LT GENERAL VIJAY OBEROI | 28 MAY, 2018
Classical Army Viewpoint on J&K: State Has Lost its Moorings
Photograph of Kashmiri house being blasted in an encounter (Kashmir Life)
Despite the announcement of a cease-fire in Jammu and Kashmir covering the month of Ramzan, the situation in J&K continues to be the same. Immediate reactions to the policy were largely negative, as it was mostly seen as a breather for the terrorists, who have suffered considerable casualties at the hands of the army lately.
While the Centre agreed to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's ceasefire proposal, the state unit of BJP opposed it. Earlier, BJP had slammed Mufti for being 'soft' on stone pelters, which resulted in the law and order situation deteriorating considerably. Opposition politicians and many others have stated the same.
The militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba had rejected the policy within hours of it being announced; and the United Jehad Council, the umbrella body of militant groups operating in Kashmir, also rejected it. The separatist Joint Resistance Leadership comprising Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik also took a dismissive approach.
Clarity is first needed regarding the term ceasefire in context of Kashmir. In J&K, the army, along with the CAPF (Central Armed Police Force) and the J&K Police has been conducting highly successful counter insurgency operations against terrorists and insurgents, particularly in the Valley. This has been going on since 1989 and such actions have disturbed the peaceful life of the citizens.
The army’s deployment in the State is for two distinct tasks. Firstly, ensure the sanctity of the Line of Control (LC), which includes free flow on its lines of communications; and secondly to assist the civil administration in neutralizing the terrorists and insurgents so that violence is brought down to such low levels that the political and administrative processes are restarted. In the past, the army has done so on many occasions, but sadly both the political leadership and administrative officials (who take their cues from the political masters) have failed miserably.
In counter insurgency operations there are no warring factions. Even though some of the infiltrating insurgents are Pakistani nationals, essentially the army is trying to neutralize/subdue those citizens of the country who have picked up arms or resorted to violence. This is because from the very beginning State politicians have failed the Awam in providing good governance.
Pakistan, has watched the situation carefully and taken initiatives to stoke the fires of insurgency by employing all means, from liberal doles of money to the politicians and their overt proxies; to motivating, training, arming and equipping disgruntled elements to create violence, panic and mayhem.
Coming to more recent times, the neutralizing of an insurgent, Burhan Wani in July 2016, who had created an image for himself as a dashing and swashbuckling hero through the social media became a flash point of sudden increase in violent activities. Pakistan and its proxies upped the ante and sadly the PDP government merely watched; did nothing to cool tempers; and in many cases joined in with the perpetrators.
Thereafter, the situation went downhill, with organized stone pelting on the security forces; attacks on single vehicles; and lightly protected installations. Simultaneously, Pakistan re-commenced infiltrating terrorists at a larger scale. Inevitably, army’s operations had to be enhanced. Soon, the army emerged on top, attaining high levels of neutralizing terrorists. On the other hand, the State Government was on an appeasement spree, releasing law breakers in thousands, who were back on the streets with their nefarious activities.
In 2001, while I was the Vice Chief of the Army, at the behest of the then political leadership, we had unilaterally restrained our operations on two occasions, but the results were zilch. On the other hand, this led to complacency by political leaders. One of the fall-outs was the Agra Summit, where we nearly gave away everything, till we were rescued by a whisker by the very capable Minister – Jaswant Singh; by happenstance an ex army officer!
.Even in days of drift in Kashmir during the time of P.V. Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments, there was a semblance of political control; and the moderate elements of the Hurriyat had been sufficiently tamed. The scene now is purely anarchic and there is little administrative control.
Avoiding collateral damage while fighting terrorists has been an article of faith with the Indian Army, but when civilian men, women and children interfere in the operations of the army, despite many warnings, and no action by the police, presumably on the directions of the State Government, some civilian casualties are inevitable.
Since 1989 when troubles started, it is only the army that had brought down the militancy to such low levels that the political process could re-commence. This was done a number of times. Unfortunately, the politicians of all parties who came into power did nothing except sit in their guarded houses and offices and took no steps to go in the countryside to interact with the Awam; listen to their problems; and take actions to ameliorate them. There was no dearth of funds as all governments in the Centre have poured funds in J&K. The local administrators, including the police, were no better, for the attraction of lucre was overwhelming. The situation remains the same.
An added, though not oft-stated reason is that all ruling clans in Kashmir, from the Abdullah’s to the Mufti’s have always had one foot in Pakistan and have made appropriate noises when ordered by their mentors from the other side of the LC.
When the present Coalition government was formed in J&K, the PDP had stated that their ideology was of self-rule, as distinctly different from the issues of autonomy. They wanted to engage in debates over new political territoriality of J&K. Meaningful words indeed, but the last few had ominous implications. Their actions, however, only emphasise talks with Pakistan! While the dichotomy is obvious, so are the reasons – a perpetuation of the status quo, where the Awam continues to be at the mercy of Pakistani-controlled self-appointed leaders masquerading as the messiahs of the masses and the Kashmiri elite accumulating power and pelf for themselves and their clans.
Many believe that it was a blunder for the BJP to become a junior partner in the coalition, but then electoral and power considerations prevailed and ideology plus higher traits were abandoned. Except for a smaller share of power and pelf, all they have earned is opprobrium, especially in their stronghold of Jammu. They are now riding a tiger and do not know how to get down. If they were not partners, the PDP Government would have been dismissed a long time back.
Reverting back to the ceasefire, it is just a time-buying tactic. The Bloody Friday of Ramzan, outside Srinagar Mosque ON 25 May is a case in point. The separatist leaders, both overt and covert, get their orders (and funds) from Pakistan and despite many analysts, including this writer, suggesting moving out all these so-called leaders out of J&K, neither the central leadership nor the state politicians have done so. The reasons are of course electoral and in our country, electoral reasons over-ride all others; a great pity indeed!
Our leaders have been shouting from the rooftops that Pakistan has no locus standi in the internal affairs of J&K, yet now they are not averse to recommence a dialogue with Pakistan. Media reports say that a dialogue at the Track II level has already started. A hush-hush delegation has already visited Lahore and Islamabad and the moth-eaten ‘Neemrana Dialogue’ is due to commence any day.
It appears that we either do not read history or ignore it deliberately. I was part of a high-powered Track II delegation to Pakistan in 2003. I did not discern any reason then or now that makes me hopeful of any forward movement. The reasons are obvious. The Pakistani elite, (mostly army), are loath to relinquish power and the political scene in Pakistan is chaotic. There is no change of attitude about our substantive concerns, nor any action against the burgeoning Jehadi terrorists, who keep multiplying. The next government in Pakistan may well be formed by the overt Jihadists, God forbid.
(The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff)