The barbaric mutilation of Indian Army soldiers on May 1 by Pakistani military personnel rightly evoked sentiments of disgust and revenge against Pakistan. The national leadership was unequivocal in conveying its resolve for strong retaliatory action. I am sure its response will be suitably tailored to protect the country’s interests. Was this event an outcome of the internecine civil-military conflict in Pakistan? That is not the critical question; what is important is that such incidents give oxygen to the Pakistan-supported “proxy war” in Jammu and Kashmir.
This incident was preceded by the turmoil created by videos on social media, which showed CRPF personnel being manhandled by civilians in the Valley. The videos did not just demean the men in uniform, they also hurt a majority of Indians. The body language of the locals in the video, and their brazen disregard for authority, is a matter of serious concern — this is new and ominous.
Action at the national level after the incident was as per the standard format: There were expressions of anguish, shock and anger, followed by a rush for TRPs by the TV channels. There were endless discussions — between those in support of talks and the hardliners — that resulted in no tangible outcome. What has led to the appalling state of affairs in the Valley? What should be done in the near-term to redress this state of affairs? These questions must be answered on a priority basis.
Both incidents highlight the complexity of the situation in the Valley. Even though they are independent of each other, these incidents have an umbilical link to the problem afflicting the region. The incidents pertain to the tactical realm but have strategic ramifications that indicate a need for simultaneous action in the political, diplomatic, military and social spheres. Countering Pakistan’s belligerence on the external security dimension demands the execution of a well-thought-out national strategy. Readdressing the situation in the Valley requires focused and concerted action. There are many reasons for the present state of deterioration, but the two critical reasons are the dilution of the authority of the security forces and the acts of one-upmanship by political parties.
Counter-terrorist operations follow the simple strategy of “an iron fist in a velvet glove”. The pressure of military action — initially by eliminating hardcore leaders and subsequently, as a “threat-in-being” — is the catalyst that forces unlawful elements to talk with the government. Once you dilute the fear of authority of the uniformed forces, there is bound to be resistance to dialogue. This is what we are seeing in the Valley today.
The present strain of “politicking” has involved the appeasement of the public by belittling, at times, the authority of the uniformed forces. This has resulted in repeated stand-offs between the security forces and locals. There have been incidents of stone-pelting, the use of pellet guns have been questioned and burial ceremonies of terrorists have been accompanied with frenzied emotional speeches by fundamentalist religious or Hurriyat leaders. Public censuring and reprimanding of the security forces by senior officials and political leaders has steadily eroded the status and authority of the security forces. There is, therefore, a need to restore the primacy of the uniformed forces in society by concerted effort, at all levels.
The exclusivity of the army soldier vis-a-vis personnel of the central police organisations (CPOs) must also be asserted. This will give the state flexibility to have the army as another agency of force. The Ministry of Home Affairs should shed its ambivalence and accede to the Ministry of Defence’s request to ban the CPOs from wearing
The anti-national elements in Srinagar thrive on the politically-motivated, anti-national, pro-Pakistan statements of the National Conference and PDP leaders as well as statements by eminent and well-respected leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The clamour for azaadi, the expulsion of security forces and revoking of the “disturbed area” status of some places lends legitimacy to the anti-national elements and helps in increasing their public following. The visual media must desist from showing selected video clips or pictures that shock the senses. Denying publicity to the anti-national elements will divest them of a vital lifeline.
As a first step, there must be a consensus amongst political parties on the national narrative; national and state political leaders need to speak in unison. This will lend clarity of thought and direction to the people in the Valley while strengthening the hand of the elected leaders and governmental agencies. In addition, the local leadership needs to interact at the grassroots with village and urban elders and teachers, so as to ensure that young boys and girls are not influenced by malicious propaganda.
The last issue is in the realm of social engineering. There an urgent need for the intelligence agencies to infiltrate the ranks of the anti-national elements in the Valley. This way, they will get a whiff of the nefarious designs of the anti-national elements at an early stage. It will also help them to initiate a change in the mindset of the misguided youth.
The example of the Ikhwanis is a good way of redressing the Valley’s situation. The Ikhwanis broke away from the militants, came overground and assisted the army in eliminating foreign terrorists. They were subsequently absorbed in a military unit. Something similar needs to be put in place in the Valley now.
The success of the Indian state hinges on understanding the changing dynamics in Kashmir in a pro-active manner and instituting timely measures to arrest the changing trends.