It has been almost 27 years since the externally sponsored conflict commenced in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Throughout this period, each year came and went with some reviews and a few lessons learnt. However, without fail, a strange phenomenon occurs every year. The Army charts out two strategies per year: a winter strategy and then a summer strategy. That is strange for an organisation that always believes in first outlining an aim and then the strategy; and strategy is usually supposed to be segmented into long term, mid-term and short-term. Even stranger is that for 27 years there has been utter clarity in the aim of Pakistan and its Army; giving its due to the adversary is usually prudent. Their aim alludes to wresting the territory of J&K (by means foul and fair).
Mostly each set of Pakistani strategies to achieve the aim has followed a course of three or four years, interspersed with tactical ploys and triggers. It has also addressed most of the domains that go into making such a strategy. In other words when that is compared with India's approach, the latter's is largely seen to be tactical and perhaps at most operational, whereas the former's approach has been solidly strategic.
Analysing and writing about the approaching summer of 2017 would once again be akin to falling into the same trap that has consumed India’s establishment for many years. Since India does not have an articulated or even a semi-articulated aim, it becomes difficult to outline a strategy that is anywhere near long or mid-term. It is about time that at least the Indian Army evolved a draft political and military aim, even as an exercise in its various training institutions, where vast talent exists. Indian Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat’s extensive experience in hybrid war should help him push this agenda and facilitate a discussion at the highest levels of government. J&K is not a pushover issue that can be handled during breaks from politics. It needs solid intellectual application of ideas and experience to make any difference on ground. The first long term strategy can then be evolved. The internal report of India's Ministry of Home Affairs could well be a start point too with no dogma attached to it.
The lack of clarity for those on the ground, in command assignments or managing the proxy conflict elsewhere, can be gauged from the fact that there is only grudging support within the Army’s ranks for Sadbhavana, the Army’s twenty year long hearts and minds campaign. This emerges from the inability to grasp what Sadbhavana is. Some perceive it in a civilian way that it is all about pandering to the needs of Kashmiri society, which in their perception, is already pampered. The absolutely uninformed and inexperienced call it the Army’s administration of J&K in the light of the failure of the government, not being even remotely aware of the miniscule annual budget of the exercise. Yet others imagine that it is India’s psychological warfare machinery at work. With such gross lack of clarity, one of the essentials of the counter-insurgency campaign rests on diffused perceptions. What then should be expected from the ticket punching events such as national integration tours of J&K’s youth and other citizens that are rarely followed to any conclusion? The cumulative effect on the psyche of the target population is hardly ever known to different levels of leadership.
It is never the intent to pick holes in the strategy or narrative creation by the establishment; but just a few core issues may help better the record in taking these beyond the tipping point. For far too long has the joint capability taken the path of countering the terrorist menace only to be stumped by its incapability in taking it beyond to the social, political and psychological domains in which solutions of mainstreaming the society ultimately lie.
For a start, let there be a clearer strategy evolved with consensus. The latter bears the key otherwise it will return to the unsavory experience of what is being currently witnessed with former members of the cabinet finding fault with everything the establishment does today. The inevitable question to them that they never seem to answer is – what happened to the interlocutors' report and why was it not tabled in the parliament for a discussion? For inspiration, the establishment needs to only fall back to the strategy adopted in 1994 - which saw the coming together of the two mainstream parties to pass a joint resolution of both houses of parliament affirming that the territories of the former princely state of J&K all belong to India; that India will aspire to and enable the return of these. 22 February 1994 is a golden day in India’s strategic history. It is the day the resolution was passed in parliament.
Secondly, the strategy must cater to all domains – the military and intelligence, diplomatic, political, development, social, economic, and most importantly, psychological. No single entity can dictate these and needs the coming together of many minds. There has to be a long and mid-term tasking of different organisations with review of achievements, failures, and need for course corrections. This has to be carried out by entities that are responsible for different domains and should lead to a national level review.
When people speak of the need for change in the narrative, it need not be specific to execution. In the current context, when policy has been reasonably astray for some years, change of narrative should first look at sending home a very early message to Pakistan’s security establishment. It should convey that Pakistan is involved in an unwinnable game that will subsume it internally. A larger country, a virtual subcontinent such as India can still absorb such a situation in a border state albeit it is always dangerous to let it fester. However, a smaller state such as Pakistan, which has invested much energy in its mission to wrest J&K will have a much larger impact internally.
Finally, at present, India’s policymakers need to examine how much of a change, if any, has occurred in Pakistan’s thinking after Hafiz Saeed's detention. Is there something for real? There must not be a rush to resume talks unless India is reasonably assured that these will not go the way all other talks have gone in the past.