Charging ahead in Kashmir - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 30 April 2012

Charging ahead in Kashmir

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st May 12

When an army vehicle rumbles into a village in militancy-prone north Kashmir and a voice calls out, “Charge…”, this no longer heralds impending gunfire that sees people killed and property ravaged. Today, this signals the arrival of an army “cellphone charging patrol,” a lorry fitted with a generator and banks of sockets into which electricity-deprived villages can plug in their cell -phone chargers. This is the army’s response to complaints that local officials were exploiting villagers by demanding Rs 50 for charging a cell phone.

The army’s current operational philosophy in Kashmir – theatrically phrased as, “the heart is our weapon, not the AK-47” – implemented by an exceptional commander, Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain, is just one of the changes visible in Kashmir. Another is the youth engagement programme of Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police, Shiv Murari Sahai, who aims to transform the J&K Police from a counter-militant force into a community police that works with troubled youngsters who are rejoining the mainstream. With just 150-odd fugitives remaining of the 2,000-3,000 militants that roamed the Srinagar valley a decade ago, these far-sighted officers have shifted their battleground to the Kashmiri psyche.

Sadly, the Kashmiri mindset remains a gaping wound. Within the blasé Indian leadership, which measures Kashmir violence by the number of coffins flown out of Srinagar and normalcy by how many tourists and Amarnath Yatris visit the valley, there is scant understanding of the seething resentment over the deaths of 120 protesters in street violence in 2010. The year before that, 2009, had seen months of street violence over (eventually unproved) accusations that two Kashmiri women had been raped and murdered by security forces near Shopian, in south Kashmir. In 2008, Kashmiri protests over the allocation of forestland to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board triggered a blockade in Jammu that led to Kashmir’s babbugosha (soft pear) crop rotting in trucks in the valley. With the face-off communalised along the Jammu-Kashmir Hindu-Muslim divide, the valley erupted in three months of frenzied street protests.
Those three years of police heavy-handedness resurrected a Kashmiri movement that was obviously going nowhere, even after consuming thousands of Kashmiri lives. Between 2008 and 2010 a new Kashmiri generation that was sick of its leaders – whether pro-India, pro-Pakistan or pro-independence (azaadi) – discovered its own revolutionary identity. Having seized the baton of separatism that generation will ensure, through unarmed street protests rather than armed militancy, that the azaadi struggle lives on.

Established Kashmiri separatist leaders, who built their followings over decades, now see their powers ebbing. “They follow the mob, not lead it,” says Engineer Rashid, an independent MLA from Langate and probably the only legislator who moves around without security. Srinagar’s most respected religious leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, concurs.

Can such yawning gulfs be bridged through the army’s softly-softly approach? I saw the relationship play out last week at a riveting seminar on “Enhancing Kashmiri pride”, for which General Hasnain had invited a large group of Srinagar students to Badami Bagh, his heavily fortified citadel in the city. A galaxy of speakers, including Kashmiri celebrities like Shah Faesal, the young doctor who topped the all-India civil services exam in 2009 and who is now the Additional DC in neighbouring Budgam, preached the message of hope. The students would quietly hear out every speaker before unleashing their anger during the Q&A sessions. “What is Kashmiri pride? Being frisked at checkpoints,” asked a young woman. “The security forces have broken the Kashmiris’ hearts,” another student said bitterly. “Kashmiris who go to India are all treated like terrorists; they can’t even rent a house in Delhi,” said a third. Each salvo was greeted with handclapping.

So what’s noteworthy here? Firstly, the Srinagar student, that most politicised of all Kashmiris, was debating ideas with the senior-most generals in Kashmir and freely criticising, even excoriating, the army. The depth of their anger somewhat surprised the army, which usually talks to village leaders who know the benefits of telling commanders what they want to hear. But the military listened.

Secondly, and even more encouragingly, the icy exchanges of the seminar melted during tea and lunch breaks into cordial conversations, often one-on-one between locals and officers. The same students who were blaming the security forces (the distinctions between army, paramilitary and police forces are seldom noticed by the Kashmiri public) for all their ills were chatting with army officers about education opportunities and jobs. The political and identity-related demands that were non-negotiable inside the seminar seemed less relevant in the format of human contact.

There are lessons here for those who would see. Firstly, Kashmir is a political issue that, without a political settlement, will outlive the last militant, the last Pakistani and the gainful employment of every last Kashmiri. Secondly, the Kashmiri people are ready for a face-saving political solution within India’s (and J&K’s) Constitution, no matter how vocally they demand azaadi. Thirdly, the army has (yet again) set the stage for a political solution by imposing an acceptable modicum of security; but it cannot create so much security that a political solution is no longer required. Fourthly, the incapacity of the J&K government is sucking the armed forces into the civil realm, running schools, skills development programmes and generating employment. An army engaged in the so-called Operation Sadbhavana is being diverted from its primary task.

The current détente is fragile. And the talented officials who have engineered it will not be around forever. Given government apathy in New Delhi and Srinagar, Kashmir remains a tinderbox that can be set alight by a single spark.


  1. Disclaimer: I have never visited Kashmir, not even North India.
    Based on the article, I understand there is grand standing by Kashmiris when in group and being more acceptable as an individual. The same trait shown by OIC (when they meet) and individual countries maintaining cordial relations. With this attitude, no amount of appeasement will help and they will never grow up to stand up on their own legs. The central government is seen only as money bags with Army being the dispenser of it. As long as central government has a long term plan (rather than knee jerk reactions) to control and integrate every part of India (which also means decimation of Pakistan most importantly - economically) nothing will change.
    May be you are in a better position to investigate why there is scarcity of power. (Do people pay for the services???)
    I suspect Army will also be painted as communal (by pseudo intellectuals and media) once the 15 corps (???) commander is changed and some event occurs after that!
    Based again on this article, the strategy followed will take another 50 years to achieve its objectives.

  2. complements Ajai for a well deduced article...

    Kashmir is in a Trans and so looks like Af-Pak and Indo-Pak arena.
    ...may be our last chance to deliver...

    we should not mistake wounds for scars as yet

  3. Parvez Khokhar1 May 2012 at 00:10

    Ajai, it was interesting to read your report, but your analysis of the situation is even more incisive. Engagement of the youth of Kashmir is probably the most sane activity that the powers that be, can engage in. They are the future, and will dictate the future. The Army has once again shown political acumen, that the politicians and bureaucrats are devoid of. Leaders, like eagles, are never found in flocks, they soar alone...

  4. The problems faced by the youths of Kashmir is the same that is faced by every Indian. Lack of infrastructure, jobs, corruption is a pan-India problem not an isolated case. Things are much worse in the north east region where no one gives a rat's ass about the regions problem and everything is hushed under the carpet. Unfortunately Kashmir gets a much larger slice of the media attention due to the bias towards Muslims in "secular" Indian media. Kashmir became an issue once Pakistanis started infiltrating their armed thugs in the valley. This nonsense has been going on of decades now and nothing will change till we cut the head of the serpent which sits in the ISI. All this minor molly-coddling are just little lollipops which will bring back no solution to the problem.

  5. Good analysis, Sir. Economic opportunities and opportunities for growth is the only way forward. Army has repeatedly created a favourable environment and opportunities for our leadership to avail and locals to will work only when anti-India movement/ terrorism is no longer a lucrative business for the stakeholders.

  6. Col - What Rahul is doing with his muma at national level, the same is done by Son & father at the state level.

    They say 'like begets like'.

    What Kashmir is today, tomorrow will be entire India. Even i today want, "FREEDOM". Probably, i never witnessed FREEDOM in this free India, now i understand Kashmir. Those 120 of brave souls have not died in vain...some day soon what happened in Kashmir will roll out in this entire country. Evil Elite has to QUIT INDIA.

  7. I remember 1981, there was a military commander who used to preach that his troops should not react when locals hurl abuses and call them 'you Indian' with a snugged! That was followed by uprising of 1989. Controlled by the Army by 2006. Now comes another cycle! Keep up the charade. This will provide employment to your successors in media.

  8. all these kashmiris and not one word against islamic fundamentalism that ethnically cleansed half million kashmiri pandits.....these people deserve the bullet

  9. Hasnain is so good...He is the quintessential officer and a gentleman.
    Kasmiri people are very good at heart and is a great incriedient in this beautiful indian curry.
    I have been to kashmir and they treat you so well that you won't have the heart to leave.
    We have to do something about innocent kashmiri kids being jailed in delhi and mumbai .The national human rights commission should have judicial powers when we are dealing with people of kashmir and north east.
    Kashmir and north east is not the problem...the insensitivities of delhi and places like that is the real problem.

  10. Dear Col. Shukla,

    "the Kashmiri people are ready for a face-saving political solution within India’s (and J&K’s) Constitution, no matter how vocally they demand azaadi."

    I didn't find anything in the article which can be the basis of this assertion. Can you please elaborate this, in case the word limit of your BS story restricted you?

    With Best Regards,

  11. What a selfish encroaching world, where it seems that the Kashmiri Pandits do not exist at all. It has to be remembered that the Kashmiri Pandits are the real citizens of Kashmir.

    If the Kashmir problem does not resolve even now, then all other Indian citizens may be allowed to settle in Kashmir.

  12. Such friendly gestures only whets the appetite of wily kashmiri. They have been brought up to believe that they can have their cake and eat it too. They will listen to kicks only.

  13. A serene, calm and peaceful Kashmir is a matter of discomfort for the Separatists. While the Indians at large and the Army in particular attempts to take exceptional interest in the welfare of the State and its people, those discomforting groups from within and across the border will watch with unease and plot to usurp the comfort zone Kashmiris are strolling into.

    Let us hope for the best. Meanwhile, brilliant observations made by Ajai.

  14. @royalHawk

    They are so good at heart they kicked all Kashmiri Pandits out from their own house, raped women, killed people.

  15. GOI needs to unleash an army of officials who will check corruption within the civilian government at the state capital and at the town and village level.
    Send out armies of chartered accountants, who will audit the ghoos the civilian babus are taking in srinagar, jammu, awantipore, doda etc.
    The kashmiri revolting against 'India' is actually expressing his helplessness at the lack of a future, of decent education, lack of a job opportunity, everything that a comatose civil adminstration has caused.
    The government has to ensure that private and public industries are setup in the valley and jobs are created.
    Finally the kashmiri youth need to be 'educated' on how to be more secular. Almost no hindus in the valley for a generation (the only hindus and sikhs the kashmiris see are from the Army), has resulted in a 'pakistanization' of the state's culture. The tolerant Kashmiriyat is fast dying. Need to revive that.

  16. @ royalhawk -

    The sarcasm is so subtle..

    Just to share my viewpoint, having been in Kashmir, in the most painful circumstances.

    Gen. Hasnain is quite the officer & gentleman and an excellent commander.

    The people of Kashmir, as another observer said about 1981, do have lots of vitriol to the towards their bretheren Indians. And there are several factors that galvanise this. We have 2 choices here, follow the line that you indirectly suggest.. or be wise and win them over. The Kashmiri youth, for all their misguided nationalism, are not foolish. They can read and see whats happening in the paradise next door across the LOC.. and I am sure that given the choice between a stable life and being part of the paradise in places like Karachi.. they will choose peace and stability.

    The problem, as in the rest of our country, is our short sighted political class who at best cannot see beyond the next elections and their tax-haven bank accounts.

  17. Good job Indian army.

    Indian Leaders and bureaucrats need to learn from the Indian Army leader on how to win hearts.

    Parvez completely agree with you:The Army has extremely good leaders.

    Leaders, like eagles, are never found in flocks, they soar alone..

  18. I have zero sympathy for the politicized Kashmiri youth and their tantrums. The ordinary Bihari and Oriya struggles to eke out a living in South India, working in the baking sun, sending back a few hundred rupees every month to his family. He does not get invited to lunch do's by the Army. Even students from the insurgent prone NE, go all around India, setting up everything from restaurants to tea shops. All these states, including those in the Indian heartland, dont receive even a fraction of the sops, and financial assistance, these lazy, communal, bigoted Kashmiris receive. Scratch them, and out come the views of deceitful Hindu pandits, their so called Islamic identity (as if the rest of the muslims in India are actually closet atheists) and how they are different. Instead of mollycoddling these jokers, enough is enough, India should revoke the laws that dont enable the rest of India to settle in Kashmir. We should just flood the place with other Patels, Singhs, Thakurs, Menons. Then these idiots will no longer have the numbers on their side to keep pushing for their separatist cause, and effectively, Kashmir will be Indian.

    Unless India discovers what gonads are, it will remain hostage to such idiots who effectively use its namby pamby minority pandering secularism, to hold the entire country hostage.

  19. I agree my brother,
    Targeted Ethnic violence against Kashmiri pandits is always an issue that will twist any discussion on Kashmir in India's favor. That took away the legitimacy of claims made by the Kashmiri nationalist right from early stages of the armed uprising. Internationally even if the West is far removed from the region they would tilt toward India in the issue of Kashmir in the future and one of the reasons for it would be the communal nature of the entire Kashmiri Movement. So the sacrifices of the Kashmiri Pandits are not in vain.
    It is easy to sit in your comfortable couch at home and type in cyber vitriol on your laptop.
    Men and woman who put their life on the line for us would be far more pragmatic, and I would like to support any ideas that would increase the possibility of making their job easier.
    What are our Objectives in Kashmir?
    a) Short Term -Keep the valley at relative peace and spread the peace dividend among the people so that they do not go back to arms even after American withdrawal from Afghanistan. The recent panchayat and municipal elections are right steps in that direction. Granted Indian Security apparatus way better than it did in 1989.In 89 there was no local police force worth its name, today things are different.
    B) Long Term- Isolate Extremist Wahhabi Ideology that was planted from outside in the valley. This cannot be done by the Indian State. It is the job of Kashmiri civil society and other native religious schools of thought in the valley along with social and religious organizations of the Islamic faith (Sufi organizations and Liberal Muslims) in the rest of the country to help this process. The recent resurgence of Sufi and aboriginal Kashmiri religious practices the basis of which is kashmiriyat - (a metaphor for humanity) is a very promising development. This will not tilt anything in India's favor but will help tilt it against Pakistan very drastically.
    3) Take every Opinion into account- Engage Kashmiri's separately -People from Srinagar have different aspirations than people from Poonch,Doda etc..
    4)Don't Give monopoly of Opinions to Downtown Srinagar - Reports that is coming in points to the fact that there is already goodwill for India and the army in the rural belt with the recent local elections ,strengthening the opinion that democracy can work in Kashmir. A very good sign for India.
    5) Increase Faith in the Indian System -Give a sign of visible justice for all in Kashmir.Pandits, victims of fake encounters etc.. Not all cases can be true and not all cases can be false. At least if we prosecute 2 to 3 high profile cases, it will go a long way in giving hope to the people of Kashmir. I'd rather have the supreme court of India seen as great in the eyes of the Kashmiri's rather than the LET.

    We have more or less won the first two phases of the Kashmiri Struggle
    Phase 1 The external military threat -When we were weak we didn't let Kashmir go the enemy .Now no military power in the world can take Kashmir away from us militarily.
    Phase 2 Low intensity armed conflict-Our army didn't break ,our economy didn't falter and we were easily able to put it in the periphery.
    Now is the penultimate phase 'The political Phase' and we have to do it well .Military has a role ,but it is peripheral. It is time for politics before the last phase of assimilation.
    If we play our cards right , we have a chance of having a Kashmir which is peaceful and more or less accepted their fate with India in 20 years.

  20. There is a lot of bleeding heart libral bunkum here. Unless and untill we neutralise the intellectual impulse which breeds isolationist Kashmiri, nothing will succeed. Citizenship is two way street. privilage of being citizen of India must have some value attached to it. India (as distinct from Government of India) cannot have a core, which goes around with begging bowl or freebees to peripheries to get them to be part of India. Every one including those living in the peripheral states must understand that the areas they live in are integral part of Indian Civilisation since times immemoial. Hence only Indian Citizen can reside in these areas. In turn we (Indian Society) must provide the best possible deal to its citizen without discrimination. No free lunches, no guilt trip while defeating the Separatists.Advantage of citizenship should accrue only to those who openly profess alligiance to India.

  21. As an Indian who doesn’t care one way or the other about India’s possession of Kashmir, I find the Kashmiri attitude pompous and arrogant given the facts on the ground. What gives them the idea that they are “owed” anything from India??
    As an Indian taxpayer, Kashmir has always been and continues to be a “leech” that consumes much more than its produces. It is ironic and indeed a shame that the CRPF, J&K Police etc were not present at your little tête-à-tête to ask these future Kashmiri’s if throwing rocks at police, burning Indian flags, burning Public buildings, attacking security posts, hurling abuses at Indian paramilitary and military soldiers and other such base mob behavior are more representative of “Kashmiri Pride” ? Or is standing silently by at the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits a display of “Kashmiri Pride”? Or Is perverse Talabanistic nationalism a symbol of “Kashmiri Pride” ??
    Kashmiris continue to see themselves as outsiders and not “Indians” despite the fact that Nehru was a Pundit himself but are only too eager to come to Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and take any and all jobs they can find, buy property in India, send their children to Indian schools and then claim “special status” for Kashmir that prohibits Indians from exercising the same privileges Kashmiris enjoy in India!?
    It is hubris for a people who continually see themselves as “victims” to repeatedly condemn India and Indians while they stood silent to decades of Islamic terrorism, communal rioting and support anti-India elements openly while demanding for special privileges to expect Indians to have great love for such people.
    It is high time the Indian government suspend all “special economic” packages to Kashmir immediately and let the Kashmiris fend for themselves as they should have done decades ago. There are far more deserving and productive areas in the state of Jammu and Kashmir like Ladhak that would appreciate Indian central government aid more than the hostile Kashmiris who can never be appeased. Plus investing more in Ladhak would serve national security interests as well as boost tourism and the local economy far more than investing in Kashmir would at this point as the Kashmiri grievance is mostly based on perverse ideologies of Islamic nationalism than any legitimate grievance of identity or ethnicity.

  22. Mazo, well said! I find it disgraceful that loyal patriots are basically treated with contempt by the Indian state whereas disaffected murderers- whether they be of any stripe, are treated with kid gloves and even appointed as Govt officials. Its just ridiculous. Give my tax money to the Bihari, the Oriya, the MP guy who appreciates India. Let these Kashmiri fatcats earn their own way instead of feeding off of my salary and then cursing my country, my faith and my culture.

  23. As long as there are elements in Kashmir who believe that they cannot live under a dispensation that is not a Muslim majority or a secular republic,everything else;jobs,economic package,'alienation',autonomy etc etc is irrelevant.Better we concentrate on the welfare where it is appreciated and keep the danda for the rest.

  24. The article gives an interesting insight and deduction.However,one needs to note that similar situations are created every few years but the political class has not capitalised on it in the past too.The attention span of the establishment is also media driven which unfortunately covers J&K only when there is unrest as normalcy is no story!Certain conditions are very relevant when looking for some way forward. There is a dire need to reduce the visible presence of the security forces without compromising on operational effectiveness.This will go a long way in reducing the common man's anger/resentment as his only interaction with the security forces is at check points.(Q&A session is a pointer)The police has to become the dominant part of the security calculus(Punjab example is relevant). Most important Pak based terror organizations will have to be neutralised completely as any spurt in infiltration can upset the apple cart.The political solution if any seems to be a distant dream presently as both the Govts seem to be engrossed in their own survival with seemingly "far more important issues" to be addressed!

  25. Dear Sir,
    1. One army veh burnt in anantnag,reason - I am sure you know.
    2. One army officer facing inquiry because he tried to sort out a traffic jam on the highway, and that too very politely.
    3. In the same seminar Raj Mehta says and I quote " Ham apke naukar hai".
    4. To quote from your own article in the Q&A session- "When we go to INDIA.." Kashmir is Europe?
    5. Rashid Engineer... You really want to quote Engineer-you are a true blue armoured tin soldier..ask any infantryman and he will tell you what Engineer is.
    6. Army hospitals have special ques for the local population but no beds for own soldiers, special passes for civillians to go to canteen in srinagar but army vehicles are thoroughly checked, transit camps i am told has no space for officers but rooms for civillian dignitaries
    this is what the senior leadership of army has done to kashmir.You really want to call them eagles?

  26. Repeating my comment on Twitter posted on the Ist May:
    ”1 May Lalit Ambardar ‏ @LalitAmbardar
    “@broadswordblog @ikaveri

    'Babu Gosha' a casuality but India's only ethnic cleansing i.e of aboriginal Kashmiri Pandits misses mention?:( ”

    Thanks Col. Ajay Shukla for remembering the ethnic cleansing (of Kashmiri Pandits) on NDTV show with Barkha Dutt on the following day the 2nd of May. It was a small solace against total disappointment for absence of any mention in the article the previous day.
    It is high time Kashmiri Pandits- the worst victims of Pak's anti India Kashmir jihad are part of any discourse on Kashmir.
    Kashmiri Pandits chose to hold on to their roots in spite of being decimated over centuries of persecution but couldn't withstand the bloody onslaught brought about by Pak fed Kashmiri zealots forcing the aboriginal minority to flee their homes & hearths right under the nose of those who swear by secularism while secular Indian State remained a mute spectator. Geo political aspirations of Kashmiri Pandits are only basic-a geo-political dispensation like a centrally administered UT in Kashmir valley with free flow of unshackled Indian constitution i.e. minus any regressive caveats like article 370 for all those who believe in the idea of India. It is the only way to ensure cessation of Kashmiri Pandits' continued persecution & guarantee that their Indian-ness is protected for all times to come. It must be remembered, Kashmiri Pandits were targeted because they were seen symbolising Indian presence in Kashmir & that they professed a different faith. No Kashmiri Pandit worth his or salt will ever compromise on his or her Indian-ness. Therefore, for Kashmiri Pandit community proud of its Indian spiritual & civilisational heritage, with a recorded history of five thousand years, to survive as a distinct ethnic group in their natural habitat it is imperative they are granted a due stake in their Valley of origin under Indian secular constitution.

  27. Hello Ajai, great observations and even greater eye for details. But please continue to work on your analysis and assessment capability. No born talents but only developed expertise.
    I am from Kerala. We have many really poor folks from Bengal Orissa Bihar etc who work tirelessly just to hang that meat on to their bones. You will find the same folks in Bangalore or Mumbai. Please do spend time with them and write an article on their 'freedom' struggle.
    I have no respect nor any patience left with this so called Kashmiris movement. They complain about being treated second class. Well if you want to be treated as equal then treat rest of their countrymen like they themselves like to be treated. Get out of Kashmir like Gujjus have like mallus have like many others have. Stop bickering. Pakis took you for a ride. Now you want us to give you a face saving political solution. Yeah sure. Hang in there. I just had my beans and potatoes. Just bend down and wait behind in line.

  28. NAVANITHAKRISHNAN4 October 2013 at 23:04

    I have lived and worked in Kashmir. The administration is the most corrupt in the country. Not with standing the Kashmir problem between India & Pakistan the primary need is to provide efficient governance in Kashmir. That will bring in prosperity & peace to people and automatically make them accept India. The average. Kashmiri should be made to visit Indian main land far and wide to see the freedom and prosperity the common man irrespective religion enjoys.


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