Pakistan has concluded long back that it is not possible to snatch Kashmir militarily from India. The inner front strategy adopted by Pakistan has portrayed the Hurriyat and Separatists as the “moral warriors a weapon of the oppressed” operating in cognitive and public domain. At the same time, terrorists working in tandem with fringe elements trigger instability by unleashing controlled violence. The stage has been set where investment on terror organisation is reducing and moral warriors are occupying the centre stage to depict the movement to be righteous and for just cause. Conflict often lets loose unpleasant emotions and Pakistan backed non-state actors have been able to drum up this feeling of oppression. Under the current ground situation, Hurriyat/ separatists have exploited the turbulence to penetrate the societal mind-set to bend public opinion in their favour. In the last two and half decades, India has used Security Forces (SF) as a tool to create stable environment for conflict resolution. Historical experience however suggests that conflict resolution can rarely be achieved by the security forces alone. While the SF can take on the terrorists, it is not an appropriate instrument to fight the inner front strategy of Pakistan. The present situation in J&K suggests that the struggle for control of public space and cognitive domain is swinging between fragile peace and Intifada. Strategic wisdom therefore lies in denial of exposed flank to the fringe element to prevent their fishing in troubled waters. Hurriyat and pro-Pak hardliners can be made irrelevant to Kashmir if a platform is denied to them.
Pakistan’s ISI appears to have a well thought out strategy to create controlled violence in Kashmir so that security forces are compelled to remain engaged in the Valley. This fulfils the larger purpose of portraying the public at large as victims of state repression. Perhaps the time is now ripe for the SF to keep a low profile and use other instruments of the state to break the strategy of Pakistan. Despite the public having repeatedly disregarded the call of the separatists to boycott the democratic process in J&K, yet these forces have been able to create time and again a sense that Kashmir is an unstable plateau. Pakistan has perhaps come to realise that India has the capacity and capability to deal with terror organisations, but lacks effective tools to deal with the moral warriors. Pakistan will increasingly fight the war of perception in the cognitive rather than the physic domain. India would need to counter this strategy. The use of force could form part of a counter strategy, but would not be the prime instrument. Interventions of a different order now need to come up on centre stage.
Flirting with separatists/ moral warriors will be a costly mistake. The better intervention would be to isolate and paralyse the proxies operating in physical and cognitive domain. The national cause stands compromised because separatists have been given a platform to propagate that Kashmir is a disputed territory and being controlled by India militarily. A different narrative is required if the Indian state is to win the proxy war. For that, the government would have to garner public support through political, administrative and socio-economic deliverables that are perceived to be in the interest of the state. The cause and intent of the government must be perceived to be righteous and just; at the same time the agenda of terrorists and self-proclaimed leader of Kashmiri ‘Awam’ must be exposed as one of people working for their narrow self interest, though outwardly proclaiming to do so in the interest of the ‘Awam’.
This would require a change in strategic perspective of the state in countering the hostile design of inimical powers. It needs to be understood that terrorists create limited violence, whereas fringe elements create structural and cultural violence. They thereby not only justify the violence by terror organisations but also reduce the space for negotiation and interaction between people and the government. That is why, whenever the government seems to be succeeding in restoring direct communication with the people or sidelining separatist organisations, fringe elements get into the fray to impede this process by unleashing structural and cultural violence which is more destabilising.
Success of a counter strategy would depend on the ability of the government to isolate the separatists, cease engagement with them and deny them space. During Srinagar floods, separatists were rendered irrelevant. To get into the limelight, Yasin Malik and other Hurriyat leaders tried to to prevent government aid, but that did not go down well the public, which was reeling from an unprecedented calamity. Egypt crushed the Islamic revolutionary movement between 1990 and 1997 through a two pronged strategy whereby terrorists were neutralised ruthlessly and fringe elements were denied space to gain foothold and mass social support. In the absence of social support the movement lost its momentum and the fringe elements were rendered irrelevant. In desperation, the Islamic Revolutionaries instead of building bridges with the population landed up in creating an atmosphere of insecurity which was exploited by the government to defeat the movement.
An article published in Warrior Publication, “Counter-Insurgency: Stratfor Monitors and Studies Social Movements” suggests that as part of strategy, separatists could be divided into four groups: Extremists, Idealists, Realists and Opportunists. Each of these four groups need to be handled in a different manner. Opportunists can be weaned away through alternate inducements since they are committed to their own self interest. The realists join this movement out of frustration due to indifference and insensitive response of the government towards the citizen. Their devotion to the cause whittles through good and responsible governance. Idealists can neither be engaged nor can be pulled away; they should be discredited and exposed, but should not be handled with an iron fist. Extremists are irrational and have no fear of regime or being discredited. They need to be handled with force.
Another important aspect which is being neglected is the symbol of unity of separatists or Intifada. Symbol of unity is demonstrated by either a code of dress, or a flag. Invariably the large crowd in Valley is organised under a flag as witnessed in the recent agitation where the Pakistani flag was waved. There are two ways of breaking such unity; first is prohibitory orders which should be implemented strictly, second is putting up another flag which could display division of ideology or divide in the group. What is important under such circumstances is raising an alternate view to counter the ideology of extreme radicals with moderate view point. Under the given circumstances it would have been more appropriate to organise a crowd which could have raised the flag of J&K to send confusing signal to masses, at the same time displaying that they do not approve the agenda of pro Pak ideologists.
At a time when people are swaying between hope and aspirations, India should not allow the radicals and fringe elements to become moral warriors or warriors of the citizen. It is a time for war against radicals and a time for peace for Kashmiri Awam. Let there be no despair and no sorrow, it is time to heal and time to meet the aspirations of the people without discrimination.
The author is a Delhi based defence analyst and a former Senior Fellow, Centre For Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.