Potent Indigenous War Unfolding in Jammu & Kashmir
The real problem is not the terrorists or separatists, but the fragmented approach of the government. All stakeholders should ideally work in an integrated manner and not independent of each other. If the military is taking tough action against the terrorists, the police must act against the workers on the ground to prevent the atmosphere from being vitiated by them. The political leadership should play a role in keeping the channels of communication open so that at every stage there is a window of opportunity to negotiate and cool down the tempers
People of Kashmir believed that resolution of conflict was possible and peace was achievable if a political consensus was achieved between India and Pakistan. It was indeed cautious optimism but surely not a forsaken idea. The period between 1990 and 2006 saw cross-border terrorism driving the agenda in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). After the initial euphoria, local support started dwindling for terrorists and a majority of Kashmiri Awam realised the futility of a proxy war because this started hurting the Awam economically, politically and proved to be a threat to their own security. Thus for peace and development, the choice was obvious. This was also facilitated by an effective counter-insurgency grid and improved law and order situation.
But in 2010, the proxy war took a turn for the worse and the focus was on Intifada or agitational strategy since terror outfits were under tremendous pressure from security forces. This agitational strategy has been carefully crafted and security forces have no answer to this shift in strategy. Organised stone pelting, public disorder and obstruction in the conduct of anti-terror operations have become a powerful tool to break the counter-terror strategy of the Indian Army. The ground situation that was considered stable has become volatile and the Valley is plunging into instability.
Lost Opportunities or Lost Possibilities?
There are two sides to J&K; the first is the physical territory that is divided into four parts -the Jammu Division, Kashmir Valley, Ladakh and POK including the Northern Areas. The other side to Kashmir is found in the minds of its Awam, politicians, strategists, soldiers and ideologues. 1Kashmir may be physically divided but the fracture of the other Kashmir is the one that is causing this instability and preventing any move towards conflict resolution.
The period between 2006 and 2010 was most significant for conflict resolution and framework for political solution of Kashmir. The violence level was down, infiltration was reduced considerably and its Awam was tired of violence and Bandhs. The desire for economic development and peace was overarching. This period was considered a window of opportunity for conflict termination and setting the stage for conflict resolution. The people and the government misjudged the temporary peace and many commentators started anticipating it as the end of conflict. Allowing the opportunity to go a begging turned out to be the undoing of the establishment. Intelligence agencies failed to recognise that this stage would not remain for long and it is not the end of the conflict; rather it took a pivotal turn where the centre stage shifted from terrorism to agitation. The political sabre rattling commenced and became louder for the withdrawal of AFSPA and demilitarisation of the Valley. The momentum of operations somehow slowed down and this opportunity was exploited by the separatists to occupy the public space that it had lost.
By 2010, the terrorists and separatists who were marginalised found a new weapon to make their presence felt and regained the lost ground by adopting an agitational strategy. The current uprising is because the youth are fearless and born post-1990. They have seen violence and encounters in daily life and this is manifest as a rise in the number of local terrorist confrontations with the security forces and the government of the day. A Commanding Officer of the Rashtriya Rifles told the author that soldiers can deal with terrorists with weapons; but have no answer to unarmed terrorists. It is a smart strategy to dislocate the counter-terror strategy. The shifting strategy of Pakistan has created the following pitfalls in J&K:
- The most affluent part of J&K (the Valley) is most unstable and the instability is slowly creeping into the South of Pir Panjal.
- Kashmir Valley is witnessing “a portent and a new indigenous warfare”. Stone-pelting, protests and mass participation in militant funerals is a very cost-effective way of thumbing their noses at India. A greater number of people are showing their willingness to participate in such acts of defiance because it is relatively innocuous.2 Public support to terrorists and separatists has increased manifold and unlike in the past, women are emerging as a major force multiplier to this changed strategy. This extraordinary situation has been brought about since the number of local terrorists has increased manifold.
- Security forces have to deal with the twin challenges of terrorism and public order. According to a security force officer, “We are now in a phase where we end up being in both a counter-insurgency operation and a law-and-order scene as well. The line between the two is disappearing.”3
- In 2010, Robert Bradnock – an Associate Fellow at the Chatham House think-tank in London carried out an Opinion Poll on both sides of J&K and 80 per cent of the respondents believed that conflict resolution in the state is important.4 Today, the situation is fast changing; azadi is what youngsters want to talk about, not jobs. A 21-yearold B.Tech student said, “India wants to own us, but the problem is, we don’t want to be part of it, we have never been a part of it. We want recognition of our own identity. We want azadi.”5 Youth, including children, are subverted and there is a complete disconnect between the government and the youth.
- Support to terrorists is not symbolic, but genuine which was not the case before 2010. The crowd that attended the funeral of Shakir Ahmad, a Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist in Pulwama district,6 was far larger than the funeral of Mufti Muhammad, the former Chief Minister of J&K. Jihadis are treated as folk heroes.
- The mainstay of the separatist movement has shifted from cross border terrorism to subversion and radicalisation of youth below the age of 21 years.
- ublic and cognitive space stand encroached by separatists, as a result the ideologues are able to spiral instability on trivial issues relevant or irrelevant.
- Pakistan proxy has ensured that it is in a position to manipulate the internal situation in J&K and its neighbourhood.
- The current shift in strategy of Pakistan driven by an ideology to ‘bleed India by 1,000 cuts’ and ‘divide India by 1,000 agitations’ is gaining momentum. This strategy has worked and has provided impetus to a proxy war that was almost brought to grinding halt by a potent CI/CT grid.
- Educated and tech-savvy youth are joining terror organisations and the number of home-grown terrorists is increasing by the day. As per local police records, 70 young local men had joined terrorism in South Kashmir alone in the last one year. Tech-savvy terrorists are using social media to recruit followers.7
- According to one estimate, Kashmir has more than 6,000 unemployed doctors and 2,000 unemployed bio-technologists. Over 78,000 people in the age group of 18-25 years have some kind of computer education but no jobs.8 These educated youth are potential high profile Jihadis unless they are absorbed in constructive activities.
- “Giving people jobs is a step, but it is not a solution.”9 Even those who have government jobs are either overtly or covertly supporting the Jihadis and separatists. Shakoor Ahmed, a constable has fled with four AK-47 rifles along with 13 magazines and is believed to have joined the terror ranks in South Kashmir.10 Employment generation is not the answer to conflict resolution.
Is Shifting Strategy An Answer?
The moot question is, how do we fight this war? There is no definite answer, but it should be fought with a two-pronged approach. First is persuasion, perception and rapprochement to address the ideological fissures between the people and the government. The principle of freedom, justice, peace and tolerance11 must be applied while dealing with own citizens who perceive that they are victims of circumstances and most vulnerable. Second is a strong defence and proactive approach to deal with terrorists and those who have chosen the gun as a tool of conflict resolution.
The current trends can be reversed by a strategy that is not driven purely by military operations. Conflict resolution through military operations has its pitfalls and continuing with the strategy of fait accompli is unlikely to allow the situation to remain stable for long. The epicentre of the proxy war remains in POK and Pakistan. Thus as long as the epicentre remains unaffected/undisturbed, the proxy war will continue to cause instability in J&K. The strategy of wearing out the adversary and separatists is unlikely to yield results in J&K because it is manipulated by Pakistan through proxies and people of Kashmir have no real leverage except to get manipulated.
The majority of the Kashmiri Awam yearn for peace and more than 90 per cent of the population, especially in Rajouri and Poonch wanted the LOC to be in place,12 since they feel that its removal and free movement will compromise peace and stability. In light of the above facts, there is a need to take a relook at the fait accompli strategy in vogue.
Negative Effect of Kinetic Action
If the population is the centre of gravity, all actions of the state power should be to eliminate the insecurities that are directed towards the people by adversaries. It is a bad strategy to handle the intifida or agitational strategy by security forces, because kinetic action to counter Jihadis and political dissent has the potential to create negative impact. Use of military power should be discreet and directed towards terrorists without impacting the daily life and security of the population. Therefore, the role of intelligence agencies assumes significance.
“Informational Fire” Vs Conventional Fire
India has not been able to wipe out the perception of the people of J&K that the hostility is not against the Awam but against Pakistan and its proxies. The most appropriate weapon to set the perception right is informational fire, backed by transparent action, credible and reliable information to ensure that the strategy of misinformation of Pakistan and Hurriyat is defeated. Informational fire should be used to document evidence that discredit the insurgent’s motives in the eyes of the locals. Though soldiers can be used as ‘informational’ warriors, informational fire should be released in public domain not by military or its surrogate agencies but by other agencies that are seen as more credible and independent.
Ending Proxy War Requires Holistic Approach
The real problem is not the terrorists or separatists but the fragmented approach of the government. All stakeholders should ideally work in an integrated manner and not independently. If the military is taking tough action against the terrorists, the police must act against the workers on the ground to prevent the atmosphere from being vitiated by them.
The political leadership should play a role in keeping the channels of communication open so that at every stage there is a window of opportunity to negotiate and cool tempers.
Leveraging and Coordinating Tools of Governance
The military cannot achieve everything alone; all denominations of national power (political, diplomatic, information, military and economic) must be leveraged and applied in a coordinated manner and not independent of each other. These leverages should be employed to weaken the movement and strengthen the trust of the people in the system. This strategy is conspicuous by its absence in J&K and often working at cross-purposes. The demand for removal of AFSPA and relocation of critical military locations from towns that control and deny space to terrorists and their proxy is a bad strategy and undermines the actions of security forces. It sets dangerous trends that will make operations by security forces more difficult.
War of Ideas
The war of ideas can be won by reducing the visibility of soldiers in public space and increased visibility of perception. The objective is to win the hearts and minds of the local population and a single actor can control or win this war. It will succeed when the proxies of Pakistan, thugs and terrorists are exposed for their ill-conceived acts of subversion that hurt the interests of the common man. The government will have to invest heavily in intelligence and information warfare.
In 2011, the total defence budget of the USA was $872 billion, and $75 billion (close to ten per cent of the total budget) was meant for the intelligence and information warfare.13 The other front through which the war of ideas can be won is secret wars by faceless soldiers and unstructured organisations. Secret wars are executed by professionals and Special Forces and controlled by political and military strategic leadership.
Strategy Against Terrorists
Security forces should not only focus on individual terrorists, but also defeat the strategy of terror organisations. What are they doing? What are the means at their disposal to accomplish their objectives? How they will be leveraging their means to execute the task? That is what the focus should be. There could be some over-ground workers and terror organisations that may appear to be involved in noble cause, but their objective may be more about achieving or controlling public space. Such a stagey and facade needs to be exposed to present the real picture and motives of the noble deeds. The strategy to deal with cross-border terrorism should incorporate the following:
n Ensure own soldiers’ actions do not alienate the population and/or increase their motivation to support the insurgents.
n Engage the media, including those which are not trusted; denial or delay in sharing information is exploited by adversaries and information space once lost, is rarely recovered. Handwara is a case in point. Delayed information was perceived as culpability of the security forces. Whereas the entire incident was related to eve-teasing and molestation of a girl by local goons.
n Pakistan is able to shift the strategy from one platform to another swiftly. When there is a pressure on terrorists, the agitational strategy occupies centre stage and when agitations are low key, terror activities rise. This is assisting Pakistan and its proxies to prevent being isolated or being predictable. In this regard, own strategy has remained reactionary and focused on crisis management. The responsibility completely rests with the operational and strategic leaders since the tactical commander may not be thinking long-term; he is thinking about achieving his objectives and bringing his troops safely to posts.
n The strategy of fighting trans-border terrorism on own land is flawed. The adversary is most vulnerable when the threat is reversed at the point of initiation.
n Tactical operations are succeeding and objectives are being achieved though at great cost in terms of lives. But the problem is managing strategic outcomes. This is what is appearing to be the weakest link. Strategic objectives are compromised due to our inability to perceive Pakistan’s shifting strategy. Our strategic leadership has to develop capabilities to forecast and pre-empt this strategy. This would need deep assets, a sound intelligence network and an integrated approach.
n The military should be used as a “hammer in reserve” and not the first and the last tool of conflict resolution.
n “Victory” in the asymmetric battle-space is not by eliminating terrorists or its leaders. That will not stop the resistance, or the terror tactics, rather it may fuel further radicalisation. Victory in asymmetric battle-space implies eroding the source of energy to terrorists. Regular/conventional operations will produce ordinary results and irregular/extraordinary actions will produce extraordinary results. Black Operations across the LOC are an option and opportunities should not be lost. Such operations are high risk but with high dividends. Targets should be terror camps and leadership sitting across. Parveen Swami says, “Sub-conventional wars cannot be fought with conventional means.”14
No Sympathy for the Devils
J&K state and Central government can’t allow hooligans to hold state to ransom. It is the result of policy of appeasement. The record of conviction of even the Pakistani terrorists for waging war against India is dismal. The rioters are being released on pretext of good will and the result is that rioters are becoming bolder by the day. Use of force is a necessity to control chaos and public cannot be given a choice to break the law.
POK as the Epicentre of Proxy War
Sushma Swaraj, the External Affairs Minister, said in the UN General Assembly, “The core issue is POK and not J&K.”16 The voices of dissent against Pakistan’s high-handed approach towards the citizens of POK are slowly getting louder. It is India’s moral and legal obligation to support the cause of the people in POK including the rising voices against Human Rights violations by the Pakistan Army. If India wants to raise the cost, POK can’t be allowed to remain calm. If POK is calm, the noise for independence will grow louder by the day. The key to resolving the J&K imbroglio is POK. Pakistan has adopted the strategy to recapture Kabul and cripple Kashmir.17India should apply the same strategy and should invest in efforts to cripple POK (including the Northern Areas) that can make the proxy war prohibitive to Pakistan.
Chinese Footprints in POK:
A Corridor of Peril
This development cannot be taken lightly. Pakistan wants to alter the economic landscape of POK by inviting China to undertake infrastructure development in POK including hydropower and road network. With a $46 billion commitment of development of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), POK is likely to see a change. The Government of India must ensure that there is no truck between Chinese authorities with Hurriyat and other secessionist elements.
Water as Leverage
On November 30, 1960, after signing the Indus Water Treaty, Prime Minister Nehru asserted in Lok Sabha, “We have purchased a settlement, if you like; we have purchased peace to that extent and it is good for both countries”.18 The Treaty has ensured that India has forsaken its right on Indus water forever. When there is a war, all treaties must stand suspended. The vital fact is that India is utilising not even 20 per cent of its upper riparian share of water while almost 20 to 25 per cent of Kashmiris are living without electricity and 55 per cent are without safe drinking water.19Pakistan is conscious of the fact that as long as the proxy war remains, the Kashmiri Awam will not be demanding its full share of water from the rivers flowing into Pakistan. There is no reason why India should not exploit 15,000 MW potential of power in J&K without violating the water treaty with Pakistan.
Peace Through Strength
The country that sponsors terrorism as a state policy must get a message, “desist from acts of terror or be prepared to die.” Peace through strength has worked along the LOC, because it hurts the Pakistani army directly. The time has come for India to send a tough message by first downgrading its diplomatic mission and secondly, using all its deep assets to repay Pakistan in the same coin in POK.
Putting Steel Frame in Place
The recent unrest in Kashmir valley had a typical Pakistan signature. The unrest in Valley, impetus on infiltration and attack on vulnerable soft targets in the rear areas – is this a dry rehearsal for a recreation of the 1965 scenario? But this time by creating favourable ground situation in rear areas to paralyse the line of communication and breaking logistic support to the troops in contact. It will be a costly mistake to just treat the unrest as spontaneous anger over the killing of Burhan Wani. Pakistan Army and ISI probably tested how will this unrest impact logistic supply, side stepping of forces, security of logistic installations and induction of reserves. There is a need to debate this scenario and examine the implications if Pakistan does implement this strategy in near future. Is Pakistan trudging dangerous path to expand the spectrum of conflict is a big question? India must remember that it was Nawaz Sharif who was the Prime Minister when Kargil happened.
It is not the Indian Army’s war alone; it is an integrated war, a war of ideas and in such an environment, conflict management is the responsibility of all stakeholders including civil and military leadership. Along with army operations, political, diplomatic, intelligence, information and economic initiatives are a must to set the stage for conflict resolution. Conflict resolution is a prolonged political process but unfortunately, in J&K and even in the North East, it has been outsourced to the Army. The Army is not an instrument of conflict resolution because it will never be given mandate to set the framework for resolution. What it could be trusted with is conflict management, not even conflict termination.
The focus of the political leadership in Delhi and Srinagar has remained on the formation of government and regaining power, whereas Pakistan has managed to indigenise the war in J&K – its ultimate objective. This will give credibility to the so-called struggle for self-determination. Pakistan is expanding its space in public and cognitive domain and indirectly gaining control of public psyche and actions. Brahma Chellaney says, “There is no state in the world, which has put up with so many acts of aggression without responding”.22 Pakistan is surrounded by vulnerabilities, Sindh, Baluchistan, FATA and POK (including Northern Areas) and all present opportunities to respond adequately to Pakistan. Robert Greene says, “Where the stakes are so high, there is no moral taint in using deception.”23 The deterioration in the ground situation and shrinking political and government space is leading to dangerous consequences. Indian political and military leadership will have to cast away the defensive mindset and create leverages to make the proxy war prohibitive for Pakistan. A moral high ground is the weapon of the weak and the meek. Therefore, the process of reversing the threat should be now or never. Peace with Pakistan can be achieved only by demonstrating strength.
by Brig Narender Kumar (Retd.)