J & K: A LONG HAUL AHEAD

The recent spate in terrorist violence in J&K, along with civil protests and stone pelters targeting the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) gives an image of the situation in the Valley spiralling out of control. Certain pronouncements by political leaders from the opposition parties were grist to the mill for such perceptions gaining ground, such as former Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s article (The Hindu, February 25) where he speaks of “…a sinking feeling that Kashmir was nearly lost for India”. Writing in the Indian Express, Chidambaram also expresses the view that the path taken by the government was perilous and asks for course reversal, seeking not a muscular policy but engagement with stakeholders. Mani Shankar Iyer’s policy option was for the three principal parties of the Valley to jointly work out a strategy. Such thinking by the principal opposition, borders on the farcical, but in a sense exemplifies why we are no closer to a solution today than in earlier times.

Despite all the brouhaha made out about the deteriorating situation in the Valley, the facts speak otherwise. Casualties suffered by the security forces in the first four months of 2017 are way lower than those suffered during the period 2002-2010 and are at par with the casualties suffered during the period 2011-2016. What is different about the present situation is that for the first time, a BJP Govt is at power in the state, albeit in coalition with the PDP—a party with a different ideological orientation. Both the National Conference and the Congress find themselves marginalised in the affairs of the state and so seek to hype each and every occurrence in a bid to come back to power. The comments by Aiyar, seeking to make the Congress a stakeholder in working out a joint strategy, were in that sense, a quest to achieve relevance in the politics of the state.

The situation though serious, is nowhere as alarming as it is made out to be. Conflict in the Valley is mutating, with the terrorists exploiting the media, especially the social media and also using to great effect, modern communication means like the internet and mobile phones to shape opinions and perceptions. This, along with virulent preaching by Mullahs, has led to society being radicalised to a very large extent. The Army and the government have been slow in understanding this aspect of conflict and accordingly, their response to dynamic situations have been found wanting. This calls for an effective perception management campaign, which must be backed by other interventions in security and governance.

Infiltration is down to very low levels and the terrorists strength in the whole state of J&K is down to about 250 or so. Terror groups are finding it difficult to make up for lost strength due to heightened security on the border and dwindling recruits from amongst the local youth. The groups have financial constraints following the demonetisation of high currency notes and they are also short of weapons. Their ability to strike at vulnerable targets however remains high, which highlights the need for being perpetually on guard.

Broadly, interventions must aim at reducing sensationalism and addressing the issue of radicalisation through checks on the madrassas, mosques and schools. The Army is operating well up to its capacity, but steps need to be initiated to reduce interference in their functioning by the judiciary and also through misplaced political activism. Governance structures too must improve, to restore the faith and confidence of the people. Finally, the elephant in the room, viz Pakistan, too needs to addressed. Soft approaches have had little impact in the past. Perhaps a different strategy is required to force Pakistan to change course on supporting terrorism. The war now is between Radical Islam and Indian democracy. For the good of the people of J&K and for the Indian Union, Indian democracy must win. There are no shortcuts. We must be prepared for the long haul.

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