Upping the ante in Kashmir

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The Kashmir conundrum continues to be, and it is interesting to see what the current dispensation under PM Modi has wrought in the last five years, says Lt.Gen.Vijay Oberoi.

Much water has flown down the Jhelum in recent months. The government of Mehbooba Mufti in Jammu & Kashmir was sacked, Governor’s Rule was imposed, and the military neutralised a record number of insurgents/militants, despite the sword of Damocles suspended over their heads in terms of lodging FIRs against them! It only happens in India! The internal situation has worsened, as reliance only on the operations of the army, without any changes in strategy to win over the populace, have resulted in further radicalisation, especially of young persons. While South Kashmir has seen maximum violence, other parts of the Valley have also been affected.

Panchayat elections held by the Governor without any preparatory perception management, turned out to be disastrous! Neither were discernable changes visible in the functioning of either the administration or the central government interlocutors.

The Pulwama attack, and what it revealed

In this milieu, the militants kept increasing their activities, despite the high level of their neutralisation by the army. They have now upped the ante considerably by the suicidal terror attack at Pulwama. The attack by one suicide bomber has revealed many lapses, which include inadequate intelligence; non-adherence to SOPs by the convoy; not clearing the road methodically; and a blasé attitude by the hierarchy of the CRPF, who did not cater for contingencies in the prevailing insurgency environment, where the initiative is always with the insurgent. The result was loss of precious lives, as the persons in the bus were like sitting ducks.

The Modi government mulled for some days, and under intense pressure as it was, to show purposeful resolve, seems to have acted decisively. The Indian Air Force carried out attacks on a major training camp of the Masood Azhar-led Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) at Balakot, inside the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). The government hailed this as a decisive victory, saying more than 300 terrorists being trained, including some senior leadership of JeM, were wiped out in this dawn attack.

This notwithstanding, many other mistakes of the last few years are now sought to be erased by jingoistic calls of revenge, emotional outpourings of the people, promises to the families of those killed, threats by political leaders, and initiating a few diplomatic retaliatory actions. All these have their place, but what is needed is a robust and well-articulated strategy for stabilising Kashmir. Public memory being short, the coming general elections will overtake this major terrorist act. Simultaneously, in-house corrective measures must be taken immediately, and those accountable for lapses must be punished. This does not mean that the axe falls only on low-level functionaries, while the fat cats get away, as has been the norm in our country.

A nemesis called Masood Azhar

One needs to recall how clumsily the hijacking of Flight IC 814 to Kandhar was handled by the then NDA government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in December 1999. Besides succumbing to the demands of the hijackers and releasing three militants, including Masood Azhar, the Crisis Management Group in Delhi failed to handle the situation effectively on account of extraneous pressures. Lack of accountability was also glossed over on the acts of many senior officials of RAW and IB, who were instead rewarded, whereas three low-level persons were sentenced to life imprisonment! The then Joint Director Intelligence Bureau, now the NSA, did not win any laurels even then.
Reverting back to the Pulwama massacre, we need to act against both external and internal players. Externally, it is Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and its leader Masood Azhar, who must get multi-pronged attention from all possible directions. Simultaneously, the policy-makers in Pakistan who continue to fund, support and arm JeM and many other terrorist groups, calling them state assets, need to get maximum attention from us as well as from the international community, especially our so-called strategic partners. We must also invoke multilateral organisations like UNO, EU, OIC and others, and ask them to take stern action against Pakistan and countries exporting terrorism.

Internally, actions are needed both within J&K and by the Central Government. By resorting to suicide terrorism, the insurgents have grossly increased the threshold. We need to meet the challenge squarely and with increased tempo in all spheres –political, economic, administrative, security related and military. While inflicting pain on all types of militants/insurgents is a priority task, it cannot be done without a manifold increase in our capability to acquire actionable intelligence that reaches the security forces in an adequate timeframe for them to take action. Intelligence is also needed by other institutions of the government to enable them to gauge the mood of the populace; their aspirations and actions needed to meet them. Faith in the good intentions and fairness of the government needs to be restored effectively.

The Central Government has poured in a lot of money in J&K, but the bulk has been hijacked by political leaders and officials. Now that Governor’s Rule has existed for a few months, funds must reach their intended destinations to improve the people’s living standards; quality of life; access to good education; heath facilities even in remote areas, and so on. In villages, towns and cities, non-political and non-official persons of good social standing must be co-opted for ensuring that funds for various works are correctly spent, and not siphoned off by corrupt leaders/officials. Such measures and increased economic activity will win over the people and reduce/eliminate militancy.

A root cause of militancy has been the villainous part being played by fundamentalist religious teachers, either by the Wahabi elements from Pakistan, or on account of their own motivated convictions. This needs to be ruthlessly tackled by the state government. In a democracy, religion must not be allowed to spread falsehoods and treasonous behavior. The vast number of Madrassas funded from across the border and beyond must be gradually closed and/or converted to efficient schools.

Overt militant groups, like the different factions of the Hurriyat and others are operating with impunity in J&K, and are poisoning the minds of young persons. They get their funds, encouragement and motivation from Pakistan, but are not only permitted to carry out their heinous activities openly but the government provides them security and safe houses! They have never taken part in elections and have little mass following. All these traitorous individuals should be moved out of the state and curbs need to be placed on their movements and utterances.

Some local media houses are overtly pro militants. The reports they publish are slanted and are meant to boost militancy and taking up arms against the state. They do so out of either fear of violence by militants or because of their convictions. Strict check on what they publish is needed.

Finally, the actions of the political leadership in J&K have been anti-national consistently. The two dynasties that have wielded power in the state – the Abdullahs and the Muftis, have held on to power and funds, not for the people, but for themselves. National parties have joined one or the other for electoral reasons, and closed their eyes to their anti-national and nefarious activities. This, as well as constitutional safeguards like Articles 370 and 35A are perhaps the biggest reasons for the continuing decline of the state. Since Governor’s Rule now prevails in the state, a concerted effort needs to be made to find young leaders who are not corrupt, are committed to democracy and the rule of law. They need to be nurtured and groomed so that they take over the leadership of the state in future.
The impending general elections should not be made an excuse for inaction, on the grounds that it should be the successor government that should take action. This will mean a continuation of instability in the state. Bringing good governance, social changes and people’s perceptions back on an even keel, will then become difficult.

Lt.Gen.Vijay Oberoi

The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff.

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