Kashmir crisis: After major army 'crackdown' goes awry, strategists should focus on perceptions

After an extraordinarily large cordon and search operation by the army — probably the largest in more than a decade — went awry on Thursday, strategists ought to revisit the relevance of perceptions. For, not only was the army unable to nab militants during the "crackdown," a section of the army was attacked on its return journey.

Already, during the course of the search operation, which an army spokesperson described as a "sweep," the forces had faced large-scale stone-pelting from mobs, which mobilised within the huge cordon. Close to 4,000 men of the army, CRPF and police were deployed from 3 am.

The operation, to comb some 20-odd Jamaat-e-Islami dominated villages in Shopian district for militants, caught none. Soon after 5 pm on Thursday, the General Officer Commanding south Kashmir’s Victor Force, Major General BS Raju, had revealed that the forces were searching a few more villages while taking multiple routes on their way back from the operation.

Indian Army personnel taking positions in an orchard field during a crackdown at a village in Shopian district in South Kashmir on Thursday. PTI

Indian Army personnel taking positions in an orchard field during a crackdown at a village in Shopian district in South Kashmir on Thursday. PTI

The attack by militants occurred thereafter. A key army officer stated that three soldiers suffered minor injuries. Undeterred, the army promptly laid a fresh cordon around the nearby village Baskuchan. The operation was still on at 8 pm.

Favoured by militants

One of the militants whom the army had hoped to nab during the search is Sameer 'Tiger.' Militants are used to roaming openly in that area, but residents of the area said they were in another area on Thursday. One reason could have been that they had better information than the forces did.

Centrally located, the area is a key strategic base for militants, who can count on the security provided by its Jamaat residents’ staunch support. The ambush in which five army personnel, including two officers, were killed in the last week of February is believed to have been launched from this area. This "crackdown" had been planned since then.

Local support

The flow of information, on which the success of such operations hinges on, is best obtained from local support. Conversely, the presence, absence and intensity of stone-pelting too hinges on local support — for one armed side or the other. And local support basically boils down to perceptions of legitimacy — of targets and tactics as much as of ideological positioning.

This issue of legitimacy has become clearly discernible during the past few days among the residents of Kulgam area where militants recently attacked a bank vehicle. Two bank guards and five policemen, all of them Kashmiris, were killed in the attack.

Many residents of the area — and other parts of Kashmir — have expressed distress and disapproval at the killing of the bank employees, particularly one who belonged to a village close to the village of the militant, who is said to have been behind the attack.

The logic apparently is that the policemen were part of the state forces, and had signed up to combat enemies of the state. The bank employees, on the other hand, had not. They were there to protect bank property, including the savings of the bank’s local clients.

Perceptions of legitimacy

The legitimacy issue also plugs in to the apparent motive of the militant who has been identified, apparently by the vehicle’s driver, who was allowed to run when the vehicle was attacked.

Local residents say this militant, Umar Majid Ganai of Shouch village, was probably motivated by a personal desire for revenge against the district police. According to locals, Ganai’s family, including women, were rounded up and beaten by the police during their attempts to locate his whereabouts.

Locals say the police beat up the boy’s father so badly that his ankle was fractured. And the boy’s brother was apparently was kept in lock-up for several weeks, during which he was beaten and tortured.

This narrative has brought to the fore the ways in which violence in such a battleground spirals and the impact of such tactics (of both sides) on the psyche of the local residents. That in turn affects the extent to which those residents assist either side.

Reversed pattern

Mao Tse Tung is said to have observed during the Long March that the support of the local population means as much to a guerrilla effort as water to a duck.

The converse is also true. Militancy petered out in Kashmir, during the middle of the first decade of this century, when Kashmiri villagers by and large refused to give refuge or other help to militants. Rather, they readily supplied information to security forces.

That pattern now stands reversed. Across most parts of the Valley, militants can count on food and shelter and information on the movements of troops.

Not only that, since early 2015, they have increasingly been able to count on little armies of stone-pelters to emerge from adjacent villages to try and ensure that they can escape whenever they are caught in a cordon or in a firefight with the security forces.

Not only teenagers and young men, large numbers of women, even older ones, emerge with stones and brickbats to actively support militants.

Updated Date: May 04, 2017 21:03 PM

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