Kashmir Today - A Trip Report

15 Sep, 1998    ·   143

Maj. Gen. Dipankar Bannerjee (Retd.) says while militancy in the Valley has by far reduced, the situation at the LoC has become grave following the tests

What is the reality of insurgency in Kashmir today? In several ways the end of the 1998 summer will remain a major turning point. It follows three recent elections in the State. Which in turn has led to the current normalcy in the Valley. All over the Vale life goes on as it always has over the years, almost. Children attend schools and colleges in their colourful uniforms. Movement throughout the Valley is entirely unhindered and all bus roofs are full of travellers. Markets are bustling. Holidaymakers throng the tourist areas from near and far. The apple harvest looks good. Summer rains have played truant, but with abundant water anyway, this is not an unmixed blessing in Kashmir . Security Forces and BSF bunkers are now much less obtrusive than in the recent past



Then what is not normal? Level of dissatisfaction with the Administration remains high. Unemployment is rampant. Corruption is back and related stories do the normal rounds. There is more weariness than hope in the air. Physical attrition alone does not end an insurgency. It is after all a state of mind, and a mental reorientation is still far away. It is this reality of sullenness and also apparent normalcy that strikes one in the Valley today. Two conditions affect the current insurgency directly and they are both severe enough to merit serious consideration.



First, is the state of militancy. Indigenous militants are now a disappearing breed. Most have plain given up on the armed struggle. The remainder has decided to lie low. Major persuasion by the ISI and the extremist religious organisations will be required to get them to become active again. It will also require supply of fairly enormous amounts of money. Coercion alone will not do. Currently foreign mercenaries exceed the indigenous ones. The Army claims that 63 per cent of terrorists killed in action recently are of foreign origin. They exploit the locals shamelessly and are usually reported to the security forces at the earliest. The survival rate of a foreign militant has reduced dramatically and is now a mere few months. Few can expect to claim the bounty after their two-year tour.  The Foreign militants have changed their strategy. They now remain in sanctuaries in hilltops amidst dense jungles. Large caches of sophisticated arms have been built-up, some of which have been found; waiting to be resurrected on the appointed day.



Second, is the state of the LoC. The effect of the nuclear blasts has directly impacted on this area. As if the resultant tensions suddenly found expression through this immense artillery barrages that brought these quiet hills to life. The enormous damage and unprecedented casualties on both sides of the line has left an indelible mark. The total artillery and mortar shells fired across the LoC during June and July 1998 exceeds by far the entire ordnance fired during the 1965 and 1971 conflicts combined. It is not merely the enormous costs of munitions, but human and resource costs, which are enormous. It is by no means over, though presently a lull prevails.



What then of the future. Pakistan 's game of attempting to escalate the situation and internationalise the Kashmir situation has not changed or even dimmed. They are unlikely yet to give up this option, inspite of the enormous costs. Most likely this renewed effort will coincide with the UNGA in New York only a couple of weeks away.



The Indian State needs to be prepared for this.



No soft options are available. Cross border operations are not the answer. The risks outweigh the possible gains by far. Then it plays into Pakistani hands by internationalising the question. Yet, low intensity conflict has to be fought with high technology and with high resources.  Whatever the response, the autumn of 1998 will be an even bloodier one yet.