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Shekhar Gupta (‘Disarming Kashmir’, December 7) questioned the role and presence of the army in J&K. Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, former corps commander in Kashmir, wrote back, saying that ‘victory’ had to be defined before the army’s role could be determined (‘‘Victory’ in the Valley’, December 11). Lt Gen H.S. Panag joined the debate, arguing that military strategy is contingent on political direction that is lacking in Kashmir (‘The drift in the Valley’, December 18). Taking the debate forward:
This is in response to Shekhar Gupta’s recent article in The Indian Express, ‘Disarming Kashmir’ (National Interest, December 7). He argues that with peace and normalcy returning on the ground, there is scope for a partial thinning of the army presence in the Valley and some symbolic dilution of the AFSPA. In the process, he has made certain observations, like the presence of half a million Indian soldiers protected by the most illiberal of laws fighting in the Valley, a new factor in Indian policymaking by way of a veto power for the army, etc. All merit serious analysis to reach the right conclusion.
The issue of Kashmir provides a wicket that, in cricketing parlance, is called a spinner’s delight. It is so easy to give twists and turns to these issues, however fickle the supporting facts. To get the right answers, it is essential to get basic facts right. The myth about the presence of half a million army boots in the state is off the mark. The army has for some time now adopted a posture of added emphasis towards maintaining the sanctity of the Line of Control and the counter-infiltration grid, and is already very thin in the hinterland. Only the reserve brigades of the 3 Corps and 62 battalions of the Rashtriya Rifles are deployed in the hinterland on the counter-insurgency grid, with an optimal strength of approximately 55,000-60,000 army troops. This is a far cry from the oft-quoted figure of half a million. By quoting erroneous figures, we only end up providing a handle to our adversaries.
Yes, the proxy war situation has improved considerably with the majority of terrorists eliminated, but there are still a large number of them in the staging areas across the LoC, awaiting their turn to infiltrate. Even more importantly at the strategic level, the overall security matrix in Afghanistan merits consideration. As the American-led Nato forces prepare to withdraw in 2014, if the Taliban gets even partial control of Afghanistan with Pakistan’s support, it is possible that these radicalised jihadis may be directed against India in Kashmir. With this uncertainty, we would be better advised to keep our security posture intact and the contingency plans worked out.
This brings me to the alleged “veto power” acquired by the army. Nothing could be more preposterous and farther from the truth. The problem is that, as George Tanham has stated, “India lacks strategic culture”. We have virtually no institutionalised processes of long-term thinking and planning continued…