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#5164, 2 November 2016

Kashmir Focus

After the Surgical Strikes
Syed Ata Hasnain
Member, Governing Council, IPCS, & former GOC, 15 Corps, Srinagar

It has been a month since the surgical strikes were launched by the Indian Army’s Special Forces and denied by the Pakistani side. The entire strategic advantage which lay in our military claim appeared to have been negated by the political brouhaha that followed, between claims and counter claims of political parties in India. But this essay is not about that. It is about the situation that is unfolding in different domains post the strikes. To look through the complexities of the dynamic situation in J&K we need to examine three areas: first, the internal dynamics within Pakistan; second, the situation at the Line of Control (LoC), International Border (IB) and the counter-infiltration grid; and third, the activities in the Valley's hinterland, where the agitation continues in different forms.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif - weakened politically by the Panama Papers scandal and under the complete control of Pakistan Army Generals - is being exploited to project a civilian look to the anti-India campaign; a campaign orchestrated and owned entirely by the Pakistan Army and the deep state. On the other hand, Pakistan's Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s future is yet uncertain. 
His ability to take his own decisions on the succession or continuation in office has been under some doubt due to claims and counter claims of other senior Pakistan Army officers in line for the job. Gen Sharif is therefore busy ensuring that the LoC remains alive. A live LoC may not have a change of guard at the ‘Chief’s palace’. Besides, even if Gen Sharif wishes to act like a statesman, he would like to go not with a whimper but with a roar. Possibly, some arrangement could ensure another high profile job once out of uniform.  So in either possibility, the LoC will remain a bone of contention, and the location where messaging is done via actions. It is yet premature to say whether the ceasefire of 26 November 2003 will hold. It has successfully held even in turbulent times and even this time, the breaches are only in pockets.

The LoC is a strange place and along its alignment, a series of events can take place. In the priority of things at this time of the year, infiltration is uppermost in the mind of the deep state. 2016 may have been a good year for infiltration in terms of numbers but these are not sufficient to convert the burning streets of Kashmir into anything more. The attrition rate has also been very high and the spurt of ‘fidayeen’ was a bravado that was misplaced because it eroded the already low strength in the Valley. 

Secondly the terrorist handlers and strategists are under a mistaken impression that breaches of ceasefire and demonstrated aggression by Border Action Teams (BATs) in one or two areas will force the creation of gaps in the counter-infiltration grid. The Indian Army, fully conscious of this, has ensured suitable reinforcements through the campaigning season that will go into the winter grid too. The incident of a BAT raid and mutilation of the mortal remains of a brave jawan in Machil will have the necessary retribution and in double the measure. This is an issue to be left to local commanders who know best how to handle it and the people should have the confidence that in this mega media period, there need be no grandiose announcements. Sometimes, the silence of the action is enough to send home the message.

The exchange of firing along the IB and portions of the LoC is unnecessary and irksome to the populations on both sides. Clearly our forces have been returning fire in response but the casualties among uniformed people that are occurring appear to suggest that there is need for better embattlements and defences. We have yet to witness artillery duels that will take a higher toll and losses to snipers do not reflect good tactical drills.

In terms of the hinterland, true to form, the nature of violence is undergoing a change. The stamina is obviously questionable. However, what is reported by this author's many local friends is the degree of coercion not by the security forces but by young vigilantes, completely out of control of their parents. Each family is required to send a certain number of young men for stone pelting. Employed people are expected to come to the mosque and swear allegiance to the movement before proceeding to workplaces. There is extortion galore and vigilantism of an obscene kind that has taken over the society. With the police yet recovering from the trauma of the targeted ostracisation, it will be some time before any semblance of normalcy returns.

The Indian Army’s pro-activeness and support to the police in the built up areas and the outreach in the rural zone is ensuring security. Areas where the Indian Army has consciously not entered for many years - such as Old Town Baramulla - have been addressed appropriately with search operations and arrests to send home the message that no place would be safe for terrorists or rabble-rousers.

J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's government has definitely undergone a very challenging period. It could have completed wilted under the kind of pressure it bore. The chief minister may not have retained too many friends in Kashmir but has definitely proved that she can be a strong nut to crack. She has given it back to the separatists in equal measure and definitely displayed nationalist credentials to the detriment of her critics. As the state government moves to its winter capital, it is the time when two things should be in focus: first, it must make up to the Jammu populace the time lost over the last three months, by addressing their core concerns; Jammu’s silence must never be taken for granted. Secondly, it must concentrate on balancing itself by ensuring that the severe winter ahead is made as comfortable for the Kashmiris as possible. The deftness of the administrative skills must be felt on ground so that the alienation is at least partially allayed. That at least will make a better beginning next year.

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