With no political outreach, army hunkers down in Kashmir - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 20 April 2016

With no political outreach, army hunkers down in Kashmir

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Apr 16

On Tuesday, army chief General Dalbir Singh flew to Srinagar and Kupwara to be briefed by his top Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) commanders on the situation after the reported molestation of a schoolgirl in Handwara last Tuesday, and the killing of five civilians in the street protests and stone pelting that followed.

The army chief wanted to know: do his soldiers face another season of violent street protests, like the three bloody summers at the end of the last decade: in 2008 over outgoing governor Lieutenant General SK Sinha’s ill-judged plan to acquire land for the Amarnath Yatra; in 2009 over eventually disproved allegations that the security forces had abducted, raped and murdered two local women in Shopian, in South Kashmir; and the worst in 2010, when over a hundred civilians were killed in months of street protests stemming from the murders of three civilians in a “fake encounter” in Machhil, in North Kashmir.

The bland press release that followed Singh’s visit to Kashmir suggested a bleak assessment, noting: “the Army Chief… impressed upon all to ensure security in the area in concert with [the] police and civil administration.”

 The army finds itself, yet again, trapped again with a cleft stick --- responsible for maintaining security amongst an increasingly resentful and activist populace on the one hand; and, on the other, with no political dialogue to release the pressure and consolidate the gains of security operations.

Worryingly, intelligence assessments indicate that growing disaffection amongst the youth is ceding ground to fundamentalist Islamist groups like Daesh (also called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL). Analysts fear that frustration could morph a separatist insurgency into a pan-Islamist jihad based on Palestine-style street uprisings (intifada) and the deployment of terror weapons --- suicide vests, truck bombs and fidayeen-style attacks on civilian targets outside Kashmir. This would also see the separatist leadership pass into the hands of far more radical entities than the known leaders in the Hurriyat Conference.

Already, Islamist proselytizing groups, generously funded from places like Saudi Arabia, have gained ground in Kashmir. The syncretic Kashmiriyat culture has visibly given way to a more puritanical, West Asian Islam. The schoolgirl who was molested in Handwara was not donning the traditional Kashmiri headscarf, but a hijab that would have been rare two decades ago.

Aggravating the army’s predicament is a complicated political playfield in J&K that almost arouses nostalgia for the previous chief minister, Omar Abdullah --- who the army disliked for his unrelenting efforts to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), but admitted was a nationalist. Now, the generals must deal with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who they regard warily as a separatist sympathizer; and her Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition partners who regard her as even worse. Given the distrust within the PDP-BJP ruling alliance, the army is not relying on political dialogue to counter public alienation.

Instead, the alliance partners are stoking dangerous religious polarization between the Jammu region and Kashmir. The BJP (and, to some extent, the Congress) are whipping up Hindu communal passions in Jammu, in a mirror image of the Muslim-identity politics being played by groups in Kashmiri. Identity politics have spread to Ladakh, with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh instigating Buddhist groups there against the Shia Muslims who comprise half of Ladakh’s population.

With our apolitical generals diffident about urging New Delhi to alleviate matters by initiating talks with Kashmiri separatists, Pakistan’s continuing meddling provides them some clarity. Defending the 776-kilometre Line of Control (LoC) and stopping militant infiltration from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is a priority, with no scope for gentleness. However, a softer approach is evident in the army’s counter-militant operations in the hinterland. Two recent cases of trigger-happiness by army troops were followed by public apologies from the northern army commander, Lieutenant General DS Hooda --- something that would have been hard to imagine earlier.

Even so, given Kashmir’s bloody recent history and embittered public sentiment, there is only limited traction in expressions of regret. And the army steadfastly opposes lifting AFSPA, despite it being a potent lightning rod for Kashmiri anger and a symbol of state repression. The army’s logic is simple: in the absence of a political dialogue with the separatists, public order remains unpredictable. Were the situation to spiral out of control, the army would not like to find itself without the shelter of AFSPA.

From multiple perspectives, and especially for justifying the BJP-PDP alliance in Srinagar, there is a compelling case for the Centre to initiate a dialogue with J&K separatists. Kashmiri leaders point out bitterly that several prime ministers have met Naga separatist leaders, but not even a junior minister has talked to Kashmiri separatists. Without the leverage that comes from sustained dialogue, New Delhi can only watch impotently as Hurriyat leaders make their way to the Pakistan High Commission, and Islamabad continues to paint India in international forums as an occupier in Kashmir.

Insensitive to this complex political-ideological backdrop, the media reports events in J&K largely in the framework of security. Military analysts, who also seldom look beyond the security context, have pronounced the Handwara confrontation entirely predictable, although security managers failed spectacularly in predicting it. Cloaking this failure in success, they suggest that security forces’ successes were compelling militants into desperate incidents to signal that they might be down, but were not out. To explain why a young schoolgirl would provide the trigger, Handwara is dismissed as a “staged event”.

Analysts have also suggested replacing the army in towns and villages with armed police like the Central Reserve Policy Force. This begs the question: what role then for the Rashtriya Rifles (RR), 65 army battalions that are mostly deployed in the J&K hinterland?

On the ground, the army continues to deal with growing public frustration, evident from swelling crowds at militants’ funerals, and mobs throwing stones at soldiers battling cornered militants. And, without a high profile political outreach from New Delhi, the situation in J&K can only deteriorate. 


  1. Finally a sane voice. . Before it .. protests have been attributed to unemployment. . Drug addicts and hawkers.. overground hurriyat carders..and since people like tarek fateh have come into picture it is getting worse in mainland against kashmiris..

  2. Very good assessment of the situation and well written article.

  3. Ajai,
    All the vagaries, not to mention the ever unpredictable weather and swinging moods of the local populace have been brought out with crystal clear perception. I'll like to add another dimension to the ever growing disenchantment of the youth with the practically defunct local Govt and other Central Govt Agencies. In this, even the local population and other Security Forces look towards the Army for solutions to the quagmire they are in !! This disenchantment is an outcome of ever growing unemployment. This is substantiated by youths turning up in large numbers not only for lowest paid jobs like Lascars/ laborers but for recruitment in various Security Forces including Army. Ground level interaction with young men and women brings out a story of their dreams of youthyears of wanting to don a uniform.Response to Organisations like National Cadet Corps is over whelming and very enthusiastic.But for lack of response of State Govt, such types of activities can be enhanced. Cases for expansion of NCC dets remain gathering dust lost in red tapism or non functional Babu's offices.Although this problem of employment is All India, but a concerted effort in this direction in J & K will certainly yield results.

  4. i always wanted to ask why does the army protect those soldiers guilty of heinous crimes

  5. How important is the valley alone, strategically? If we had referendums in kashmir, seperately for the valley, Jammu and leh, would it be too great loss if the valley chooses to be independent or with pakistan? Of course, I am expecting Jammu and leh to stay with india. The valley and the greater kashmir issue seems to a sore weakpoint in india foreign reputation, maybe it would not be bad to cut our losses. Just a thought

  6. Why we are reluctant to accept the fact, a majority of Kashmiri population is not with India and many of them crossed the threshold of no return. Now the question , whether we want Kashmir as part of India ?? Every patriotic Indian want Kashmir to be part of India. Then it is time for hard decisions . We should have a sizable population in Kashmir valley to counter the separatist game . Migration is not a new phenomena, article 370 is not a gospel truth which can not be amended. Yes there will be blood shed , but we should go for the final count down instead of keep on bleeding endlessly postponing the final game.

    1. Very rightly pointed out,we must abrogate article370 and change the demography,these people should be dealt with an iron hand.The policy of Nehru and Congress has created all the problems for India

  7. Sun Tzu - 'To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.'. It must be conceded that Pak is playing the game just too well. When they found Indian generalship so 'diffident', they found it a better option to merely stand aside and let us destroy ourselves.

  8. The J&K govt needs to setup local industries. Use the grant from central goverment to creta employment . Then Kashmiris themselves need move out ,,,,

  9. Do you know how dis-honourable it is for a Kashmiri to be searched, stopped by an indian in Kashmir? To see his women, children and community under the thumb of an alien race? Kashmiri feels he is under occupation. Its hard for him to breathe. To have any izzat in his identity, he will resist and resist he will, with every bone in his body. He will also make sure his children dream the same dream of freedom. His example, him standing up for honour for his community will make others copy and follow his deeds. That is why you see today the message spreading to areas of Kashmir that never had trouble before.

  10. The Crux of the matter is that the Indian Government is using the Army since its central police units and state police are hopelessly trained for this job. Makes one wonder what our babus in the home ministry are doing. In 20 years Our central police forces have not been trained to handle militancy in the cities and villages. Hence , the army is doing a police job. As long as they have to do this, AFSPA cannot be repealed.Improve the police, withdraw army from most urban and semi urban areas, phased withdrawal of AFSPA , thing will improve.

  11. NSR says ---

    From Kailash Manasarovar to Kanyakumari was all Bharat, India, Hindu, Budhist, Jain, Sikh, etc

    Just because the Muslims are slightly in majority does not give them right to separate...

    The only solution to J&K problem is abrogating Article 370...and it will bringn development and jobs and make people feel that they belong to India as a full state...

    The games of corrupt and terrorist separatists will be ignored by general masses...


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