Kashmir unrest: Army needs to go beyond anti-terror role in the Valley; must motivate, educate youth

"On one side, there are those who are pelting stones," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, while inaugurating the Nashri-Chenani tunnel in Kashmir, "and on the other, there are youth of Jammu and Kashmir, who are carving a future of development for their state by cutting through rocks."

This paradox, that represents the Kashmir of today, is further epitomised by the fact that while flash mobs in the state engage in disrupting army operations, against terrorists by stone throwing, around 19,000 Kashmiri youth have registered for an army recruitment drive in Patan.

The pattern, of large number of Kashmiris turning up for army recruitment, has repeated whenever the opportunity has arisen. In an otherwise bleak scenario, where visuals of youth in Islamic State (IS) inspired gear and banners confronting security forces has reached the drawing rooms across India, courtesy nonstop coverage by television channels, the news of thousands of youth showing their inclination towards joining the army represents a happy paradox. It is a manifestation of the fact that despite the doomsday predictions of TV pundits, all is not lost in the Valley.

Ever since the neutralisation of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani by the army in July 2016, and the subsequent street violence that broke across Kashmir, the question whether India is gradually losing its grip in the Valley has been discussed ad nauseam in the media. Experts have predicted that the summer of 2017 holds portents to be even more violent than the preceding one.

Security forces in Kashmir guard a deserted street during restrictions in downtown Srinagar. Reuters

Security forces in Kashmir guard a deserted street during restrictions in downtown Srinagar. Reuters

If the latest incident in Chadoora on 28 March is an indicator, they could be correct. The death of three civilians as security forces open fired at a mob to disperse it – which had collected to help a couple of terrorists escape – is just the trigger the ISI propaganda machinery and its provocateurs in the valley required to welcome the onset of summer.

The call for "people’s curfew" is the next step in the escalation process, wherein people will be forced to stay indoors followed by occasional Friday calls from mosques and WhatsApp groups to march to the mosques. Attempts by security forces to intervene would then be met by violence from the marchers.

With the intended target of counter-violence by the security forces achieved, the provocateurs would move on to another site of encounter to enlarge the ambit of the conflict zone. This summer, the ISI has the added incentive of cocking a snook at Army chief General Bipin Rawat’s statement, about treating people who pick up IS and Pakistan flags as "anti-nationals" and promising "tough action" against them.

The idea of the Pakistani deep state and its proxies is to inculcate extreme emotions amongst the Kashmiri populace against the Indian state and to provoke the army to respond to acts of violence with violence of its own. This cycle of violence, the ISI expects, will not only discredit the army in the eyes of the common people but also portray them as an 'occupying force'.

Notwithstanding the layman’s perception that terror attacks are the manifestation of an unthinking mind, which cares for no one, the fact remains that the violence which Kashmir has witnessed is carefully nurtured by sinister minds and is definitely a 'war of ideas'.

The penultimate frontier for these thinking minds is to throw the last standing instrument of the Indian state in J&K, the Indian army, out of gear by opening multiple fronts and then moving in for the kill. The final frontier of the clarion call for the apocalyptic 'Ghazwa-e-Hind' is benumbing to even contemplate.

The only beacon of hope in this grotesque scenario is the army. Despite desperate attempts to provoke the army into taking extreme measures, thereby maligning their fair and just image, they have remained steadfast in their duty. It is to the eternal credit that the army has punished the occasional stray renegades from their fraternity. It has only served to enhance their credentials in the populace.

It is, therefore, incumbent on the army to stop restricting itself to its primary duties of anti-terror drives in the interiors of the state and defending the external borders. It is high time that they join the mind games being played from across the border. Modern warfare is won more in the mind, by influencing the adversary, than on the battle fields. It is this war the army now needs to venture into.

The paradox of Kashmir also lies in the fact that in a democracy, the army is supposed to defend the borders externally and step in for internal duties only in case of exigency. Going by the established norms, it is the political establishment which should have been at the forefront of winning hearts and minds of the people.

The political narrative in the Valley is, however, driven by two parties, the National Conference(NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which have lost all credibility through their own chicanery. Both the alternatives pretend to be holier than thou when in power with a mainstream political party like the BJP or the Congress, and spew venom when in Opposition. So, a Farooq Abdullah will sing paeans for Indian democracy while enjoying power, but will question India’s claim over Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) when in opposition, conveniently ignoring the parliament’s 1994 resolution on the issue.

The Hurriyat is basically a conglomeration of individuals with diverging vested interest pulling along in different directions. Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s pro-Pakistan stance gives him no credibility in the eyes of Indian political and security establishment, Asiya Andrabi’s vituperative Talibani mind-set harks back to the Stone Age, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the most suave of the lot, appears to be flip flopping like a professional politician.

Perhaps his father’s elimination by terrorists acts as a warning signal to desist from talking reason. It is this political vacuum which has been utilised brilliantly by the ISI. They have surreptitiously played up youth like Wani to pull the rug from the beneath the politicians feet. The youth, fed on a heavy dose of Wahabism, combined with the utopia of 'azadi' (freedom) is now being used to hit the streets with venom.

It is exactly because of this altered dynamics that the Indian Army needs to step in. The fact that the institution has remained completely apolitical gives it the advantage in an atmosphere as volatile as Kashmir. The J&K police could also have reached out to the youngsters but the volatility and their local backgrounds ensure that they are seen more as quislings than the supporting hand required at this stage.

Decades of terror and counter-terror violence combined with complete abdication of authority by the politicians has resulted in a situation where mob runs amok and the infrastructure, both moral and physical, is under threat. The army, which has done brilliantly in the counter insurgency grid, is now urgently required to step into the intellectual domain. The time to move out of the barracks to ensure only law and order is now gone. The army now needs to move into the intellectual space and implement Sadhbhavna 2.0.

Operation Sadhbhavna, which was launched in 1997, was a resounding success as the army had stepped into the domain of infrastructure rebuilding and ensured quality service to the people in terms of schools, roads and health sectors. It is the goodwill of Sadbhavna, later increased by yeoman efforts during earthquake and floods, which is standing the army in good stead despite efforts by the adversary to demonise them. One can call it the comeuppance of good karma.

Indian Army soldiers arrive at the site of a gunbattle with suspected militants in Chadoora, on the outskirts of Srinagar, Kashmir. Reuters

Indian Army soldiers arrive at the site of a gunbattle with suspected militants in Chadoora, on the outskirts of Srinagar. Reuters

For execution of Sadbhavna 2.0, the army’s subordinate commanders need to fill the intellectual vacuum in institutions like the Kashmir University, which has become a hot bed for indoctrination and subsequent radicalisation of the youth. It is such places which breed the youngsters who flings stones at the army, or if emboldened further, could become the next Wani.

The fact that the youngsters are still queuing up to joining the army gives reasons for optimism. It is indicative of the fact that the youth still believes in reason and yearns for a comforting hand. It is a war of ideas and any further apathy could gradually tilt scales in favour of the "stone thrower" against the "person cutting stone to build a tunnel."

The outreach to Kashmiri youth has become imperative to avoid a calamitous final settlement through guns, which the ISI and its proxies would be hoping for. It is incumbent upon the army to nurture the youngsters and convince them of the merits of peace and democracy. The army is also best placed to make the youth understand the futility of war and martyrdom, which serves no one except the ISI and its agents.

In an environment of threats and counter threats, it is the army which has the capacity to protect and educate. Its motives will be targeted by many, including from across the border and political leaders within. Yet, this type of conflict flak should worry no one and senior officers must learn how to condition themselves and their subordinates, for a new approach which will hold them in much better stead.

Time is ripe for Sadbhavna 2.0. The generals, ironically, are the ones who now need to be forthright in convincing the politicians. Time for some out-of-the-box thinking and some boldness.

The author is a freelance writer, who has written the novel 'Wolf’s Lair', which deals with terror and its effects


Published Date: Apr 12, 2017 03:12 pm | Updated Date: Apr 12, 2017 04:38 pm

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