There is a lot on our Kashmir plate yet : The Tribune India

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There is a lot on our Kashmir plate yet

THE Kashmir panel discussion at the recently concluded Military Literature Festival in Chandigarh drew a large and varied crowd even while being the first session on a Sunday. That confirms the degree of concern which people have towards the problem.

There is a lot on our Kashmir plate yet

REFLECTIONS: A panel discussion at the Military Lit Festival in Chandigarh on Sunday.

Lt-Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)
Former GOC, 15 Corps, Kashmir

THE Kashmir panel discussion at the recently concluded Military Literature Festival in Chandigarh drew a large and varied crowd even while being the first session on a Sunday. That confirms the degree of concern which people have towards the problem. A moderated  discussion, involving an experienced panel, brought out issues needing focus. The statement of the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps a day earlier formed the basis of the discussion. The GOC had this to say: “The military can only create conditions of normalcy. Beyond that, the initiatives have to be at levels of good governance, politically talking to people.” There can be no doubt about that understanding and the panel too endorsed it. 

However, what needs analysis is the fact that this is not the first time that the military has achieved or is heading towards achieving a level of stability. Each time that happened — in 2004, 2008 and 2012 — there was an absence of any understanding in India’s strategic leadership on what the next steps needed to be. Stability does not necessarily mean a complete absence of violence, since weeding out of the last terrorist in a situation involving proxy war and alienation is something well-nigh impossible. 

The degree of violence today in terms of violent contacts is comparable to that which existed in 1999, considering that the number of terrorists neutralised in a month in South Kashmir is almost similar. However, the estimated base strength of terrorists is almost 10 times lower. While that may not point towards stability, it is the comparative nature of operations which is of a lower order due to poorer capability of local terrorists that indicates a bottoming out. It takes away nothing from the degree of difficulty that the security forces have undergone in bringing about this situation. 

Today, intelligence flow is of a high order, but the degree of difficulty due to mob intervention is also a major challenge. So, even as local recruitment seems to continue quite unabatedly and there is a marginal infiltration, the figure of terrorist strength has not risen alarmingly. But neither has it fallen. 

This is the terrorist strength that the SF will have to encounter repeatedly year on year if no political initiatives and transformational steps to de-alienate the people are taken soon. It is akin to running at the same spot with no progress. That the issue cannot be resolved by the use of the gun alone is now a well-embedded thought, though ideas against it persist.

There wasn’t any consensus about the role of Pakistan, which, according to some, has reduced due to the local footprint-taking primacy. Others felt that Pakistan’s role notwithstanding, there needs to be a collaborative approach within India, with a degree of political consensus on the way forward. 

However, panelists ruled out the possibility of such consensus given the flavour of today’s politics. The national divide on whether Pakistan needs to be engaged at all, even while it continues its sponsored proxy war, was reflected in the panel’s expressed opinions.

Need for national strategy

There was agreement on the need for a coherent national strategy to deal with Kashmir, something which has existed only in spurts. Much more consultation is needed with experts from diverse domains, including academia, sociologists, psychologists, economists, media men and former military commanders, to create a comprehensive strategy. The necessity of the Army to remain on the security grid and deny Pakistan and the proxies a bounce-back is almost a given. This is so considering that the rise of local militancy in South Kashmir is attributed to the premature sense of victory which was exhibited once violence from the region abated. 

The principle that absence of violence is not stability needs to be followed with a long-term vision.

There was consensus on the role of ideology and the establishment’s inability to come to grips with its use as a tool of alienation. Though time did not permit full discussion on this, it is clear that radicalisation is a major driver of alienation. It cannot be neutralised without a full involvement of the clergy, elders and supporters of traditional Sufi Islam. This needs an information machinery to counter the radical campaign which has many angles to it, both with external and internal linkages. What was obvious to the panel is that without putting together an elaborate campaign involving information operations, it would be difficult to stop radicalisation since it has already taken an effective lead. 

Coupled with this, the thinking that Operation Sadbhavna (now 20 years old), the Army’s military civic action programme, is sufficient by itself to attempt de-alienation is a fallacy. This needs an all-of government approach, with a political, social, economic and ideological content. Its execution cannot be rested on the Army alone. The Army can be the lead agency at the beginning to give this an operational focus. Information operations need to be conducted in a focused manner, making use of some of the very tools being used to build alienation against India. Social media can be an effective tool for the establishment, if done in a structured way. 

The necessity of emphasising the return of Kashmiri Pandits to a situation in which they can exist without threats and without existing in clusters was discussed. It was agreed that a premature return to an insecure environment would only be counterproductive. The need to create such a secure environment was realised. For effective information operations, the human resource element needs to be civilian in content, backed by researchers from different domains and initially an Army- and intelligence agencies-led supervision. 

Thus, to imagine that the Army’s role in Kashmir is effectively over must be contested intellectually with rationale, lest it has to return to handle a deteriorated situation hereafter.

The presence of former senior commanders in the audience helped remind of such innovative practices as the setting up of the Unified Command. Its exploitation, however,  has been only marginal. In a situation where the civil agencies now play a much larger role in Kashmir, the role of the Unified Command needs a re-look. It can be a driver of better understanding of ‘hybrid war’ by many of those who may never have heard of the term but have a definite role in countering it. It is not for nothing that Pakistani media has reported the recent conduct of a seminar on ‘hybrid war’ at Islamabad. None of the panelists was a military professional: only academics, bureaucrats, diplomats and technocrats, contributing to the idea that in Pakistan, the understanding of ‘hybrid war’, by people outside the military domain, is in the making. In India, where we have been at the receiving end of it through 30 years of the J&K proxy war, this understanding is yet to commence. This proxy war is hybrid in nature, make no mistakes about that; every domain has been included in it. To fight it, there has to be an all-of government involvement, not the proverbial next steps only once the situation is fully stabilised by the military. We have a lot on our plate yet.

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