The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, organised a discussion with Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain on an agenda for the new Government of India with regard to the state of Jammu & Kashmir. This discussion is part of a larger series of IPCS discussions the conclusions of which will be presented as a set of policy briefs to the Government of India.
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
Former GOC, XV Corps, Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir
The recent visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to J&K appeared to disappoint some observers of the J&K situation because they expected policy announcements and references to the Kashmir issue from the Prime Minister. The visit was in the backdrop of the apparent but unannounced BJP intent of winning a majority in the J&K assembly polls in November-Decemeber 2014 and thus forming a government on its own. The feasibility of the much desirable BJP-PDP coalition to form a government also does not appear on the cards for the present. There were no comments from the PM on the infiltration attempts from the Pakistani side across the LOC and breaches of ceasefire. Perhaps the expectations from the PM’s very first visit to J&K were unrealistic as it was too early to assume that he would highlight any contentious issues without first fully consulting his advisers and the cabinet. Issues such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Article 370 were best avoided because they are potential triggers and the PM was right in avoiding them and thus not getting embroiled in any controversy. It is advisable to keep Kashmir’s streets free of turbulence in the run up to the assembly elections. The visit has been compared to PM Vajpayee’s first Kashmir visit, where he was open and forthcoming, however the two situations cannot be compared. As probably advised by his panel of advisors, he is assessing the impact of the arrival of the new Government and will look at various options before outlining any policy.
The externally sponsored internal conflict situation in Kashmir is at the mid stage of conflict stabilisation. The military situation is well under control, infiltration attempts are low, and statistically speaking there is a downturn in militancy. The Army appears to have achieved the objective of bringing down the threshold of violence to enable political initiatives and integration processes to commence. In fact this happened a few years ago and the situation demanded fresh initiatives for the integration of an alienated population. For this there is a necessity for a vision and an end state, besides the ability of non-military players to cultivate an environment of political consciousness, debate and interest. However there are some new trends evolving, trends which were not there before and these act as dampeners and obstacles to fresh thinking. Radicalisation of society, especially the youth (the post 1989 generation) is taking place in a big way and its effects are already being felt. There are enough indicators to prove that attempts are being made to convert the Kashmir issue into a religious problem rather than the political one which it actually is. Mosques with clerics owing allegiance to the Wahabi ideology have expanded exponentially and social media is indicative of the deep set radical beliefs cementing themselves.
The Line of Control (LoC) is quiet and is likely to remain so contingent upon Pakistan reprioritising its emphasis. The situation will remain linked to the internal political situation in Pakistan. While Pakistan has three areas of focus its current priorities are in its internal security and the retention of its interests in Afghanistan as the drawdown of the ISAF begins. Its last priority is J&K but this must change from time to time so as not to lose focus altogether. As such, a degree of unpredictability will exist on the LoC.
Need for New J&K Policy
Policy is required because none exists today. The use of hard power has alienated the people. There was no option to hard power when it was used but now a different tack is required. The last five years in particular have witnessed a rudderless narrative with little clarity on what the Governments at the centre and state really wanted.
There is a need to address the next phase of conflict stabilisation before the ill effects of the turbulence in Iraq and potentially of Af-Pak hits us in J&K. There is a dearth of ideas on how to take the next step. Continuing stabilisation without slippages is necessary even as the governments decide the black and white of the next steps.
The no-policy-syndrome in Kashmir has led to what is called as the centre-stage cleavage: no one is aware of what the other is doing. In the last five years the centre stopped all guidance to the state so that it could not be blamed for the mess that had been created. Due to this attitude it stopped monitoring even the standard of governance in the state, which is pathetic. A look at Kashmir’s winter management proves this completely; no power, no gas, no medical aid and black markets functioning with impunity. The lack of sensitivity towards a national security issue involving J&K appeared surprising. It was abundantly clear after 2010 that the initiatives of 2011 were paying dividends. Yet, nothing was done to convert this to greater success.
Policy Recommendations for the New Government
Why is a policy required? A general consolidation is necessary to prevent slippages. The current situation which has been attained after twenty five years does not permit further slippages.
One, if a final solution is to be sought at all, then it is required to be from a position of strength as there is no point in being in a position of weakness and commence negotiating. Therefore the end objective for the government is looking at the external and internal dimensions of the conflict. The minimum objective is to put an end to cross-border infiltration and arrest radicalisation even as we work towards greater integration of the people of J&K with mainstream India. The maximum being the full and final resettlement of J&K. Therefore policy must address something in the middle: a final maximum achievement is not the main aim as of now.
On the internal front, a minimum would be the refurbishment of the internal economy, skill development, employment opportunities, effective and accountable governance and a “healing touch” for wounds. The maximum would then be the full integration of J&K and the policy should address something in between.
Two, a lot of questions have been raised about the role of the Army. Is the Army a suitable organisation to take forward social engineering in the J&K? Is the Army considered the root of alienation as an organisation that continues to conduct hard operations to eliminate terror? Yet, no one understands the problem and the way forward better than the Army. Its broader understanding and outreach can be the matrix on which to rest a reconciliation. The task of the Army is not over because militancy has not ended completely and external factors, such as the Af-Pak situation and Pakistan’s internal problems, can have a cascading effect on J&K’s tenuous security situation. There are twenty thousand surrendered terrorists inside the valley who have not been integrated; they were promised a package. This is the biggest failure on the part of both the civil society and the government.
Three, Kashmir is a case of rim-land insurgency as opposed to the heartland theory. In case of the crisis in Kashmir, the Army must see to it till the last day. Pakistan’s internal situation is unstable and therefore things can spiral out of control. In such a contingency a return to conventional threats can manifest overnight. The Army has to be in control of its logistics bases and the strategic arteries within the hinterland to ensure its readiness for such situations. The Army also acts as an adhesive to keep everything together. It is expected to hold the periphery - just like the Irish model - while the development and social engineering continues.
Four, sensitive issues should not be brushed aside. Alleged human rights issues of the past, the unmarked graves issue, all have to be addressed. This is easier said than done. There is a need for dialogue with the civil society of J&K to see how their emotions are sensitively looked after without posing obstacles to further movement.
Five, it is important to integrate the media in Kashmir with the mainstream media in the rest of India. Kashmir publishes thirty English newspapers every day, but not a single newspaper from the rest of India has any presence. The Tribune has made a recent entry. It is very important to get the act of media and information together.
Six, it is important to strengthen the grassroots level democracy. The government has failed to establish Panchayats in the Valley and hence there is a dearth of democracy at a very basic level. There is a dire need to strengthen such institutions.
Seven, there is a need to promote a greater Delhi-Srinagar connect - at the political, administrative and military levels. The main aim of the new policy should be clear - to marginalise Pakistan’s role and integrate the people of Kashmir, with various instruments - which can range from political, social, to the economic, psychological and diplomatic.
Eight, there is a need for a National Reconciliation Commission to find ways of addressing the contentious issues that are preventing integration. A lot of consultation is required; collateral thinking that has to be put together through a structured system to put together ideas and thoughts on a possible solution for the integration of Kashmir.
Nine is rehabilitation, a very emotive and important issue. A pragmatic policy is needed to address this; one that does not lead to more alienation but aims at greater integration of society. Conditions should be created to allow the Kashmiri Pandits to come back. However, it is important to take up the issue when the time is right because any incident that threatensthe security of the Pandits will set us back by many years.
Ten, with respect to Article 370, the only aspect worth mentioning at the moment is that it is important to know when to start looking at it. Overnight removal is only going to lead to a trigger. There is a dire need to revive debate and discussion. PM Modi set the right tone in his pre-election speech in Jammu. There will be many in Kashmir who will agree that the Act has been an obstacle to development and growth. Yet there are ways and means of overcoming them and models of such economic investment already exist.
Eleven, with respect to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), there is tremendous amount of misinformation. It is an imperative if the Army has to function in the hinterland and hold the security structure together. The public order situation in J&K still necessitates the continued deployment of the Army. There is a need for a change of perception whereby AFSPA should be projected as an enabler and not an end unto itself. The Supreme Court’s do’s & don’t’s and the frequent advisories from HQ Northern Command on the humanistic conduct of operations are ignored while perceiving AFSPA as an instrument of the Army’s alleged wilful human rights violations.
Twelve, addressing the youth in the Valley is of high priority. It is the youth that is most alienated. Once again, the educated youth in Kashmir are joining the ranks of militancy.
Thirteen, there is a need for an all-party approach. Though the idea might seem utopian, it should be looked at as there could be some consultation between parties considering that J&K is all about national security.
Fourteen, preventing human rights violations by the Army can be enabled by a change in the ethos of the force. The Army has to understand that the situation in Kashmir is now different, and therefore the Army also has to undergo change. From 2011-2014 things have changed and a professional warrior has to understand that conflict changes and transforms and the same methods cannot be used.
Fifteen, the militarisation aspect of the Army is a question of context. Area domination is done to dem0nstrate the presence and to avoid militant activity and militant attacks. The camps set up at the local level produce a sense of local security. Even if the Army is set up at the periphery there is a need to fly the flag- the symbol that shows that the Army is still in control.
Sixteen, China is looking at Kashmir and this part of the world with far greater attention primarily because of the ‘New Great Game’ which is all about energy, ideology and infrastructure. The areas of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan are a part of this new game. Resultantly, an increased Chinese presence has been felt in POK since 2011 onwards. We should not be looking at any pull out from Siachen.
Rapporteured by Ayesha Khanyari, Research Assistant, IReS, IPCS