Outreach that escaped scrutiny

Until the death of Burhan Wani, Kashmir’s new militancy on social media was little understood by the establishment, intelligence agencies and media

Written by Syed Ata Hasnain | Updated: July 8, 2017 12:30 am
Burhan wani, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Burhan Wani role of media, Militancy Social media, Jammu and Kashmir Mainstream media, J&K Afspa It may be an important lessons to note that the new militancy characterised by the presence of social media-wielding youth was little understood by the establishment, intelligence agencies and the media. Illustration by C R Sasikumar

It’s exactly a year since Kashmir turned on its head and went on the path of self-destruction ostensibly under a new leadership and new foot soldiers. There are varying perceptions of why Burhan Wani’s death, in an encounter on July 8, 2016, led to the outpouring of emotions which got converted to extreme violence and led to a change in the nature of the conflict. Most of these perceptions are one-sided and based on what one wishes to believe. A recall of the circumstances of the period 2011-2016 may help set the tone for analysis, seek more answers and suggest a way forward.

The peaceful period of 2011-2013 followed the stamina-sapping 2008-2010 when the separatists attempted a strategy of combining terror and street turbulence to make their struggle more relevant. However, 2011-2013 was also a recovery time which the Indian establishment failed to cash-in on despite its default actions of changed strategy of outreach and engagement, and the interlocutors’ genuine attempt at discerning the aspirations and seeking the path of compromise. The ray of hope created in the people, especially the youth, did not find matching energy or a sense of commitment and continuity in the establishment. The demand by the state government to do away with the AFSPA and the contestation by the army only helped create wrong narratives and took the focus away from the emerging situation.

Drift was the order of the day with little idea of the direction towards which it was heading. It is this drift and the dashing of hope of the people that led to the rise of Burhan Wani and the renewed romanticism with the gun. It was brushed aside as an isolated resurgence among renegades but the groundswell of support eluded our assessment. The flood of 2014, followed by the elections, the heavy voter turnout, attempts at political experimentation, its initial disappointments and the passing away of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, all kept the eye away from the scanner. The engagement with the people once again became transactional, providing the window that was needed by the separatists to energise the movement. Pakistan had probably never considered that an opportunity was emerging, and emerging fast. It desisted from anything major in the Valley and concentrated its focus south of Pir Panjal in its strategy of keeping the fires burning.

Here, let’s recall that major actions in the Valley had ceased prior to July 8, 2016. In repeated assessments, I wrote at the time that making things happen in the Valley was becoming increasingly difficult, forcing Pakistan to focus on the Jammu sector because it was easier to infiltrate and execute actions there in a single night. Pakistan found that the ground under its feet in the Valley had substantially shifted as Burhan and his friends were not listening to Pakistani advice and did not remain under the tutelage of Syed Salahuddin and the United Jihad Council.

It may be an important lessons to note that the new militancy characterised by the presence of social media-wielding youth was little understood by the establishment, intelligence agencies and the media. Their assessments were archaic and based on assumed beliefs. While the youth may have focused on weapon snatching to overcome arms shortages, many were also killed in encounters. All the while they were building a new narrative of resistance through social media outreach. The state was observing this but did little to launch an effective counter in the domain that mattered — social media or any form of communication to the public.

Simultaneously, a quiet process of radicalisation was also on. Social media, ideology and religion are the last things that the security establishment understands because it involves rebooting, relearning, mastering technology and most importantly, getting to know the religious underpinnings of the time. With their typical tenure-based approach to problem solving, the security establishment does not display the capability to assess intellectually or learn nuances beyond the ordinary response involving gun-on-gun. Intelligence agencies have a better measure of institutional continuity but lack the means of persuasion to convince and thereby alter understanding and planning. It is not as if the media had any measure of things to come. Mainstream media was suggesting in late 2013 that the army should withdraw and give the dividends of the success achieved to the people of Kashmir in terms of more freedom of space from the constraining environment brought on by a large uniformed presence.

This is not a blame game assessment but an attempt to look at areas where perhaps the ideas of the time remained out of sync with the situation. One of them surprisingly is also in the domain of military deployment. The army always laid great stress on North Kashmir. This was quite natural with three of its major formation headquarters located there and the task of counter infiltration based on LoC deployment which is essentially army-oriented. The romance attached to big ticket achievements in forest tracts also coloured the view. By contrast, South Kashmir had only a single Rashtriya Rifles (RR)) force headquarters but it had Pulwama, Shopian, Anantnag and Pampore, all trouble spots where the better educated youth reside. In sheer statistics of achievements in terms of terrorists killed, the three army formations of the north outdid Victor Force, the South Kashmir-based formation. It created a picture for the leadership that the focus was required in North Kashmir and the south could be treated as a bank for resources because the achievement pattern there was in bits and pieces. In effect, the mistake made was that the period of the 1990s and early millennium was forgotten when the major operations and achievements were in the south.

The lesson for planners is simple: Absence of or lower level of military achievements does not mean normality. It is the social parameters that need to be viewed. Not having done that and not having had an eye on history cost all of us dearly. The virtual denudation of the southern belt below Shopian Kulgam and the overall inadequacy of troops in the south allowed local militancy to bloom. When it did, we fought it in the physical domain while it was actually flowering in the virtual and psychological domain.

There are at least three areas of focus essential to the progress towards normality. First, the deployment of all forces must be more balanced and no premature withdrawal should be executed on the basis of statistical inputs. Second, the fight in the psychological domain can no longer be ignored. This needs an approach beyond what the army has provided; the army’s achievements are highly creditable but can no longer remain the only domain of focused strategic communication. Lastly, the continuity factor in a hybrid conflict environment has to be taken into consideration. Personnel management practices cannot override national needs and the best talent must be made available to fight the enemies of the state. It’s only then that the campaign becomes comprehensive.

The writer is a former commander of the Uri Brigade, Baramulla Division and the Srinagar-based 15 Corp

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    Sitaram
    Jul 9, 2017 at 8:39 pm
    All of the reports in media so far addressed what is happening, who are the parties ,sentiments etc. but none has addressed the goal of the agitators. If we see N a x al zones, we know they want an ideological sway. What is it in Kashmir? Is it I sl a m ic rule that they want? What is the understanding of the various media regarding that.
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      Chacha Jee
      Jul 9, 2017 at 3:27 am
      Treat Kashmir Muslim same way Bengladesh treated and treats Bihari Muslim who said they are not Bengladeshis but are Pakistanis. Bengladesh threw them in rats infested camps and threw away keys AND TILL DATE NO CITIZENSHIP RIGHTS OR BENEFITS. TREAT Kashmiri Muslim as Burmese treated them when Rohinga Muslim said they are not Burmese. Indians thought that Muslim issue is over in 1947..but Muslim who were let to live due to Congress Vote Bank politics are back again thanks to 4 wives and instant divoce policy. A Muslim can never be secular..he or she is muslim. India hating, Hindu hating muslim does not follow indian cons ution but quran. AS LONG MUSLIM READ QURAN...THERE CAN BE NO PEACE IN INDIA OR WHERE EVER THERE ARE MUSLIM. THROW MUSLIM OUT OF INDIA. AFTER 1947, ALL MUSLIM LIVING ILLEGALLY IN INDIA
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        Libral Culture
        Jul 9, 2017 at 1:05 am
        Sanghis at ude of majoritarianism have further alienated the Kashmiris. History will never forgive Modi regime for mishandling Kashmir issue. All the gains made by successive regime between 2000-14 have been squandered by Modi.
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          Chacha Jee
          Jul 9, 2017 at 4:16 am
          A Muslim will say where muslim are in majority, give us azadi where muslim are in minority, give us 4 women scre w around, hindu be secular and us curse your God and Goddess but stay away from Mohamed. In Kashmir, Muslim problem is only in 4 southern districts of Jammu and Kashmir. Indian Army musy be given free hand to move muslim, line them and march them to their beloved Pakistan. I heard an Indian Army officer saying that this CAN BE DONE IN 24 HOURS. When Rohinga Muslim wanted Azadi, Buddhist Burmese whom muslim considered them weaker than Hindus started killing them and throwing them sea... check google videos...then why can't India do to Kashmiri muslim who call themselves Pakistanis. Forget Kashmiri Muslim, no muslim living in India is loyal to India. Forget India. a Muslim living anywhere in non Muslim secular democratic country is nof loyal to them and killing them. No doubt that Americans are banning entry of Muslom and so much so that even higher level of Judiciary agrees.
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          my25pasise
          Jul 9, 2017 at 12:02 am
          Humans subservient to religious bigotry cannot be influenced en-mass. Religion is the bane of crowd especially when drunk on the primordial fear and hate. The article fails to explain that there is an influence of WAHHABIS and can never be negated by reason or common sense the only way they can be influenced is by fear and not much else as this religion is based on fear and not love and respect or symbiotic existence..... The General has lost his bearing and guts to evaluate the present situation on ground in Kashmir Valley .....
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            ck
            Jul 9, 2017 at 1:47 am
            It is adverse sense by creating influence of fear in freedom strugglers masses, because one has to create the examples of fear by the way of teasing, hitting, shooting and killing in the masses, which will not give the bow down in masses but create the sense of revenge and reflect either gorilla war or stream built up fight as seen normal in the world. If any body knows the ground situation, this can be easily be seen and understand.
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            ck
            Jul 8, 2017 at 10:18 pm
            VT happy to know that several peoples are mindful thinking on Nation's security threat, but several understanding points in this connection are to be elaborated to above analysis. 1- The dimension of security treat explain are not new, but factual and known all over the world, but it can be set back several places by political propaganda, but afterworld looses. 2- Yes, this governments and other governments are also very active to solve the problem, but most of the time by forces,,, which is impossible when the stream will come up, no force will be able to control this thing. others dealt are not fruitful. 3- Iden ies have various dimensions, it's major and minor points and effects on the ruling, it is very big topic can not be explain here In these small volume, let it could be explain on some other topics. 4- The regional iden y is quiet different and are the formers of theme of separation 5- The attempt to keep them to gather are failed several place. Others afterward
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              Antony
              Jul 8, 2017 at 8:51 pm
              Excellent analysis General Saab but unfortunately the illiiterate Sanghis ruling us and the RSS trolls supporting them doesn't have the brains to understand it because they are fed with gober and mutra on daily basis to defend the beef god and gaurakshaks atrocities. If this Paid RSS trolls used part of their daily shift to counter the social media compaign by Kashmiri militants the result would have been different! Unfortunately Kashmiri Muslims doesn't want to be part of India where sanghis kill Muslims in the name of beef god !
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                Seshubabu Kilambi
                Jul 8, 2017 at 7:55 pm
                Kashmiri people are less understood even now
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                  chitta
                  Jul 8, 2017 at 7:52 pm
                  It's just the beginning. Let Muslims gain some majority than they will show Real power.
                  Reply
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