Evolving External Influence in Jammu and Kashmir (Part I)
Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain Member, Governing Council, IPCS, & former GOC, 15 Corps, Srinagar
Over the past month, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) took a familiar turn, usually witnessed around the end of winter. Terrorist activity increased and there has been much worry about energised mobs attempting to come to the rescue of trapped terrorists at encounter sites. In one such case, three civilians were killed when the security forces (SF) did not get cowed down by the intimidation of the vigilantes. It is highly unlikely that the SF will be pressurised; and in all probability, they will develop new techniques and acquire better equipment to overcome the challenge.
Thus far there is not much that the establishment has done to halt the march of vigilantism which has taken over mosques, triggered stone pelting and targeted the general lives of people in rural areas in particular. The drift will have an effect on the degree of control that anti-social elements have in the Valley, as was evident during the first by-poll. However, more worrisome is the level of external influence on the situation. The control of the security establishment over this is usually far less than what it does over the internal domain. External factors include Pakistan’s sponsorship, pro-activeness and role; China’s new found interest; and the ideology and the influence of radical Islamic groups. Even as the by-polls are underway over the next six to seven weeks, the governments in New Delhi and Srinagar should focus on internal stabilisation in the Valley but eyes cannot be taken away from the scanner that looks at external influence.
Radical Islamic Ideology
The degree of influence exercised by radical Islamic ideology on the turbulence in J&K has been the subject of much debate. Some analysts argue that the ideological content of the movement is negligible and that the movement essentially remains political. The actual influence may yet be remaining marginal but the larger Islamic identity is being profusely employed to garner unity and support of the local people.
Through the mayhem of 2016, the mosque did emerge as the rallying point. The mosque can also exercise influence of the local ideology but most people agree that faith resonates and radical faith resonates even more. That over 800 mosques have been taken over by the Ahle Hadith sect is enough to prove the direction in which ideological influence has been moving, right under our eyes. The influence of Daesh, which is attempted to be projected through one-off hoisting of its flags, is still marginal.
Faith is being used for the purpose of securing international support from Islamic nations. Religious vigilantism is evident in some areas and the notion of Islam as the binder against India is rife. Worldwide, there appears little evidence of reduction in the influence of Islamism. Daesh, under pressure in Iraq and Syria, has pulled back just a little in its proactive campaign. The real Islamist influence, however, comes from Pakistan, where Islamist activism remains live.
With social media (Whatsapp in particular) becoming the primary medium to motivate flash mobs in the Valley, Islamist influence through this medium is also likely to increase.
Pakistan's Potential Strategy
If Pakistan desires that India once again join in a peace process, it will attempt to keep the quantum and nature of violence just below the threshold, ensuring no high profile acts take place; also contingent upon the degree of influence General Qamar Bajwa exercises over the deep state. However, it may appear to the Pakistani establishment that the success it achieved in enflaming the Valley in 2016 must move to the next step lest the movement, which is usually more active in summer, loses momentum. The international and regional environment may also appear to give it a perception that the situation favours it. Pakistan was quick to respond positively to the US' proposal for mediation. Thereafter, however, commentaries have harped on the usual line of responding to India’s stand on terror by stating that it would wish to include India’s alleged sponsorship of terror activities in Pakistan. The required degree of seriousness is obviously missing and a perception that it must continue to hurt India in J&K persists.
It is evident that Pakistan is unlikely to put its sponsorship of turbulence in J&K on hold. The strategic environment gives it the perception that it should seek advantage through actively pursuing the route of violence. Indian security agencies and all institutions of civil governance must be prepared for the worst through the impending summer.
This column is the first of the two-part series on the evolving nature of external influence impacting security and stability in Jammu and Kashmir, India.
Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain Member, Governing Council, IPCS, & former GOC, 15 Corps, Srinagar
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.
Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain Member, Governing Council, IPCS, & former GOC, 15 Corps, Srinagar
After the 2013 hanging of Afzal Guru, many had expected that the Valley would boil. Nothing much happened, leading people to inquire from Kashmiris as to why this was so. Friends from Kashmir often say that people from the Valley do not respond to events immediately, and that they nurse a grudge or a grouse and add layers of it to their psyche before allowing it to vent into action.
That is why unnatural silence is never good. The silence in the Valley at present can at best be called ominous. It is giving people a break from all the terrible negativity. There is a sizeable population that believes what has happened is wrong but its voice is drowned out by a noisy and clamorous set who wish to dictate the course.
The ominous silence is palpable. Terrorists attempted to break that with the recent ambush at Pampore. That is a tactical event for the Army to sort out by strengthening road security along the highway.
What should the State leadership and the Centre be doing at this time? Aside of congratulating themselves on the demonetisation exercise and its supposed effect of stopping stone throwing there is much that can be done in the winter that will have a positive impact in the summer. There is no need to allow the separatists the initiative to decide what they wish to do.
Firstly, Jammu can begin becoming the hub of the 'way forward' discussions. Not among Jammuites alone but between various stakeholders, such as a few Kashmiri students, traders, teachers, retired bureaucrats and policemen. Let the media in Kashmir begin reporting this even though it would tend to initially ignore it.
Secondly, if the Separatists do begin street turbulence again, the police forces had better have answers in the form of non-lethal weapons. The pellet gun that took away much credibility from our otherwise fairly controlled response in 2016 has been branded as the symbol of all oppression. In such internal asymmetric conflicts, symbolism becomes significant. An injury by a pellet gun again will magnify the negative message manifold. Hence, if alternatives cannot be thought of, then the tactics must be thought through, albeit there is no reason why universal methods of crowd control cannot be adapted by India's police forces. Institutions such as the National Police Academy or even the Central Reserve Police Force Academy, whose job it is to act as intellectual planks for doctrinal guidance for the police forces, must be deeply involved in the research on control of mob violence and employment of non lethal weapons.
The administration should be looking at ensuring societal stability. There are reports of enhanced vigilantism of the kind societies in the throes of radicals suffer. Within India's social tolerance, such a phenomenon cannot hold people and society to ransom. No administration can absolve itself of the responsibilities of stopping this. Where are Kashmir's elected representatives? Are they with their people or spending time in Jammu? The political class has to get back to the grind of politics, and that begins from the grassroots and not from the Assembly House. Specific areas that have witnessed voids of such activity for long must have their representatives visiting them along with the 'intezamiya' (local civil administration). The Army should only be too happy to create the environment and confidence for this. Its role is not independent from the overall efforts needed to restore normalcy and prevent resurgence of a 2016 like situation again.
What Should the Army be Doing?
As one of the key stakeholders and stabilisers, the Army should be in overdrive in what it is really good at, i.e. in playing potential scenarios of the future. It should also involve other stake holders and even Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti herself who is seen to be far more involved with Unified Command than most of her predecessors. It does this wonderfully. The new Army Chief, an experienced hand, will assume office soon. The Army and Corps Commanders are new and most of the division commanders are due for change. Winter is usually the time for conventional war games in Northern Command. These can always be converted to comprehensive exercises to think the situations through and evolve ideas. The involvement of other institutions such as the Army War College and the Doctrine Branch of Army Training Command must be increased. The degree of thinking the Army does on its current threats in the hybrid sphere is perhaps insufficient. The Northern Command needs as much intellectual support because its command and staff functionaries are always short of time. For measure, the quality of protection of the soft targets in the rear needs to improve manifold. One cannot be strong everywhere but there is nothing that intelligent deployment, back to basics and good response cannot overcome.
The Unified Command must think well ahead. If there is peace and quiet in the Valley once the Durbar returns in May 2017 all the traditional issues will get thrown up again. Among them the West Pakistan Refugees, the return of the Kashmiri Pandits, the restoration of the Kashmiri Pandit culture, and most importantly, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). After the spate of violence in 2016, it was presumed that demands for abrogation of AFSPA were no longer valid as the need for empowerment of the Army was a given. However, even six months down the line if there is peace, demands against AFSPA will rise. Everyone will get back to trying to understand what it is all about. By that time the Army's hierarchies would have changed and institutional memory being what it is, much reinvention of the wheel would again be taking place. To avoid that, the hard work should be done now by teams of experienced officers.
One simple exercise on social media urging parents to get their children to school had phenomenal effect on turnout for examinations. If just a few themes are selected jointly by the Unified Command to work through social media campaigns, it will boost our capability to fight in different dimensions. The Northern Command is gaining experience in this and the State Government must join hands with it to run more such campaigns.
Both Pakistan and India will shortly have new military leaderships. Let us hope that better sense prevails and J&K can look forward to an elongated period of peace and quiet, without there being anything ominous about it.
Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain Member, Governing Council, IPCS, & former GOC, 15 Corps, Srinagar
Something that escaped most observers even as queues at ATMs increased and worries about the next purchase of vegetables kept attention focused, is the sudden quieting of the situation in the Kashmir Valley. In ferment since 08 July 2016, when Burhan Wani was killed, stamina just collapsed after the Durbar moved to Jammu for the winter. Perhaps it was realised well in time that demonstrations and stone throwing are supposedly instruments to communicate collective negative emotions and angst. However, when there is no government to paralyse, no tourists to harass and no minorities to intimidate, there is not much point in protesting. That is the phenomenon that always takes place around the end of the year in the Valley. No doubt this year the de-monetisation exercise is contributing to ensure that professional stone throwers cannot earn their bread nor the smack, ganja or other drugs because there is no cash around with the organisers.
There is an opportunity beckoning here that needs to be grabbed. The emerging window is one in which the missing outreach can be restored. There has been much public debate through the summer such that awareness levels on the real problem of J&K have risen considerably. Everyone blames Pakistan for creating the mayhem on the streets and the strife. But equally after many years there is a majority consensus that the governance and outreach deficits are as much to blame. It is long since any commentaries have appeared blaming Article 370, the failure of ensuring conditions for safe return of the Pandits or even the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Jammu has approached the problem with sincere maturity through the last many months, without raising a voice of protest despite that there has been reason to feel slighted. There cannot be a better time than now to demonstrate how the Establishment can empathise with the plight of those in the Valley who want to be delivered from the control of the young vigilantes and stop becoming a mirror image of Pakistan with radical faith dictating their lives. Scratch and scratch hard, because under the surface, there is a public awaiting a kind word and a change of heart.
The Army has been the quickest to realise it, as usual, sensing an opportunity. Throughout the summer and the autumn, it doggedly continued its counter-terrorism campaign without getting involved with too many stone throwers and demonstrators. As Headquarters Northern Command made available two brigades to 15 Corps, the challenge was in understanding, evolving, communicating and executing the concept of operations. The demonstration of its concept is best exemplified not by its operations on the LoC, which have been professional no doubt and not by the quick control it established over the so called fedayeens who were threatening to go out of control at a point in time. Instead, it is demonstrated by the runaway success of the most innocuous of all things - a program called 'School Chalo' (Let us go to School), once again confirming the immense role of military soft power.
Readers would be aware that schools in the Valley have been shut for the last four months. An atrocious program of burning of schools has been undertaken by unknown elements that are anti-national in character. The Separatists perceive that a way of preventing the return of normalcy is to ensure schools remain closed. The young vigilantes in the rural areas, the ones controlling the stone throwing and holding their parents and elders to ransom, also have no wish to return to school.
However, a vigorous social media campaign run by the Army in South Kashmir to bring home the message of its support to elders and parents, resonated splendidly in the hearts of the weary population. Schools reopened, the examinations drew 98 per cent attendance and the enthusiasm as per ground reports, was palpable.
This is one of the major successes of the Army employing a combination of ground campaign and social media outreach. It gives an indicator that more than anything else, the Army has simply to lead the way in outreach, social engagement and restoration of confidence. The State Government must take ownership of this success; it is not the Army's success alone because through and through it would have been discussed at the frequent Unified Command meetings and the Chief Minister would have been well aware of it, making it her success.
What does this signify? For those observing the virtual great game in the Valley, it should send home the lesson that a weary population needs to be handled with a heart and requires its hearts to be touched. This is a hearts game waiting to be played all over again. Restoration of self-esteem is the need as much as weeding out of rabble rousers. A degree of reverse vigilantism on the mosques; facilitation of the movement and meeting of political representatives with their constituencies; energetic return of governance demonstrated by good administrative performance against the vagaries of the expected severe winter; and domination of the social media space by positive messaging, will communicate the State Government's will and capability. The Army must assist in this energetically and whole heartedly. Just remember, it is all about ‘whole of government approach’ which will turn the tide and the Army must guide the government through with all its experience and knowledge of conflict.
The concept of Moral Dominance of the narrative remains the job of the Army, just as I strongly advocated in September 2016 when two infantry brigades were moving into deployment in South Kashmir. That is the way forward. Subsequently, build on it next summer. India will yet mainstream the Kashmiri populace - the Awam.
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.
Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain Member, Governing Council, IPCS, & former GOC, 15 Corps, Srinagar
The long festering Kashmir street disturbances and the four-hour encounter at the Uri administrative base have a distinct connect, which is easy to identify if one knows the entire dynamics of the sponsored proxy war under way in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). But first, a short focus on the street turbulence after Burhan Wani’s killing.
What went wrong?
Firstly, it seems we just took our eyes away from the scanner. We felt that the absence of high levels of violence and reduced strength of terrorists meant a returning peace. We rarely looked at the people’s dimension, the alienation index. In all the experiments we did with outreach to the populace (Awam) in 2010-12, this author always harped that this peaceful period was not due to our success but due to the end of agitation stamina, with reference to the 2008-10 agitation; and it happens to even the most resilient ethnic groups or nationalities of the world.
What we generated with some of our initiatives of grass roots outreach, sports tournaments, interactive seminars, skill development, employment opportunities and change of force ethos to friendly soldiering, surprised the people and created lots of excitement in the Kashmiri society and media. We could not sustain it. Much of it happened due to apathy and much due to bureaucratic obstacles. For example, the goodwill annual cricket tournament, Kashmir Premier League, started by the Indian Army in 2011, did not last beyond 2012 because the MoD (Finance) had objections to the use of the Sadbhavana budget for a cricket tournament. No one bothered to check what electrifying effect the tournament had on the Awam. The Army brass and the MO Directorate were not in sync with Northern Command and the issue was never pushed. There were many such initiatives that languished due to sheer lack of understanding in the military civil bureaucracy.
Second, the system took democracy for granted. The conduct of elections was not democracy; the translation of the election to a sustained outreach by political functionaries to their electorates would have been. It did not work that way. The security situation precluded such activity and the governance was just not energetic enough to make a marked difference. From 2014 onwards, the time was spent in election mode, overcoming the effects of floods, government formation and stabilisation.
Why is the Youth So Alienated and Up in Arms?
The social effects of conflict on youth are extremely marked. Those born around 1989 have grown up with the sounds of gunfire and gun culture around them. They have abhorrence for the uniform, however much the Army’s soft power efforts. They have seen their parents humiliated at check points and seen uniformed men barge into their homes to search for militants. It is difficult taking this hatred out from their psyche unless some deep psychological efforts are made. Burhan Wani and his comrades were from this generation. This is a different and more difficult generation to understand.
No one yet has clear explanations for the Islamic State (IS/Daesh) phenomenon. That their elders hounded out the Kashmiri Pandits and destroyed the pristine environment and inclusive culture of Kashmir has never been brought home to them because the mosques have been speaking a rabidly radical language for years. There was no effort towards bringing them around to an alternative narrative.
Pakistan’s Deep State sensed its opportunity. Pathankot had effectively demonstrated its ability to upset a fast moving peace process. With a low terror footprint in Kashmir’s hinterland, it could not demonstrate a similar relevance. The Indian Army’s stranglehold over the infiltration routes could not guarantee success of any attempt to execute a high profile action on an objective in the hinterland that would spur the young Kashmiris to continue their stone throwing agitation with greater vigour.
The choice was limited since the past two years, which is why the focus of high profile strikes shifted to Jammu division and North Punjab. When the vigil in Punjab also increased, attempts were made to penetrate the frontlines in Kashmir for strikes at places where the Anti-Infiltration Obstacle System was well inside the LoC. Tangdhar was one such place but success eluded there. Poonch again failed.
It, unfortunately for us, finally succeeded at Uri. Yet, the losses due to circumstances were so high that it generated concern beyond what Pakistan had ever catered for. The idea was to bolster the morale of the youth in the streets of Kashmir’s hinterland. Instead, it has led to crossing of the Rubicon of India’s tolerance and demands in India for retribution are no longer cosmetic.
When public anger rises, nations undertake tactical responses to cool it down and await a more opportune moment for a response that will deliver a bigger punch. It is never standalone. In the world of hybrid warfare, which is what we are being subjected to, the response should also be in the hybrid domain. That means a vast scope to choose the areas of activity. The different kinds of military operations, strategic diplomacy and communication strategy are the obvious choices for the moment.
J&K: Communication Strategy is Key but First, Stabilise the Streets
Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain Member, IPCS Governing Council, and former GOC, 15 Corps, Srinagar
Recently, this author was in Singapore interacting with that city state’s marvellous intellectual and strategic institutions. The issue of J&K raised no apparent interest there but scholars were aware about the strife in the streets. It bodes well for India that Pakistan’s efforts to internationalise the issue find little favour thus far. However, the UN Secretary General’s gentle observation and the the UNHCR's demand to send a team to Srinagar must not be taken lightly either. There are Pakistan sponsored organisations that are attempting to raise the temperatures on J&K. The lack of any success so far must not lull India into complacency.
On the ground in the Valley, 41 days of virtual lock down is a test for the administration and the security forces. Rumours are rife and the Separatists are making effective use of the limited means of communication available to them. The ‘Chalo’ programs are reminiscent of the 2008 strategy. The strategy in itself looks at using a landmark to gather large masses with people travelling to the event, commencing resistance from the moment they are obstructed by security forces. This ensures that instead of just the weight of strength at the announced landmark, there are smaller fires too that are burning at different spots all along the National Highway and the feeder roads. The Valley has rarely been subjected to suicide bombings although suicide attacks, in which terrorists fought till their last breaths have been common. In street confrontations with security forces, however, there is a virtual propensity towards suicide through extreme resistance on display. It is a leaf out of an Intifada type resistance commenced by the Palestinian resistance in 1997.
This type of resistance alongside 'Chalo' programs will inevitably add to the numbers of casualties as police forces have no other means to control mobs; and non-lethal weapons do not work in the face of such suicidal resistance. This is something people outside Kashmir do not understand and blame the security forces for excesses. It is this very blame game which is part of the communication strategy adopted by the Separatists. They have been working on this for many years and have an effective system to communicate through couriers. A decentralised system of command works overtime to keep important towns in a state of turbulence.
The government has to go beyond the ordinary methodology of obstructing with use of police forces. Only when the streets are quiet will a counter strategy of communicating with the masses become effective. Foremost must be the understanding that the Separatist leadership is now beyond repair and any chances the government had of employing it for a future dispensation are now passé. The top and middle leadership, along with the important rising stars from the towns have to be neutralised through detention away from the Valley. Fears exist of the possibility of yet another leadership emerging as it happened in the case of Masrat Alam. This is where the measure of test of intelligence comes. All other detainees, the prime leaders among stone throwers, must not be detained in facilities within the Valley since such facilities do not exist. Keeping a stone thrower and a captured terrorist together is the surest recipe to convert the stone thrower to radical terrorist.
There are still many sensible people in Kashmir who are silent due to fear. The local media is also helping in promoting this fear psychosis. A perception is being attempted to project that the Governments in Delhi and Srinagar are incapable of any further initiatives and Azadi is but a matter of time. A similar sentiment was witnessed in 1989-90 and to an extent in 2010. It is dangerous if people believe this because fence-sitters commence moving to the other side.
That is why communication is the key. It is by gestures, actions, events, direct communication, word of mouth, and communicators.
Firmness is the first of the gestures, the resolve that street resistance cannot get a nation of 1.3 billion and an Army of 1.3 million to its knees. There is a thin line dividing routine human rights and the rights of those who choose to challenge the authority of the state through usage of violence. The governments have exhibited all norms of openness and democracy in ensuring that no curbs have been placed on the local media. This issue must be appreciated by the international community to which it should be projected. The views and position of the Central and State Governments must continue receiving space in the local media; and it cannot be a one sided affair in which the local media only espouses the cause of separatism.
The Governments must use the local media as a platform to communicate with the people and use their authority to do so.
The other connectors are politicians who in the face of the anger on the streets cannot easily move about and meet people. Yet, at some stage they will have to. The Army, which otherwise has ensured that it did not directly intervene except in a few stray cases, is probably the best organisation to bring the politician to the people and open new channels. All suspicions about employing the Army for such unconventional tasks is a denial of the tremendous capabilities of the Indian Army. In 2010, it is the liaison and hold of middle level Army officers over local populations which saw them being officially tasked to prevent surge of mobs from rural areas towards the National Highway.
There may be a belief that stamina usually runs out of such movements. It is never good to rely on that although chinks do start appearing and curfew weary people commence counter resistance against mob leaders. Already the taxi unions and tourist operators are indicating their displeasure.
Before long, orchard owners will start doing the same. In 2011, the total number of apple laden trucks which left the Valley crossed the 100,000 mark adding Rs 3000 crores to the pockets in the Valley. This is where the mind games begin and the power of the State to play these if done intelligently can be simply immense. What may be lacking is just ideation.
Lastly, before long, the resistance will peter out; and when exactly that will happen depends on further handling. However, the one thing that cannot be allowed to happen is a surge in terror activity. The attack on a night convoy at Baramulla is indicative that the terror leadership is also thinking. The surge in infiltration attempts in Uri and Lipa sectors although fully countered by the army is an indicator of more to come. The JKP's intelligence capability is bound to take a hit so there will be less success in the hinterland and more losses in stray hits against policemen or convoys. The army must keep a tight control on all this and not hold back from continuous advice to the Government.
A fresh communication and outreach strategy must be placed on the drawing board even as the situation improves over the next few weeks.
Syed Ata Hasnain Member, IPCS Governing Council, and former GOC, 15 Corps, Srinagar
That the summer of 2016 in the Valley would be ‘hot’ was well predicted a couple of months ago. It is not an unusual phenomenon - only the nature of events is different, year on year. This season commenced with the Handwara incident even before the Durbar (seat of Government) moved into the Valley. It was an event triggered to probably test the waters. Alienation is high in Handwara and it is also characterised by the frequent counter-terrorist operations in the nearby forested tracts, which act as reception areas for infiltration.
The quantum of infiltration attempts has reportedly been higher this year. An explanation for this is simple. There is a dire need to fill the hinterland with trained foreign (Pakistani) terrorists to allow the flagging militancy to resurge. With the internal security situation in Pakistan showing a degree of improvement, the Pakistani Deep State is once again returning its attention towards the friendly terror groups so that lost ground in Kashmir is regained. North Kashmir has since been quiet except a brief encounter in Sopore. The 30-40 km belt from the LoC has seen some major successes in counter infiltration operations; marked ones being in Lolab, Rajwar, Tangdhar, Uri and Tut Mari Gali. Yet, for all the successes, there is an old formula that grants infiltrators a couple of their own successes. It means that there are some new entrants in the Valley, although not too many. Another observation for the Army is the increasing number of encounters at the second tier of the counter infiltration grid; this is the LoC fence failing in its intent.
Away from counter infiltration and the LoC, which has been rather quiet this year, it is the softer targets that have been at the receiving end. Traffic policemen in Srinagar city and Central Armed Police Forces’ convoys, with troop carrying buses, have borne the brunt on the National Highway (NH). Through 2016, Pampore and Bijbehara, two prominent towns in South Kashmir with a history of militancy, have become the nerve centres where the police convoys have been targeted. The simple deduction from this is that the directors are doing some smart thinking across the LoC in the identification of potential targets. Since the terror groups lack striking power against stronger targets, the soft elements are being hit.
The Road Opening Procedure (ROP) is under intense scrutiny after many years as the security forces are increasingly finding chinks in their coordination. ROP is the most predictable and repetitive drill undertaken in such operations, which makes it the easiest to target. It should actually have the most robust focus but is the least dramatic of operations. Unfortunately, most forces take it less seriously. The Pampore ambush on 25 Jun 2016, which saw the unfortunate death of eight CRPF policemen, has refocused attention on SOPs that tend to go askew as the strength of terrorists reduces. In fact the degree of difficulty in the conduct of operations increases manifold with this phenomenon.
The most important success of the current year came on 8 July 2016 with the killing of Burhan Wani, described by the media as the poster boy of militancy in Kashmir. Over the last five years, this 22-year old terrorist led a 60-70 strong group of young and mostly educated young Kashmiris from South Kashmir in a purely homegrown resistance, with the help of social media and some bold messaging to attract the attention of Kashmiri youth. He assisted in promoting the growing alienation in Kashmir especially among the younger generation.
Although the killing of Burhan Wani deserves a commentary of its own, it may be appropriate to give attention to just two issues. First, the streets of Kashmir will burn in the aftermath of the event. Whatever it is, the Army and the Police have the experience to ensure that they do not come under the pressure of rabble-rousers who only view solutions through the kinetic route. There is a need to exercise maximum restraint even though there will be grave provocations. A repeat of 2010 - when 117 young people were shot dead in street protests - needs to be completely avoided. The state Government will find itself in a situation of grave challenge and under criticism in any approach it adopts. Political unity to overcome this challenge is necessary but unlikely to be achieved. However, the watchword should be de-escalation, and not more provocation.
Second, the need for appropriate outreach to the people, especially the youth, cannot be over-emphasised. For this, themes, and people who understand the subtlety of information and communication strategy, are necessary. This aspect has been the nation’s greatest weakness because except the Army no other entity treats the problem in J&K as a conflict. The moment organisations start treating it as such, every element of the conflict spectrum will be realised. It is then that ‘Information Operations’ as a subset of low intensity conflict will become a part of the strategy. A few good men and women, intellectual and involved with worldly ways, need to persist with this message to the governments at the central and the state levels. Without the non-kinetic element of conflict, moving towards a stable Kashmir appears nowhere on the horizon.
Governance & Strategic Communication: Keys to Stabilising J&K
Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain Member, Governing Council, IPCS, & former GOC, 15 Corps, Srinagar
With the durbar back in Srinagar, one of the first things the new government did was to convene a meeting of the Unified Command. That is most sensible because an early stock-taking of the situation and planning for contingencies for the summer is always necessary. Threats on the security front are multiple and need to be briefly outlined. However, before that, a question often asked by media persons relates to Afghanistan and whether the situation there has an effect on J&K.
The ripple effect of events in the Af-Pak invariably travels to the hotspots of the region, and J&K comes within that. Yet, when Afghanistan is quiet for some time, it gives the sponsors across the LoC the opportunity to actively involve themselves in affairs of J&K. Otherwise, internal security problems in Pakistan and events in Afghanistan allow the sponsors time enough only to keep the proverbial pot boiling in J&K.
The state government returned to Srinagar in the aftermath of the Handwara incident. Clearly, this was a manipulated event to test the new government but the follow up by the separatists fell through when the legitimacy of the allegations against the Army became doubtful. The separatists then attempted the ‘sainik colonies’ rumor as a fresh trigger. It was not passionately followed up either because of the tourist season now panning out and people in the streets wishing to be involved in their trade rather than in the protests. The government has been handling these issues quietly, just as it should. What is remarkably different is the maturity being shown by the political leaders in Jammu who are not reacting and responding to every provocation in the Valley.
The security situation is not yet worrisome but can get worse. There has definitely been a surge in infiltration. The contacts and gun battles reported in the last few days, and in fact ongoing even as of 27 May 2016, indicate the traditional areas being used for pushing in terrorists. The Army has been able to intercept quite a few. However, in the infiltration game, everyone understands that for every intercepted track, on an average two others successfully infiltrate. This means the strength in the hinterland is likely to increase, marginally, and some leaders would probably have been sent in to take charge of a few areas in North Kashmir. The Army has to ensure that it plugs the gaps in the counter-infiltration grid to prevent more leakages. It is likely that the anti-infiltration obstacle system (AIOS) has not been fully repaired as yet, although the low snow levels last winter did have a reduced damage effect on the AIOS than in previous years. In 2015, the grid was reinforced through some ad hoc measures. It always pays to use whatever resources available to stop the terrorists at the LoC itself.
So, while the tourist season keeps the separatists a little quieter and the Army is deeply involved in operations in the LoC belt the State Government has a window, a short one at that. It needs to shore up its demonstrated capability in administration and governance. That is the plank on which most governments get elected. It must focus on two or three key issues – such as distribution of flood compensation, for example – and ensure that it delivers. The Food and Supplies department must take it upon itself to ensure that there is no shortage of any commodity particularly milk, vegetables, petroleum products and cooking gas, in the coming winter. This should be taken up as a challenge.
J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has already demonstrated that she has not forgotten the things she was briefed about before she was sworn in. She chaired a meeting on LoC trade very early into her tenure and gave some crunch decisions.
The second area that should engage the government’s attention is activating the information domain, an area that has been lying dead for long. A common platform should be evolved between the constituents of the coalition on the areas they would wish to be addressed in the public outreach. A return to the Kashmir Premier League cricket tournament by the Ministry of Sports and Youth affairs is strongly recommended. This tournament, which was played for two years under the aegis of the Army, needs to be revived. It had created a positive environment in the entire Valley. On a flimsy ground, the finance mandarins of the Ministry of Defence had shot down its continuation.
The last short term advice for the political leadership is: reactivate the grassroots contacts. J&K has, for far too long, been without grass root political activity that captivates people and keeps them pegged to local issues.
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