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Opinion » Comment

Posted at: Jun 15, 2018, 12:09 AM; last updated: Jun 15, 2018, 12:09 AM (IST)

Valley peace in bits & pieces

Cessation of operations is in larger interest but cross-currents make extension difficult
Valley peace in bits & pieces
The Home Minister seemed to favour an extension, but the issue was beyond just optics.

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd)

Arguments in favour of the initiation of suspension of operations for the Ramzan period in J&K are well behind us. The killing of senior journalist Shujat Bukhari has cast an ominous shadow. It was the extension which was in focus and there were several competing and compelling factors that created confusion and lack of clarity. The government may not extend the suspension of operations, but it needs to be reasoned through with informed debate. It starts with the pertinent question: Was the purpose achieved? If the purpose was peace and calm with zero turbulence, it was a wrong assumption. The expectation should have been a qualified sense of peace prevailing in a region where violence has been an everyday phenomenon. To that end, sporadic incidents continued but the big-ticket event has taken place with Bukhari’s killing may have ended the debate. In the week preceding Id-ul-Fitr, it was important for terrorists and separatists to convey their disagreement and clarify their intent on the continuation of violence as a means to attain their aim. It led to some horrendous violence, with a CRPF vehicle being targeted and a demonstrator being crushed to death. For those who advised against any break in operational momentum, this was adrenaline and the argument for an extension weakened. Bukhari’s killing has capped it.

The visit of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh followed immediately; it is surprising how quickly things change in Kashmir. This time the optics for those favouring continuation appeared strong. The Home Minister appeared inclined towards recommending an extension, but this was an issue beyond just optics. There can be no doubt about the J&K CID report that successful counter-terror operations are paradoxically also fuelling greater militant response and helping in the recruitment of local youth whose sentiments are aroused at funerals of slain terrorists. Yet, the political leadership at the Centre had cross-currents to view. The J&K Chief Minister had a strong argument that her government could not adopt counter-narratives with passions continuing to flow due to offensive operations by the security forces. This argument was reinforced by the fact that while there may have been an upswing in the average number of incidents for the corresponding period, the casualty figures were much lower and funerals had been few and far between, with only two local terrorists killed in operations. The opposite view was equally buttressed: with lower figures of terrorists eliminated, the momentum of operations had seen a decline and that could see an upsurge in violence in coming months, especially in view of infiltration attempts. 

Two additional important issues were relevant and begged attention. First, the period saw no particular display of energy towards outreach, political activity of any worth, or the spelling of counter-narratives. To this, the counter-argument was that after years of political inactivity at the grassroots, the same would take time to pick up; there existed an element of fear about moving into the rural countryside with the prevailing security situation and would need special persuasion to make it happen. 

On the issue of outreach, the Home Minister’s visit did showcase some initiatives of the J&K Government, especially in the field of sports and youth power. The peripheral areas not in the vortex of South Kashmir’s violence-prone zone are undoubtedly witnessing such activity and it’s the government’s case that these would subsequently creep into the southern belt. In other words, it was all about time as nothing for effect could be done at break-neck speed. 

The second significant issue was the upcoming Amarnath Yatra, the security of which, by experience, needs preparation through relentless domination operations. Such domination involves sanitisation of the upper reaches from Pahalgam which does not affect the population. It is the second element of sanitisation, from Ramban, on to Anantnag and Pahalgam, which involves densely populated areas that have been in the throes of militancy. It is near Anantnag that yatris were attacked in 2017. The Centre could ill afford any repetition of the attack. Already under a reasonable degree of electoral pressure, the Centre probably views an extension of the suspension of operations as a dilution of the effectiveness of preparation for the yatra. The question was: Could it afford such a risk? Pragmatic opinion would elicit a negative response, although it would be fair to also inform the public that suspension of operations does not involve any let-up in domination operations. In such situations, it is not reality, but perception which holds the sentiment. The arguments on both sides, therefore, appeared almost equally weighted. 

The Centre may have been compelled to turn to yet another factor which plays no mean role in influencing opinion — ceasefire at the LoC and the Jammu segment of the international border (IB). There is no tactical connect between the suspension of operations and the LoC ceasefire. However, at the strategic level, it is all about the creation of an environment conducive to taking the next steps towards any form of peace. The decision to go back and implement the 2003 ceasefire arrangement — not agreement as erroneously reported many times — more effectively was well received by most quarters in India due to the unnecessary suffering of the civil population in the IB belt. However, with a sudden upswing in infiltration attempts in North Kashmir, Pakistan army’s intent is under question. The six successful counter-infiltration operations in the last few weeks means that the infusion of foreign terrorists into the Valley remains Pakistan’s priority.  That by itself may yet have held water, but the spate of ceasefire violations in the IB belt, culminating in a virtual deliberate ambush of the BSF in our territory, gave no indicator of any change of Pakistan’s heart or intent. When factored into the larger proxy conflict in J&K, these two inputs make the suspension of operations and ceasefire a virtual mockery. Such measures are undertaken to give peace a chance, but if peace is assessed to have virtually no chance then the camp advocating the stoppage of all this perhaps wins. 

Analysts have been arguing that in view of the ongoing very serious reset in India’s foreign policy, and by implication security policy, perhaps giving peace a chance in J&K may have been an enabler for better things to emerge. However, in view of the lack of seriousness on the part of those who have to clap along with us to make that happen — Pakistan and the separatists — the Centre found it necessary to call it a day on the suspension of operations. Another day, another time; perhaps. 

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