The situation in Kashmir has been dynamic ever since 1989 when Pakistan initiated a proxy war by providing material, moral and diplomatic support to terrorist groups. The Indian response has been consistently and visibly military in nature, with the Security Forces causing unacceptable attrition to the terrorist groups. This led Pakistan to modify its J&K policy and instigate a section of the local population in order to create social instability in a terror impregnated environment. The instigation of the stone pelters has been partly successful as much due to monetary inducements as the state’s failure to impose discipline on its population.
Once a fairly terrorist saturated area, Kashmir has now evolved into one where terrorists are on the run. Security forces have control over the situation. Nevertheless, recent reports of the Islamic State (IS) setting up a province in India are a portent of resurgence of foreign terrorists. These ominous developments call for a reassessment of India’s responses.
Need for Outlining Political Strategy
Insurgents generally employ hit-and-run tactics and ambushes on non-military targets in their area of operations. These may include low level, and infrequent, attacks on security forces. Security forces are trained to deploy under such conditions. In a militancy, attacks can be expected at larger scales of frequency and severity. Diverse and spread-out targets lead to a dispersed deployment of the security forces. Security forces, other than the military, generally require special training to operate in such an environment. Failure to do so would be the very oxygen militants need to sustain themselves. In both cases the preferred targets are minorities and other soft targets. Also, the causes are prominently political
After decades of fighting terrorism in Kashmir, the Indian state does not yet seem to have fully understood the strengths and weaknesses of a terrorist movement; thus a dependence on short term approaches. Our way has been mainly to respond militarily, including the induction of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). A consistent and all-encompassing strategic communication of political intent, as specifically relevant to J&K, is required. To decide between changing the strategy or continuing with the existing one would be a Hobson’s choice. The latter has proved to be prohibitively expensive in terms of time, effort, reputation and missed opportunity costs.
Attempts to create a similitude with the United States operations in Afghanistan must be guarded against. In J&K, the security forces face their own countrymen. There is no scope for withdrawal of forces. Permanently resolving the problem is the only option if it is to be prevented from becoming a festering sore. An overriding advantage lies in the fact that all developmental and social expenditure would contribute directly to the national GDP.
Critical time has been frittered away as the political establishment delivered short. Even after seven decades of independence, the two mainstream political parties need support from a state level political party in forming a government. Critical uncertainties need to be reassessed, debated and systemically redefined by the central and state governments.
The security situation is fast returning to a level where the government can pursue its initiatives on social and developmental initiatives. Improving infrastructure, upgrading educational institutions and enhancing connectivity needs to move centre stage. Kashmir deserves more security, stability and development. Operation Sadbhavana of the Indian Army could provide the starting blocks for the state government.
Need for Enhanced Coordination between the State and SFs
Though numbers do not provide the ultimate analysis in anti-terrorism operations, they do provide a foundation for analysis. At the turn of the century, the number of terrorists in Kashmir was assessed to be over 2000. Today, it is assessed to be at ten percent of that number. This has been made possible by very high levels of coordination between the intelligence agencies and the various elements of the security forces. This will need to be carried forward. There is also need for greater incorporation of the civil government in this entire effort. Currently, the security forces and the state government are working together but not always at the required levels of coordination. The clashing incompatibilities of aims result in mutual demotivation. Consequently, while both work at their own levels of competence, the end result appears to be dysfunctional.
Notwithstanding the reduction of terrorists, J&K insurgency will not end because the last terrorist has been neutralised. No insurgency, worldwide, ever has. Rather it will end when two imperatives are met. Firstly, the cost of success must be made to exceed the aspired benefits for the separatists and their proprietors abroad. This can be achieved by supplementing security forces operations with political, economic and diplomatic costs. Secondly, local support for the separatists and terrorists must be weaned away. That is the state’s political role.
The Islamic State (IS) Shadow
A new entrant into the strategic matrix in J&K is the IS. Having been bombed out of the Middle East, it is desperately trying to regroup and assert itself in new territories. IS has, for some time, been present in Afghanistan; where it now appears motivated by the pending American military withdrawal. Its efforts to establish itself in Pakistan have so far not met with success due to the latter’s military and the deeply entrenched indigenous strain of terrorism. IS now appears to be targeting the rest of South Asia.
The recent Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka on 21 April 2019 have caused over 250 deaths. Recent reports from the island nation indicate that the bombers had been radicalised and motivated over a fairly long period. What is of more concern is Sri Lanka’s Army Chief’s statement regarding some of the Sri Lanka bombers having been trained in Kashmir and Kerala. That is a vital intelligence input to India; particularly when read in conjunction with the IS claiming direct involvement in the episode.
In May this year, IS’s Amaq News Agency announced that IS had established a new province, called “Wilayah of Hind” (India Province). Details of the new province’s area of operations were not given. While terrorist organisations are loathe to admit new entrants in their areas of domination, Pakistan based Jaish-e- Mohammad may be willing to cooperate in Kashmir. The Indian intelligence agencies must further investigate this and not disregard it merely because of an inability to unearth signs of local governance.
Initially, acting through local proxies is a known IS methodology of extending its regions of influence; thereby establishing a foothold before making a larger scale entry. IS entry in Kashmir was announced by its flags having been openly paraded there in the recent years; notwithstanding its media dismissal as mere posturing. These demonstrations need to be viewed as IS attempts, though maybe with minimal success, in recruitment from within the region. All said and done, it provides ample proof that India now figures prominently in the expansion plans of IS. This needs to be immediately factored into the training of the security forces, tasking of the intelligence agencies and functioning of the state government.
The recent UN listing of Masood Azhar as an international terrorist is expected to intensify the world watch on Pakistan’s international terrorist activities. With the overriding influence of the deep state on Pakistan’s policies, this may well result in the terrorism handlers’ increasing reliance on recruitments from within Kashmir while reducing dependence on foreign terrorists. This will have a twofold impact on the situation in Kashmir. Firstly, reduced induction of foreign terrorist will lower the quality of terrorist activities and also enable India to divert more security forces from anti-infiltration to anti-terrorist tasks. Secondly, as large-scale local recruitments cannot be secretly conducted, the intelligence agencies would be able to closely monitor the developments. The intelligence agencies must rise to prevent Jaish-e-Mohammad’s realignment with other terrorist organisations.
State governments have a role in furthering the central government’s initiatives. The two cannot act at cross purposes. However, actions of the two mainstream national political parties in J&K have often been swayed by political expediency. Strategic vision in both parties needs to be outlined and publicly debated in the print and electronic media. Policies of such national import are too important to be left to politicians alone. The terrorist groups do not pose an existential threat to the state; political destabilisation of the establishment does. Preventing separatists’ influence on J&K’s political processes and governing institutions should be top priority. This is where a much larger than present coordination between the state administration and the central security forces would be required. Need of the hour is a strong administrator who can provide the needed leadership; muscular if required. J&K needs a motivated leader who can take charge of the situation, by putting long term national interests above short term personal political gains.
Maj. Gen. Harkirat Singh is an alumnus of Sherwood College, Nainital, National Defence Academy, National Defence College and Panjab University, Chandigarh. An Army Veteran from the strategic airborne forces with operational experience in India and abroad, the General is a published author on geo-strategic matters and is an independent consultant on strategic management.