Land of lost chances - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 24 October 2016

Land of lost chances

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Oct 16

Last week Kashmir completed 100 days of public protests that began on July 9, a day after the Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Police killed Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter. The agitation leaders, including hard line separatists like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, ensure the Kashmir Valley remains locked down, except for a two-hour period each day when the bazaars open and the streets thrum with life. Kashmiri agitators insist they will not relent until New Delhi meets conditions that no elected Indian government can. Meanwhile New Delhi, labelling all this as Pakistan-backed mischief, continues a tough line. Paralysed in this crossfire is J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, heading an ineffectual coalition between her People’s Democratic Alliance (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The PDP-BJP coalition was billed as a bridge between New Delhi and Srinagar, but that chasm remains as wide as ever.

Angry Kashmiris insist they will continue agitating indefinitely --- something they clearly cannot do. New Delhi, equally unbending, is focusing on isolating Pakistan. Yet, when New Delhi can reach out to Kashmiri separatist leaders without losing face, and after demonstrating the punitive cost of confronting the Government of India, there will inevitably be a truce, even if temporary.

Translating that temporary reprieve into an enduring peace would require New Delhi to recognise Kashmir as an issue that demands concerted political engagement, not just a security issue that requires the application of sufficient force --- as New Delhi has repeatedly done. The strong arm of the state can manage periods of instability. Yet, without political management, normalcy will prove short-lived.

As evident from the chart, the security situation in J&K is a fluctuating variable, which is linked to New Delhi’s political engagement with Srinagar and Islamabad. Security is gauged from four indicators --- the number of militants, security force personnel and civilians killed in each year, and the number of militancy-related incidents. The numbers are obtained from the J&K Police’s official records --- a painstaking and reliable compendium of every incident in each corner of the state.

From 1990, when the Valley went up in flames and thousands of young, gun-wielding Kashmiris took control of the streets, the army began relearning counter-militancy operations, which it had honed in the northeast. The difference was that the Kashmir uprising was openly sponsored by Pakistan and, after the Hizbul Mujahideen supplanted the J&K Liberation Front, was imbued with a strong religious fervour. By 1996, the army --- partly through a new counter-insurgency force, Rashtriya Rifles --- had reasserted control to the level that the 1996 general elections in Kashmir could be credibly held. This was the first moment of opportunity. However, New Delhi had a series of weak Union coalition governments that failed to follow up with a political outreach.

That lost opportunity was followed by five years of turmoil in J&K, including the Kargil conflict, stepped up militancy and an almost-war in 2001-02, when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government deployed the army for war after a Jaish-e-Mohammad attack on Parliament House in New Delhi. This period saw the highest casualties of the J&K insurgency.

Yet, inevitably, peace kicked in at the end of 2003 with a ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s memorable outreach to Kashmiris under the ambit of “insaaniyat”, or humanism. While representatives of President Pervez Musharraf and Mr Vajpayee hammered out a “Four-Point Formula” for permanent peace in J&K, and cross-LoC movement and trade began, the security forces exploited this peace through the construction of the LoC counter-infiltration fence. However, with no public political engagement with J&K, Musharraf’s political decline and eventual ousting brought this house of cards tumbling down. This was the second lost opportunity in Kashmir.

The period 2008-2010 saw three bitter years of turmoil in the Valley. In what some call the “first Kashmiri intifada”, a hitherto politically disengaged generation of Kashmiris was effectively radicalised, taking up the mantle of the Azaadi (freedom) struggle. With intense military operations continuing to take down militancy, that ceded primacy to stone-throwing street protests that (ironically) deploy the moral ascendancy of “non-violence”.

2011-13 saw another interregnum of peace, through a “winning hearts and minds” (WHAM) campaign fashioned by the army’s innovative commander in Srinagar, Lieutenant General Ata Hasnain. With initiatives like “Jan Sunwai” (public hearings), and the wildly popular Kashmir Premier League cricket tournament, this created a moment of political opportunity that, like the previous two occasions, was ignored by New Delhi.

In 2014, the inevitable downswing began. Although violence figures grew only slowly, there was palpable Kashmiri anger at the majoritarian politics in other states, evident in the beef ban, ghar wapasi and the love jihad bogey. With no political outreach to Kashmiri separatists, resentment began manifesting itself through unprecedented confrontations with armed military units, including attempts to break army cordons laid around villages where militants were holed up.

The mass uprising following Burhan Wani’s death had been brewing for two years. But, when Kashmiri resentment and anger have played out, a fourth moment of political opportunity will inevitably present itself. It is for the government to grasp it. 


  1. Col Shukla,
    You have been extensively quoted in an article titled "Tough Stand by India’s Modi on Militants Raises Risks With Pakistan" By GEETA ANAND 23 OCT 2016 in the New York Times. Kudos. However I do not agree that we are one 'Terrorist Strike' away from disaster.

  2. Col Shukla,

    Here is how i think things will play out in the sliver of land that is Kashmir valley.

    1. Security forces given free reign for next six months to ferret out the hidden terrorists/their handlers/stone thrower agitators and bring the situation to some degree of normalcy

    2. The state govt acting in consonance with the central Govt opens up dialogue with the youth rather than Hurriyat and their minions. The disenchanted youth from among the stone throwers would be encouraged to form an organization with whom the govt can hold a dialogue thus taking the Pakistani proxies i.e, Hurriyat out of the equation.

    3. This time the emphasis will be on engaging the youth rather than the compromised leadership of the Hurriyat.

  3. Col,

    While India is rolling in Islamic terrorism, China is happily running in circles around the region. Now, their railway is coming closer and closer to Indian borders.

    What a fabulous way to divert a budding Asian challenger towards a minion while getting ready to become the superpower !!!!

  4. In God we Trust, All Others bring Data. Theories are great but what does the data reveal.

    The big difference is 2004 - for people claiming that Operation Parakram was not fruitful, it forced Musharraf to other than slowing support for terrorists, to declare a ceasefire at the LOC but most importantly they allowed India to build the fence which was a game changer.

    Mass infiltration was not possible any more and once the existing terrorists in J&K were neutralised the situation improved dramatically. Even the "yellow" years of 2014 and 2015 have seen the lowest casualties and 2016 may be similar.

    Pakistan my Try every trick in its book, but with the fence in place, and likely to be further strengthened things are not going back to the pre 2003 days.

    India must now get the strategists together and put together a plan on how to effectively handle "street protests" & "stone throwers".

  5. NSR says ---

    Only solution to J&K is abrogation of Article 370 so people, development, industry, jobs, etc moves freely to J&K and becomes integrated fully with India...

    Development and jobs would make people and students, and even make POK and Gilgit Baltistan to join J&K...

    Whatever is the case, please do not give them Z or any -security anymore...Let them get killed by their own Pakistani or separatist proxies...

    Do not pay them Rs 120 crores every year...

    Do not pay for their airfares, hotels, petrol, etc as they use it to go to foreign countries and then put a knife in the back of India at every forum...
    They are using Indian money to sustain the violence and terrorism...

    Do not let their children live and hold jobs in India as they do not even give citizenships to POK refugees who came to J&K in1947...

    Tell them to participate in democracy and elections or else they should go and live in Pakistan...

    Give priority to youth programs and job creating to wean them away from separatists...

    Abrogation of Article 370 is of highest priority...Nothing else will solve the will keep evolving into many forms...

  6. Kris,

    This is India's own making. Pakistan has tied up India and will continue to do so until Kashmir question is settled. Pakistan will never back down, ever. You will have to either destroy it or make a settlement. There is no other option. Modi of 56' chest, is a blessing for Pakistan for his exclusive politics.

    40 years ago, in the valley there were no Jihadi warriors or folklore about them. Today every child knows of one. These people are talked about with reverence. Some of these children aspire to be one. The culture in the Valley is becoming more like Pakistan's now. Now they take revenge on the people or their children who co-operated with IA. Each generation will be more anti-india (not anti-indian). Ball is in Modi's court, but he is busy with RSS and their cow mata.

    Pakistani's hope that he does so much damage to the social fabric of india that eventually it will tear itself apart. Whereas pakistan has actually been coming together. Ethnic factor is on the decline there.

  7. @raw13

    NSR says ---

    How stupid can you be? I am sure you are one who hates India and sympathizes with the Jihadis...


    Gilani sends strike calendar to all schools except for the one where his grand kids are in Srinagar DPS or something like that...

    Gilani pays jihadis to burn schools - 19 so far...
    I am sure you are in reverence of these Jihadis...

    The only solution is to ---

    Abrogate Article 370 and make J&K a full state...
    It will make movement of people, developments, industry, jobs, etc easy and the people will get weaned away when there are jobs...

    Our stupid governments pay these separatists Rs 120 crores, airfares, hotels, petrol, etc and they keep creating more Jihadis everyday...

    Just abrogate Article 370 and use the resources on youth...

  8. Another one sided article. We need to abrogate article 370, open up the region to people and capital, sooner the better.
    Why no write up on migration of Kashmiri pundits ?
    I hope the J&K government is taking steps to develop Jammu and Ladhak regions.


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