Amarnath Yatra is a worrisome event from a security point of view because the mileage gained by terrorists and its implications can both be immense. Hence the need to over insure that both routes, the Pahalgam and Baltal ones, be secured each by sufficient strength of the Army and CRPF along with the inevitable J&K Police. To task the Rashtriya Rifles Headquarters (HQ) Victor Force to oversee the security from Avantipur would be incorrect as it has enough on its hands with South Kashmir. A separate HQ has to be deployed for the Yatra; this is a dire need.
How should the establishment handle the strife in the streets and yet remain untainted and un-besmirched by adversary propaganda. The Army has obviously taken upon itself to tweak its concept and be more aggressive in its stance after taking a couple of casualties at encounter sites interfered with by mobs. The re-introduction of the general cordon and search operations (CASO) is one such measure. It has been demonstrated in a more benign manner and without the offensive content of the 1990s. This is sensible thinking as flexibility is being exercised. Simultaneously the message must go home that it can be far stronger and offensive. Domination operations in the Kulgam-Shupiyan-Pulama-Bijbehara quadrangle can be facilitated with availability of more troops.
The root of all problems is unobstructed flow of money into terror conduits, something well known for many years but insufficiently acted upon. It is good to see networks now being investigated with raids by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). If this is successful and networks are disrupted, money available for sponsoring stone throwers and other troublemakers can be arrested. Simultaneously, those involved as leaders of the strife must be arrested and transported away from the Valley for detention.
Smart operations always include an element of soft power. Non-professionals always object to its employment but the Army has too much experience to ignore this. For all the bluster that is being laid at the doorstep of the Army Chief, one must never forget that he is a thorough professional. He has communicated his intent to his troops and the people alike but will invariable follow up with enough windows to create the conditions for outreach and engagement. Noticeably, none of the winning hearts and minds (WHAM) activity has lessened in content. Education, skill development, employment opportunities and sports can and must become joint ventures with the J&K government. The sports model of the Kashmir Premier League (KPL) conducted for two years by the J&K Ministry of Sports and the Army is already existent and should be revived.
It is good to see the Haryana government announce concessions in the admission of students from J&K to universities in Haryana. The message of safety of Kashmiri students is as essential and must come as reassurance from states where such admissions take place.
One has said it often but it is never enough to state that what has been missing has been a sincere effort to link the people of Jammu with the people of Kashmir. Both remain seething at each other in a permanent state of misunderstanding. The Kashmiri Pandits are an important segment of the Kashmiri society. They remain in suspense with insufficient efforts to create openings that can happen if the people within the state can encourage this. Suggestions on this have been communicated through the Jammu media, which can play a very positive role through outreach to the Valley media.
There is some seriousness on the issue of counter-propaganda but people have little idea yet on countering radical ideology and propaganda through social media. A consultative body on this is essential so that the conceptualisation is clearer. It needs execution at the central and state levels.
The well-known separatist leadership is sufficiently tainted and a return to it by the Central Government appears unlikely. Peace delegations that keep harping on engagement and outreach need to adopt more realistic policies of reaching and engaging the people instead of the separatist leaders. The continued insistence on reverting to the four point formula and how the same almost delivered only helps in reviving memories of a failed attempt. Pakistan may yet be important because it remains the chief sponsor of all that troubles in Kashmir today. However, it is more important to convey to it the clear message that it can never achieve its aims in J&K. Somehow the perception seems to prevail that with recent apparent foreign policy successes of Pakistan it is riding a wave of confidence. This is perhaps being aided by perceptions of India’s isolation on the One Belt One Road project. Such situations are very temporary as can be seen via the recent successful visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Germany and Russia, both crucial countries.
So, at the cost of a little repetition, it is clear that this summer in Kashmir is all about getting the mix of hard and soft power right. Tweaking has been done to achieve an aim and send a message; re-tweaking will also be done in due course as corrections are achieved.
It is still going to be a hot summer but a mix of pragmatism, correct signaling and some effective operations will see it through to a stage where hopefully we may once again start looking at things with a long term perspective and a wider one.
This commentary is Part II of the two-part analysis on the evolving situation in Kashmir.