Kashmir quagmire: As Pakistan-sponsored terror won't stop, Narendra Modi must counter ISI proxies and strive for peace
Militant attacks continued in Jammu and Kashmir even though the government had suspended anti-terror operations in the Valley.
While security and intelligence officials held a closed-door meeting with India's top decision-makers on 15 June to discuss the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, a senior officer working at the North Block lamented the fact that the youth in the Valley born after 1990 had only seen violence and were exposed to the separatist ideology that hardened their mindset. To this problem, the official had a solution — he suggested focussing on the "need for social engineering and making efforts to involve youth in creating positive public opinion".
One of his colleagues, the chief of a paramilitary force, piped in with another suggestion to bring peace in the Kashmir Valley: "The credibility of the government should be established and the role of the army minimised." He emphasised the need to reduce the footprints of security forces in villages and towns in Kashmir that were affected by Pakistan-sponsored terror to make the government and governance more visible and effective.
How can a government achieve this? Well, they did try a small-scale experiment by suspending operations against terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir during Ramzan.
Despite the decision on 'non-initiation of combat operations', the violence continued. Just before Eid, the brutal murders of senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari and Indian Army rifleman Aurangzeb had a grievous impact on the peace process, which experts and analysts are now examining to ascertain whether it was a hasty decision by the government or a good move that lacked ground work.
While the government on Sunday decided to not extend the suspension of anti-terror operations in Jammu and Kashmir, the move will continue to be debated, praised and criticised for days to come, as will the report that the situation on the ground was turning from bad to worse, and that security threats are beginning to resemble ones from the 1990s.
However, during the high-level meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to know how the Class 10 and Class 12 board exams saw nearly 100% attendance from students, as the figures contradicted their large involvement in street protests. A senior officer observed that “a large number of people participated in protests not because of conviction, but out of fear of separatists and trouble-makers”. He tried to explain that the people of Kashmir, including the youth, want peace in the Valley, but a handful of Pakistani proxies operating in the region were trying to derail the process. The need of the hour is a healthy engagement of the youth in constructive activities as they are at the risk of getting disillusioned and radicalised by separatist propaganda.
The unilateral suspension of offensives was a step in the right direction and a big gamble by the Modi government in its efforts to bring peace. It is a well-established fact that any effort by the Centre to restore peace in Kashmir will be met by a higher-level of violence by Pakistan-based terror groups, those that operate at the behest of the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen and their silent separatist supporters in the Valley would sacrifice youth and other civilians to ensure that efforts towards peace initiated by Delhi are killed in the womb. A security officer was of the view that forces on the ground must launch operations to hunt down terror commanders, their financiers and supporters of ISI proxies. "We need to strike terror in the heart of Pakistani proxies and those misleading the youth with their sinister propaganda," he said. "The forces need to consider very carefully how to plan long term-operations, pledging to uproot the terror factories operating in the neighbourhood."
Another senior officer serving in Jammu and Kashmir said that the Pakistani intelligence and terror groups have sustained their operation in the Valley for 30 years, and to dismantle their network and outsmart Pakistan's nefarious design, the political leadership needed to take innovative steps. He added that local recruitment and the recent attacks on security personnel and civilians remains a major concern, and if not neutralised, terrorists would try to do everything possible to disrupt upcoming the Amarnath Yatra.
"Since the suspension of (anti-terror) operations has been revoked, we must re-deploy our strength to launch offensives in certain pockets of South Kashmir, where Pakistan-sponsored terrorists are thriving," the officer said. "This could be a security approach to normalise the situation, as intercepts at listening posts clearly indicate increased infiltration from across the border, and we have seen that the level of violence against security forces rose in the one month. We also need to fight the propaganda of separatists, who are peddling Pakistan's political and strategic interests. We need to fiercely fight them, too, and this will be more difficult than fighting terrorists."
Will the Modi government embrace new initiatives for peace along with sustained security operations? Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh is willing to take bold steps, and during his recent visit to Jammu and Kashmir, he made it clear that it was his government's responsibility to provide a secure future for the youth of the state. However, there is one pertinent question: Is the state government — a coalition of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Peoples Democratic party — ready and capable to the cast governance net far and wide to counter propagandists? "Perhaps not," said a top security brass at the meeting. He also highlighted the issues of bad governance and corruption in the Valley and stressed the immediate need for civic action programmes.
An officer from Jammu and Kashmir, during the discussion, emphasised the need to "continue police action against trouble-makers", but he also cautioned that the state government must embark on the peace process with proper preparation to counter the discourse of the separatists in the Valley. "The majority wants peace, and commitment from the government may open up a new window to establish a relationship with the young generation," he said. "The recruitment of local youth on a larger scale can be helpful in dealing with stone pelting."
An idea that was thrown around at the meeting was taking a "differential approach to deal with foreign and local militants", which security forces have already undertaken to wean them away from the clutches of their Pakistani handlers, involving their family members to ensure that they give up their weapons. Like an officer from the North East said: "Issues in the Valley should be dealt with by taking enough time to contain the drift, and efforts should be made to address the youth. They should be given exposure to rest of the country."
Prime Minister Modi knows that Pakistan uses recruits as cannon fodder, and as he told security officers, he had experienced this first hand during his visit to the Valley in the 1990s when he interacted with militants, who had surrendered, in jails. While identifying and targetting ISI proxies should be priority for security forces and executed with clinical expertise, the state and local administration should follow the words of the home minister and strive to create an environment free of terror and violence, changing the "tasveer" (image) and "taqdeer" (fate) of the Valley.
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