GOC of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, is now associated with the Vivekanand International Foundation.
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