Jammu and Kashmir: De-radicalisation will require planning and a counter-narrative
Recently, J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti urged the police to try to bring youths who have fled their homes to join militancy back to the mainstream. She makes it sound so easy.
Speaking at a recent Police Commemoration Day function, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti urged the police to try to bring youths who have fled their homes to join militancy back to the mainstream. "I request the police to try to bring them back to their homes. Instead of being killed in encounters, if it is possible to bring them back, make them a part of the mainstream, give them bats, balls and good education, instead of guns," she said. According to her, those who have taken up arms are local boys: Didn’t she miss the foreign terrorists? She stressed that ending militancy and restoring peace were a prerequisite for repealing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (Afspa) and to seek the starting of the dialogue process in the state. She said that "black laws" like Afspa would be repealed from the state when the situation improves.
Mehbooba makes it sound so very easy.
All the police needs to do is try and flick the switch that will bring the wayward youths back to the mainstream. So it is the job of the police to do so and then the state authorities can repeal the black laws (read Afspa) and everything will be hunky dory once again. Of course the gullible public will not know that removing Afspa is very much in her power; all she needs to do is to have the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Area Act removed and the army will happily go back to its primary task of defending the borders with Afspa automatically being removed. The catch, of course, is that should she have the Disturbed Area Act removed without creating conditions to do so (bring normalcy back), she and her government — largely ineffective anyway — will be at the mercy of terrorists. Not that she doesn’t know that neither did the army draft or ask for Afspa, nor does the army enjoy deployments in the hinterland against its own public. And yet, Afspa is essential if the army is to control violence in a better manner than police forces.
Militancy is generally associated with politico-socio-economic problems but in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, the Pakistan factor (now fully backed by China) outweighs other factors. Adoption of the Wahhabi-Salafi culture in Pakistan has been institutionalised in Pakistan over the past several years. Pervez Hoodbhoy, nuclear physicist at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad wrote in 2008, “The promotion of militarism in Pakistan’s schools, colleges and universities has had a profound effect on young people. Militant jihad has become a part of the culture in college and university campuses, with armed groups inviting students for jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan.”
It is this same Wahhabi-Salafi culture that Pakistan has been able to induce in the Kashmir Valley, gradually but consistently, using clerics and Hurriyat separatist leaders — whose presence is infiltrated by trained terrorists, arms, narcotics and money. The insistence of our intelligence agencies that Hurriyat separatists are “irrelevant” has helped Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. It is an open secret that militants in Jammu and Kashmir are being financed by China, and the Chinese have established huge control over Kashmiri separatist leaders. The recent discovery of Chinese flags from terrorist hideouts in Baramulla provides further evidence of China’s nefarious designs.
Mufti is out of sync saying those that have taken up arms are local youths.
What about the hundreds of foreign terrorists that have been killed over the years?
What about the anti-India venom being broadcast from loudspeakers atop mosques?
Is it the voice of some rabid mullahs or is it others who hold the clerics hostage?
What about the daily separatist diktat in the vernacular dailies?
Are all these again supposed to be righted by the same switch the police is required to flick?
What about subversion of some members of the police force?
How do the conditions compare with that of early 1990s when Pakistan had the upper hand when it came to Jammu and Kashmir militancy?
In his autobiography Gorkha Hat and Maroon Beret, Lietenant-General Chandra Shekhar (former Vice-Chief of Army Staff) describes the period of the early 1990s when Pakistani, Afghan and Arab terrorists were fighting in Jammu and Kashmir, parts of the state police were subverted, one battalion of the armed police had to be disarmed, and in one instance, the state's home secretary Habib Rehman and then director-general of police BS Bedi were taken hostage in the police control room. The army had to deploy infantry combat vehicles (ICVs) to secure their release, fortunately without firing a shot. In the present situation, weren’t many police stations attacked, abandoned and arms looted?
What exactly is the Jammu and Kashmir government doing to stem the replacement of the Sufi culture by hardliner Wahhabi-Salafi preaching? This is not the job of security forces even if they can assist in information warfare. Speaking about Pakistani designs in Afghanistan, a Pakistani military scholar describes the Pakistan-sponsored Taliban that regards regard all Shias, Ismailis, non-Pashtuns, moderate Pashtuns as infidels who deserve to be massacred. Pakistan will plan similarly for Jammu and Kashmir using Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizbul Mujahideen etc.
The state government’s attitude of just sitting back and letting security forces keep levels of violence down amounts to a sure recipe for disaster. De-radicalisation is no joke. It has to be a well thought-out strategy and in Jammu and Kashmir, must include the hardliner Wahhabi-Salafi preachers and clerics that may need to be tackled through multiple methods. As for the youths, just saying they should return to play with bats and balls is hardly enough.
De-radicalisation must be a strategy that is employed on a continuous basis at the personal level, aided by modern technology as applicable. De-radicalisation programs must have a separate focus for select communities, regions, teachers, youths, children, mothers, apprehended terrorists along with the population at large that could support terrorists. The discourse of Muslim leaders should be part of the de-radicalisation programs. The education system must be integrated into the national mainstream. Ethics and true nationalism should form part of the education system. The introduction of the National Cadet Corps in most schools and colleges will be fruitful. Communities must be kept informed and empowered to challenge radical ideology. Psychological operations should include exposing terrorist abuses, conditions in PoK vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir, and that Pakistan as the epicentre of terrorism has brought ridicule to Muslims and Islam globally. Alternatives to expend youth energies and employment opportunities must be part of the program. Finally, the de-radicalisation programs must be periodically reviewed in relation to the ongoing radicalisation, to ensure it is effective and course-corrections are made, where required.
Civil society can contribute greatly in preventing and countering terrorism rather than encourage terrorism especially since it gives voice to the marginalized and vulnerable people and victims of terrorism, generating awareness and providing constructive outlet for redress of grievances. Non-traditional actors like NGOs, foundations, charities, public-private partnerships and private businesses are capable and credible partners in local communities. Despite Pakistan-sponsored propaganda, the public needs to be sensitised that our army respects human rights far more than Pakistan where aerial bombings and artillery barrages are used periodically with scant regard to collateral damage.
Finally, the adoption of a proactive approach in countering proxy wars is imperative for establishing an effective deterrence, and for controlling enemy faultlines instead of the enemy controlling ours. This should include a dynamic information warfare strategy. The situation in Jammu and Kashmir sure needs a national response but the state government has a major role to play in this and can’t simply depend on security forces for the return of normalcy.
The author is a veteran Lieutenant-General of the Indian Army
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