Valley’s lost middle ground

Let us not look for final solutions — just a way to bring back a semblance of calm. Trust the army to do its job, including dealing with any aberrant behaviour

Written by D.S. Hooda | Published:April 20, 2017 12:10 am
The middle ground, where some solutions are to be found, seems to have disappeared. Illustration by C R Sasikumar

The temperature in Kashmir is in the mild 20s, but the heat of conflict is already being felt. Stone-wielding crowds regularly clash with security forces and allegations fly fast and thick on both sides. Voter turnout in the Srinagar election was the lowest since the start of the insurgency, forcing a postponement of polling for the Anantnag seat. For the largest democracy in the world, this is a setback. There are also concerns that we could be seeing the start of a repeat of 2016.

Where do we go from here? Frankly, there are no easy answers because of the large number of complex issues, but let me talk about a few key steps. I think it is time to take a calm, practical and realistic look at the situation in the Valley. Unfortunately, this kind of appraisal seems to have become the first casualty. Sentiments run high on both sides as people take to Twitter and Facebook with a vengeance. One side calls for a no-holds-barred approach against the “jihadi youth”, while on the other side, images are flashed of young boys taunting the security forces and showing little fear.

The middle ground, where some solutions are to be found, seems to have disappeared. Yet, it is crucial for the state and the Centre to find a way to defuse the situation. Let us not look for final solutions — just a way to bring a semblance of calm back to the Valley. The rest can follow.

The army in Kashmir is today squarely in the centre of public discourse, either being strongly supported or strongly castigated. This kind of visibility is detrimental to a force involved in counter-insurgency operations. After all, social media has a powerful influence and even a highly disciplined force is not immune to it.

What has earned respect for the army, even in internal conflicts, has always been its secular and impartial character. It has never taken sides. While the army values the support of its countrymen, suggestions on how it should conduct its operations are, frankly, not needed. The army knows what to do and has been doing it successfully since Independence. I personally know the general in charge of South Kashmir and he is an outstanding professional with a clear understanding of the nuances of the area. Trust him and his men to do their job, including dealing with any aberrant behaviour.

For Kashmir, 2016 was a difficult year. Faced with a highly volatile situation, the army launched Operation “Calm Down” in September. This was a massive, people-friendly outreach to the local population. It helped control the situation because the army still commands respect among the population of the state. Keeping it out of the public eye will enable it to quietly go about its work.

Youth engagement is the key. This is obvious and efforts in this direction have to be spurred on. It is too simplistic to label everyone as a paid agent. Initiatives for the youth of Kashmir have been half-hearted and ineffective, leading to radicalisation and terrorist recruitment. In the ongoing video war, to me, the most defining clip was of a five-year-(or so)-old boy, walking around alone among a group of security force jawans on a street in Kashmir. He struts, shouts, glares at them and then attempts to kick a jawan three to four times. The jawans are calm and take the incident in good humour.

For me, it was like staring at the future of Kashmir, knowing the critical importance of somehow rescuing this boy from himself. Let us also clearly accept that Pakistan and the separatists are not going to easily change their tune. This is where we have to be muscular — not against our own people. What steps are appropriate is for the government to decide, but things can’t be allowed to drift along. It would be poor strategy to hope that General Qamar Javed Bajwa would be less hostile than General Raheel Sharif, and that infiltration would reduce.

We have to take our own steps to improve border management. A smart fence is required immediately — but we are yet to even execute a pilot project. This needs urgent attention. Similar focus should be given to the separatists. Decide on one way to deal with them and carry that through. Ignoring them is no longer an option.

In any internal conflict, perceptions are key. The hearts-and-mind campaign is less about the heart, and more about the mind. The heart of the Kashmiri will always be with his wife, son, daughter, relative and friends in his village. The government can’t hope to vie for this space. But it can earn his confidence and respect and this will be the first step towards conflict resolution and normalcy. That confidence will come about through both words and deeds. The rhetoric will continue, it now seems to have acquired a life of its own, but the government and all its organs, including the security forces, must calmly assess the situation and adopt a clear strategy. Development is helpful but it cannot compete with the power of emotions, with desires and perceived wrongs. These will have to be tackled only in the human domain. By the end of last year, things had somewhat calmed down after a summer of massive unrest. We missed the opportunity of a quiet winter. Let us now devise a coherent plan.

 

The writer retired as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian army’s Northern Command

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  1. T
    Tejinder Paul Walia
    Apr 21, 2017 at 5:26 am
    General obviously has summarized well. these bas..s, abdullas n ncp goons r fine so long the loot was not questioned, their feifdom not challenged. Guise of bjp-pdp should continue for full term and Army n paramilitary allowed to operate without media hipe. Let taking on the might of a NATION wear them for as long as needed. Their is no other way
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    1. M
      Mahender Goriganti
      Apr 21, 2017 at 2:27 am
      Everything else have failed 6 decades of wasted time and the current situation & lurking danger not only to Kashmir but also Hindustan with new found Jihadi terrorism (Moguls before). Just handover Kashmir to Army for 10 years, evacuate all fill it with patriotic Indians to kill Jihadi hopes for good.
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      1. N
        Nikhil
        Apr 21, 2017 at 2:08 am
        Well written. The author seems to have a fairly good & clear idea about the issue, and also how to deal with it. Wise men like him are needed in the advisory committee to the govt., and the army.
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        1. P
          pankaj
          Apr 20, 2017 at 11:03 pm
          Kashmiris should be given compulsory DNA test first and then compulsory reading of history of Kashmir during and prior to Alexander and then how the w world including Greece, Arabs considered Kashmiri Hindu sages the wisest among the wise. They should be told what Sanskrit language is and how just by changing the script they have killed their own Kashmiri language... Similarly they have killed the re tion of kashmiriyat by fighting for Islam... Kashmiriyat comes thousands of years before Islam and is completely Hindu. Your next generations have to accept it for they will be open minded unless you end up creating Taliban for yourself.
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          1. s
            sullu2004
            Apr 20, 2017 at 9:17 pm
            India trying to be Israel KAWA RAJ HENCE BANTA HEY
            Reply
            1. s
              sullu2004
              Apr 20, 2017 at 9:10 pm
              The fate of the Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the Peoples. We will not and cannot back out this (Pledge) We are prepared to have referendum held under international au es like United Nations. We want a fair and referendum of the peoples and we will accept their verdict.”” JAWARLAL NEHRU Indian sub continent will be divided in multiple states as it was before British Raj. WITH WILL OF ALLAH ALLAH KI YAHI MARZE HAI AUR AISSA HEE HO GA END OF STORY INDIA As COUNTRY WHICH NEVER USED TO BE.
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              1. C
                CClements
                Apr 20, 2017 at 8:19 pm
                The Congress are the culprits for making Kashmir ferment into cancer. And now with the BJP propagating the Hindu faith with full force and at will. it is obvious that the Kashmiris feel the threat by being incorporated into the nation. The application of the army will not deter the power of the human spirit which is more powerful than the bullet. The solution lies in making Kashmir an autonomous state within the federation.
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                1. V
                  vs
                  Apr 20, 2017 at 7:47 pm
                  Middle path?What bloody middle path are you talking about?Why pamper these Kashmiri's only because they are Muslims?They are being pampered for the last 30 years.We Indians have been very very patient.The patience has run out now.Only solution is change the demography of Kashmir, settle kashmiri pundits and other Indians in Kashmir.No more kid glove treatment.
                  Reply
                  1. S
                    Seshubabu Kilambi
                    Apr 20, 2017 at 7:47 pm
                    It is not army, the politicians ae not doing their job. As long as the fundamental rights of Kashmiris are trampled, people may not trust in any one
                    Reply
                    1. S
                      Shadan
                      Apr 20, 2017 at 7:19 pm
                      Kashmir is not a security issue but that of denial of political rights, dignity and freedom. Imagine the British continued to occupy India against the will of the people, would the Indians remain calm. There is a limit to how much humiliation a people can take. Kashmir has a long history of having remained geographically, culturally and politically independent. It is in the best interest of the w South Asia to deescalate militarization and violence in the region and develop Kashmir as an intersection and a buffer between three major nuclear powers armed to the teeth. India should retain nominal control and good relations with a local democratic state like Nepal and a meeting ground between nations like Switzerland in Europe. Small mindedness and bigotry will not help.
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                      1. T
                        Truth
                        Apr 20, 2017 at 8:06 pm
                        Does Kashmir have the ability to be economically i.ndependent ? Can it look for support from P A K I S T A N whose economy is in the doldrums ? Do you think a self-centered country like China will provide that support ? Kashmiris should know that India is the only country that has not ca.ptured any territory from neighboring countries big and small.........they have to give up their frog-in-the-well att.itude if they want to really pr.osper !
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                        1. C
                          CClements
                          Apr 20, 2017 at 8:53 pm
                          The DNA of the Kashmiri will have to be determined first before claiming to be a different people. Genetically and ethnically speaking, stanis are Indian. In fact, all the peoples living within the periphery of the Indian subcontinent are Indian. Having a different culture does not make a Kashmiri different from a Dravidian whose culture and language are as different from a Kashmiri. It is just that you people don't want to be part of the mainland which is mainly Hindu. It is obvious that by being a Muslim- dominated state. Kashmiris are generally prejudiced towards Hindus (infidels according to the Koran ) and don't want to be part of the mainland. .
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                          1. S
                            Shadan
                            Apr 21, 2017 at 2:35 am
                            If you think disp ionately, Kashmir is nothing short of an occupation. About prejudice, you could easily say that India being Hindu dominated is prejudiced against Muslims. If you start analyzing DNA we are all children of Lucy from an early human from Africa! Apart from being Muslim, Kashmiris are a profoundly deep culture as well that has greater coherence than India or stan. Strictly speaking, Kashmir is closer to a nation than the either of the two. If Nepal and Bhutan can survie, if Srilanka can survive so can Kashmir. It has been artifically landlocked and isolated by bad Indian foreign policy. The Indians don't have it in them to treat Kashmiris as their equals. That is why they have failed to win them over. One day when Indians and stanis acquire maturity, Kashmir will be independent and we will live as good neighbours.
                        2. A
                          Apte
                          Apr 20, 2017 at 6:24 pm
                          1. What the retired General Officer Commanding-in-chief is saying as regards engagement with Kashmiri youth is true. What kind of role PDP-BJP alliance government led by Ms Mehbooba Mufti can play to engage with Kashmiri youth? Is Ms Mehbooba Mufti in a position to talk to youth? Can she talk to those who are in touch with the youth leadership and bring them to discussion table? 2. It is an open secret that those who are creating trouble in Kashmir are isted by terror groups in stan (who in turn are funded by military establishment of stan). Therefore, I believe that it is for people of Kashmir to do some self-introspection. 3. I wish to make one last point. uming that the people of Kashmir get real autonomy within the Cons utional framework, and the role of our army in Kashmir is considerably reduced, whose responsibility will it be to protect ordinary citizens of Kashmir and to stop infiltration of terrorists in other parts of India through the valley?
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                          1. T
                            Truth
                            Apr 20, 2017 at 6:20 pm
                            Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw' s presence today , minus the pol.itical i.nter.ference would have been just ideal for the K A S H M I R settlement .........we need more leaders like him for our country !
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                            1. J
                              Jibran
                              Apr 20, 2017 at 4:32 pm
                              I wish All INDIANS Think and Go Like U But SIR Having the Minds of MODI DOVAl BIPIN RAWAT Who are leading India Now. I am less hopeful that Your Opinion will Have any Impact.
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                                Rajat
                                Apr 20, 2017 at 4:50 pm
                                No the problem is with the separatist mindset. The separatists have brainwashed kashmiri youth, while their own kin live peacefully, getting expensive education abroad. If geelani really cares for kashmir, he should ask his children and g children to come out on streets. It will never happen. The earlier kashmiri youth understand it, the better.
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                                1. J
                                  Jibran
                                  Apr 20, 2017 at 5:48 pm
                                  This is the Problem My Dear Friend The same old Narrative of MEDIA. Please Come Here to See the Reality U Love only Kashmir Not Kashmiri's, We Hate Indian Policies Towards Us not all Indians. Separatists are No one These Days. Please be my guest and You will feel the Reality.
                              2. P
                                Parth Garg
                                Apr 20, 2017 at 2:58 pm
                                The combination of PDP and BJP in Kashmir has proved a disaster. Time for declaring President's rule in the valley.
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                                1. K
                                  kashmiri
                                  Apr 20, 2017 at 1:32 pm
                                  Solution to Kashmir issue is to hold plebiscite and give them choice to live their own way. Brutality done on kashmiries should be stopped.
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                                  1. R
                                    Rajat
                                    Apr 20, 2017 at 4:51 pm
                                    Referendum is not a solution, kashmir can't be independent. It has to be either part of India or stan. If it is latter, kashmir will become a failed state like stan soon.
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                                    1. G
                                      George Cruz
                                      Apr 20, 2017 at 7:42 pm
                                      The portion of the POK which Pak conceded to China in 1973 in spite of the protests from India is the major problem. Now Both China & Pak are against holding plebiscite. The problem with Muslims is that they feel superior to rest of the Indians just because of their light skin, madr a education, hatred towards Hindus, lack of real education, and overall the NC leaders like Abdullah's ertion that the Kashmir is their ancestral property and they support the misguided Muslims to commit anti-national activities.
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                                      aravind
                                      Apr 20, 2017 at 1:02 pm
                                      Must follow and do what China is doing. and across the border should enforce this ideology to their mind. The article of course very much to be appreciated, as our Army has sacrificed too much. The valley has only a minority as militants, for whom it is a paid job financed by vested interests. We should work with the others. The Abdulla's should avoid such crazy , stupid and irresponsible statements during electioneering.
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                                      1. S
                                        Shadan
                                        Apr 21, 2017 at 7:31 am
                                        Eventually Indians will have to reconcile themselves with a free and independent Kashmir. Better do it decently without destroying your sanity and lives of other people in process. Forced marriages never work.
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                                        Avinash
                                        Apr 20, 2017 at 12:39 pm
                                        it seems that people are reading to reply only. Better read to understand view of army commander, who have actually worked in the valley. I find many authoritative and conclusive comments from the readers of which many may have just visited valley just as tourist. Aggressive statement on this complex issue is not going to help.
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                                        1. R
                                          Rici
                                          Apr 20, 2017 at 12:24 pm
                                          the solution to Kashmir problem is same as what shrilankans had done to LITTE. Nothing less nothing more.
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                                            Ripon Dasgupta
                                            Apr 20, 2017 at 11:46 am
                                            SHAHID. Problem is neither Kashmir nor Delhi. Problem is evil cult called Islam. Where there is Islam there is problem. Islam is to man what rabbies is to a dog
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                                              Kodi Raj
                                              Apr 20, 2017 at 11:41 am
                                              The ONLY solution to Kashmir problem is to change the demography of the state. These Muzzis need to be in minority for peace to prevail. Period!
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                                                Shahid
                                                Apr 20, 2017 at 11:03 am
                                                3 years ago some gujju said problem is not in Kashmir but in Delhi now that someone is in Delhi.So why now everyone is bent on blame Kashmiris.Why no one is questioning failed policies of BJP goverment in center and state?
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