How Political Uncertainty May Affect Security in J&K
Lt General S A Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM (Bar), VSM (Bar) (Retd.), Distinguished Fellow, VIF

I remember watching a Newstrack video magazine report in 1989 in which the existence of a brooding network of local terrorists was denied very authoritatively. In less than six months Kashmir was in the initiation stage of what has turned out to be a 27 year long militancy/terror campaign which has seen dynamic ups and downs. Political stability then too was in the throes of uncertainty. By the time the internal proxy conflict sponsored from across the LoC was effective the self-belief in the local population was that secession from India was but a matter of time; the LoC was witness to mass movement akin to a highway and the Army was in no position to stop that.

Cut to 2016. The state of J&K is again without leadership and Governor’s rule is in place. There is no certainty of government formation for some time and the prolific media in Kashmir, in particular, is deep into analyzing the politics of coalition, potential splits in parties and agendas for government formation. There aren’t too many takers for analysis of the security environment although there is a piquant situation existing in the Valley especially in South Kashmir. Summer is upon us and with the tulips comes the energy of more strife. Where are we heading and what needs to be done. Time we paid some attention to that even as the political dynamics see one more round of negotiations in New Delhi.

The statistics of encounters in South Kashmir in recent months are leading to deductions of revival of a deadly brand of local militancy, fueled by public sentiment and led by youthful Kashmiri militants. However, it would be incorrect not to take note of the few Lashkar terrorists who have also been effective in encounters and whose deaths at the hands of the security forces have attracted as much public adulation. The return of negative public sentiment no doubt is indicative of resurgence of stamina and will both of which had petered out by 2010-11. So we are witnessing a risky strategy by the terrorist planners with open confrontation with security forces by mobs of men and women at encounter sites, followed by adulatory funeral processions to up the ante of anti-India sentiment. The JK Police is reported to be now carrying out quiet burials of Pakistani terrorists in faraway Uri.

At this stage a couple of observations as an avid Kashmir watcher with numerous young Kashmiri friends who interact and do so quite dispassionately. First, will North Kashmir remain a mute witness to the events in South and not erupt on its own into a fresh round of violence. In 2008 the Amarnath Shrine Board agitation was initiated mostly by mobs of Sopore, Pattan and Baramula. The 11 Aug 2011 Muzaffarabad march was again a North Kashmir oriented event which led to the killing of Sheikh Abdul Aziz. Has the Army been able to so effectively choke off the LoC that there are few prominent terrorist leaders left to fuel such a movement? While complimenting the Army’s effective counter infiltration grid there is no guarantee that infiltration will not occur. This summer there will be many more attempts and in larger numbers. There will be manipulation of an odd human rights violation in the Handwara belt and road blocks will then come up. An odd Army or BSF convoy will be targeted to instigate firing with loss of a few lives. That is enough to set the North on fire even as attempts are made to increase the strength of terrorists from across the LoC. Copycat youth leaders are probably waiting to follow the Burhan Wani example of South Kashmir to give militancy a new fillip. North Kashmir does not sit still; it is perhaps a shade more ebullient than the South.

The second observation relates to the situation since the last ‘mobocracy’ was witnessed in the streets in 2008-10. When I inquired from some local friends why Kashmir did not erupt in 2013 after the hanging of Afzal Guru and in fact went uncharacteristically quiet for some months, I was given a strange answer. It alluded to a belief that when the Kashmiri heart is deeply hurt it does not respond immediately; it seethes and collects emotions into a coil spring. This is then released unpredictably at a juncture when instigated. It is this unpredictability factor which is dangerous in a situation where political authority does not exist. It is being partially witnessed in South Kashmir and is yet to get to the hearts of the North Kashmiris; that it will is a matter of time.

Fortunately for the establishment the Hurriyat appears reasonably marginalized but its place appears to be taken by thus far unknown elements. It appears unlikely to be Pakistan oriented but I get regular reports of Friday sermons and unusual gatherings where none too friendly messages are delivered. Is it the Jamat in a more direct avatar? The Jamat in Kashmir is more South oriented being headquartered at Kulgam but its role in North Kashmir can also not be denied with Pattan, Handwara and Sopore all in its control.

Political activity which keeps restive populations engaged is negligible in the wake of turbulence in South Kashmir and the negotiations taking place in Delhi towards government formation. Even otherwise the level of political engagement by lawmakers with the people has traditionally been lower than all other areas of India because of the threats of militancy towards the political class. Political rallies have not yet yielded space to rabble rousing mosque based sermons but the populace is obviously getting bolder and it’s a matter of time before this too commences. Where will all this leave the security forces?

The 2008-10 experience shows that instigators work towards creation of triggers. The Army has the patience because it is not deliberately drawn into response. It is officer intensive in leadership and thus more held back. The CRPF which deals with mobs as first responder has its task cut out. Both forces have new challenges in South Kashmir and as the summer progresses will probably also have the same in the North, with mobs confronting and challenging them at encounter sites in urban areas. The Army and Police have both issued warnings against concentration of people at encounter sites but if the history of resistance is anything to go by these are likely to go unheeded. The sacrifice of a couple of lives in firing by security forces is the form of Intifada and suicide terror which forms a part of the strategy of the anti-national elements. Reports that intelligence from JK Police appears to be drying up do not appear true. The intelligence system of the Police with new ADG CID, Shiv Murari Sahai, Kashmir’s most experienced and effective Police officer, is meeting the challenge and in fact is under reinvention. The summer should probably see a revamped system which could well be more effective. It thus boils down to how the Army and CRPF along with the JK Police will respond to instigation at encounter sites. It is not a question of troops at the site itself being under challenge. Some months ago the ambulance vehicles carrying casualties of the Army’s Victor Force were obstructed at Pulwama. The Lidder Valley which has been quite for some time too has suffered a recent incident when the Army had to open fire somewhere near Aishmuqam.

The solution lies in engagement and that too visible one. To far away observers it would appear that the only way to counter this phase is by physical and kinetic means. That will not be helpful. In fact that is exactly how the instigators wish the security forces to respond just as in 2010. A government in place would help to a great extent and especially if the development agenda is pursued vigorously. In 2010 the Army displayed great patience with its officers reaching out to the local people and persuading many in rural areas from coming on to the main roads. It will need to sensitize its troops especially convoy commanders and small team leaders who sometimes unwittingly get caught in the middle of agitation.
Government formation is tricky business no doubt but a government in place will do much for Kashmir’s bleak security scenario. It is hoped that all that has been achieved by security forces led by the Army will not be sacrificed at the altar of political inexpediency. Time for politics will come again; for now the two largest political parties need to shed differences and act.

Published Date: 22nd March 2016, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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