Author : Vikram Sood

Originally Published 2010-08-05 10:23:15 Published on Aug 05, 2010
It is a cliché to say that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is complex and that Kashmir is burning. But this is true also. The situation today is the result of political mismanagement, indifference and lessons not learnt over past few years after the security forces had brought the situation under control.
Naiveté In Srinagar
It is a cliché to say that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is complex and that Kashmir is burning. But this is true also. The situation today is the result of political mismanagement, indifference and lessons not learnt over past few years after the security forces had brought the situation under control.

The troubles that erupted during the 2008 Amarnath yatra should have provided some lessons, but these were lost in the congratulatory mood that followed the largely successful state elections in early 2009. The fact that the separatist was alive was reflected in the low turnout in Anantnag, Sopore and Srinagar, but was glossed over. Hartals and infiltration increased immediately after the elections.

What is happening today is the result of political naivete, inexperience and indifference in Srinagar, accompanied by complacency and indecision in New Delhi, with Pakistan taking advantage of this without having to reveal its hand. Today it has become a people’s protest movement using stones, insults and anti-Indian slogans as weapons, with separatists operating alongside. The protest movement is not like Gandhian civil disobedience. It is against a constitutionally elected government and is not non-violent. Omar Abdullah, the young chief minister, is considered remote and aloof from his people, and thus unable to strike a chord with the ordinary Kashmiri. New Delhi has been reading the signals of increased tourist traffic and declining rates of terrorist attacks as a sign of an improving situation.

The basic lesson is that sometimes the number of terrorist attacks decline because the terrorists choose not to attack and not necessarily as a result of counter-terror efforts. Yet it was apparent that from early this year that the tactics had changed. Aware that terrorist tactics were becoming increasingly unacceptable in the West, a people’s revolt led by unarmed locals (with Pakistani agents provocateur lurking in the background) was the answer. This would bring the Kashmir issue back to the frontburner without resorting to terrorist violence.

Possibly the intention is to continue the protests until the government caves in and the CM has to go. Then the tactics would be repeated with the next CM, until the state becomes ungovernable. In many ways, we have a more sympathetic response from the West today on the issue of terrorism. But this needn’t necessarily translate into total support on how we handle the Kashmir issue. We must not forget that the United States needed Pakistan when it began its campaign in Afghanistan in 2001, and needs it more now that it plans to leave.

The questions then are: what next, and how?

New Delhi has to ensure the continuity of the present elected government, with the present CM in position. It must be seen to be supporting the CM to ensure that his authority or that of the State in Srinagar does not get eroded. Judging from the unhelpful attitude of the other main party in Kashmir, People’s Democratic Party, there is little hope that it will place long-term national interests above short-term narrow electoral gains.

The most difficult problem is how to douse the flames in the context of large angry protesting crowds. A mere show of force or its use will produce some results, but this is not the only solution. India cannot afford a Tiananmen Square. The protesters’ tactics must be turned against them. Their means of communication, propaganda and incitement should be disrupted. Take pre-emptive measures to prevent the assembly of large gatherings. It is a war of attrition that has to be fought, not simply one set-piece battle. And none of this is easy, nor can it be achieved overnight.

The battle for hearts and minds is very complicated and nuanced. The terrorists, who never fully went away from the Valley, have used ideology, fear and coercion to win support for their cause. The paradox is that for the security forces to win hearts and minds, there has to some stability and the area liberated of malcontents and insurgents. Force is required to restore order, which will ine vitably draw am adverse reaction from the local population. This in turn will be exploited by the terrorists. This vicious circle needs to be broken now.

Force has to be used to control the situation in the short term, but there is no magic formula to determine exactly how much force is required. Much depends on the nature and availability of the force in question, on how well trained and equipped it is, and above all on the ingenuity of its leader. Troops coming face to face with angry mobs always mean a hair-trigger situation: the forces will only be able to answer with its weapons as it has no other mandate. Yet, having failed to control the situation itself, the political class and civil administration invariably seeks to blame the forces for the deaths that follow their deployment. Suspensions, transfers, courts of inquiry are announced in the heat of battle damage morale like nothing else can. It is far better at such moments to observe public solidarity and resort to private reprimand. Besides, an outside force will always have the disadvantage of lack of knowledge about the population, its customs and traditions. The state police is on the other hand usually far too frightened to take on locals for fear of reprisals.

Finally, we must treat Pakistan differently from how we treat Kashmiris. The latter perceive they have a problem while the former intrudes as the problem.

Pakistan is the adversary, Kashmiris are not. Pakistan as a self-imposed interested party will seek to prolong and not solve the problem, just as it has not helped the Americans in Afghanistan. If we keep saying this is an internal matter, then we must engage Kashmir’s elected representatives in a continuous dialogue, listen to what they say and not just hear them out. We must make people like Ali Shah Geelani irrelevant, and refuse to give importance to those like Mirwaiz Omar Farooq who say openly on television that they are scared of the consequences of talking to New Delhi. Unless these elements are put to pasture, they will keep reinventing themselves under guidance from Pakistan.

There are no easy options and no quick solutions. Above all, what must be done is to restore the authority of the state government. It will not happen overnight; it will need a lot of patience, fortitude and luck to restore normality and then begin to address grievances — some real, and some not so real.

Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency

courtesy the asian age august 5, 2019

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