January 22, 2022 11:30:38 am
As Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) periodically returns to violent ways, interest in its affairs always remains high. A solution is elusive and will probably remain as such for long. The villain of the piece — Pakistan — keeps the proxy conflict alive, and, along with this, some analytical literature keeps appearing from time to time: a few scholarly articles and an odd book, mostly cliched. However, after fairly long comes a comprehensive piece of writing with some authentic research and based upon experience in the handling of the J&K situation at the national strategic level. HarperCollins has recently published a book by General Nirmal Chander Vij, The Kashmir Conundrum: The Quest for Peace in a Troubled Land. It is a masterpiece on India’s most intractable security issue which has troubled us since Independence. General Vij is eminently qualified to write this, being a former Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), Vice Chief of the Army Staff and then the Army chief. Besides, he hails from Jammu, and so, was born in the conflict zone. People from Jammu have larger stakes in peace in Kashmir although they do not like to be a part of a hyphenated state, now a Union Territory.
General Vij uses a very sequential format which makes it easy for a reader to relate to the context. Unlike most books on J&K, which get deeply mired in history and run out of space to analyse current issues, he eschews the temptation of delving into too much detail on the origins of the problem. Yet, he covers the essentials of post-Independence history which build the context. The wars of 1947-48, 1965 and 1971 are analysed from a politico-strategic angle which sets the stage for understanding the deliberations by Pakistan’s deep state to overcome the asymmetric situation with India.
The interesting aspect is that in a 412-page book, the stage for analysis of the decisions of August 5, 2019, to amend Article 370 and split J&K into two Union Territories comes as early as page 176. Before this, the author discusses the onset and progress of the proxy war by Pakistan, the various formulae for settlement which emerged under different leaders, especially after the turn of the millennium.
What may be a little disappointing for military enthusiasts is the treatment of the Kargil War in 1999 in just a few pages. General Vij was the DGMO of the Indian Army in 1999 and therefore, besides having a grandstand view of the events around Kargil 1999, he was also involved in the planning, execution and post-operation deliberations with his counterpart from the Pakistan army. It would have been tempting to put down all his experience of that very challenging time. Yet, he displays his statesmanship by including everything necessary but deliberating in greater detail only on those issues which made a major politico-strategic impact on J&K.
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A full chapter on perception management confirms his support for the Indian Army’s very deliberate and balanced strategy of kinetic and non-kinetic operations. A potential lesson for the political community and leadership emerges from his analysis of Operation Sadbhavana, the Indian Army’s military civic action programme. He recommends adopting this programme beyond just the Army, to give it the proverbial outlook of an “all of government approach”. In fact, he suggests renaming it Operation Yakeen when executed at the state and national levels. This chapter also views the non-kinetic approach comprehensively with the immense experience gained by the Indian Army in handling the perception domain. Education, youth affairs, economics, media, information, narrative management and counter radicalisation are all included with some pointers on how all these could be executed.
Not to discount the achievements in the military domain, General Vij has included a full chapter on India’s counter-militancy strategy. He divides this into sequential phases, each with distinct characteristics. However, the real value of this chapter, beyond the factual recounting of events, is the perception he outlines on the prime pillars of Pakistan’s strategy.
There is some reference to and explanation about the LoC fence. This is something insufficiently written about or spoken of in India. General Vij in his typical magnanimous way claims no personal credit for it. However, it should be known that the achievement of the Indian Army to reduce infiltration to manageable numbers was enabled by the Anti-Infiltration Obstacle System (AIOS) based on the LoC fence, a brainchild of the author, who in 2003 had first sought ways of bringing down the strength of resident terrorists in J&K to a level below a thousand. The back of terrorism was largely broken by this measure.
Two chapters — “A Paradigm Shift” and “The Road Ahead” — round up an immensely readable book. Both look at the various aspects of the grey zone which makes up the Kashmir conundrum. In the years ahead, this book should emerge as a virtual textbook to turn to if one wishes to have the basics right in the understanding of the J&K issue.
Lastly, in a book based upon personal experience of an intractable problem we hardly ever read about any personal contribution or come across the word “I”. That is quite remarkable indeed.
(Lt Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd), a former corps commander of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, is chancellor, Central University of Kashmir)
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