Rajnath Singh's announcement on new battalions in Jammu and Kashmir serves little purpose except political posturing

Home Minister Rajnath Singh stated on 8 June that nine new battalions will be raised in Jammu and Kashmir. These nine battalions will comprise two ‘Border Battalions’ dedicated to border areas; five India Reserve Battalions (IRB) with 60 percent workforce from border areas, and two women battalions for deployment in “Jammu and Kashmir divisions” — presumably one each to the north and south of the Pir Panjal Range.

Other announcements made by Rajnath Singh during his visit included: 14,460 bunkers (1,431 community and 13,029 individual) costing Rs 450 crore to be built as protection against enemy shelling; ex-gratia amounts to families of shelling victims raised from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 5 lakh, removing stipulation of three years' fixed deposit; cash assistance for Kashmiri migrants enhanced by 30 percent and benefiting 22,000 families — each family getting Rs 13,000 compared to Rs 10,000 earlier, and Rs 5.50 lakh compensation to each family of Pakistani refugees, benefitting 5,764 refugees.

The raising of nine battalions together is a bonanza for Jammu and Kashmir, but what quantum of surrendered militants are we willing to enroll? In 2014, Rajnath Singh announced the raising of one auxiliary battalion each in BSF and SSB from surrendered militants of Manipur and Assam, but the idea was shot down. In Nagaland, one faction of the Nagas was absorbed as a separate BSF unit. While they were hardly employed in operations, there was reduced violence in places where they were located. Surrendered militants and supporters did find jobs in the state police forces of Nagaland and Manipur, but with no effect on the resentments and aspirations that gave rise to militancy in the first place.

 Rajnath Singhs announcement on new battalions in Jammu and Kashmir serves little purpose except political posturing

File image of home minister Rajnath Singh. PTI

In Jammu and Kashmir, raising of the Ikhwan ul-Muslimeen in the early 1990s was a success. This force was later converted into the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the Jammu and Kashmir Police. Presently, there are ‘Home and Hearth’ battalions, part of the Territorial Army under the ‘sons-of-the-soil’ concept. However, their workforce is used for intelligence support in joint operations, not for operations at unit/sub-unit levels. But despite these, the situation in the state has deteriorated over the past few years. This proves that merely turning some militants into ‘stakeholders’ is not the solution. It can be assumed that these nine additional battalions will beef up the existing security grid (unless they are ‘replacements’ for CRPF battalions) for keeping violence levels low, but that would be all.

The raising of nine battalions seems to have been done with an eye on the elections. However, spacing them over the last four years may have been a better signal. This may also increase resentment elsewhere: Ladakhis have been saying for years that they are neglected because they did not pick up the gun; Nagas have been demanding the raising of additional Naga battalions in the Army; Manipuris question why there is no Manipur regiment although there is an Assam Regiment and a Naga Regiment. On the lighter side, with the army facing a tremendous cash crunch, as explained in the Parliament’s Standing Committee report (though rubbished by the defence minister), the joke going around is that the military may be better off under the home ministry when it comes to funds.

The deployment areas of the new battalions need to be viewed in conjunction with increased radicalisation and the consequent threat to the families of the personnel, considering recent targeted killings and beheadings. In the early 1990s, two Assam Rifles Battalions (7 and 26 Assam Rifles) deployed in Jammu and Kashmir performed exceptionally well (both winning COAS Unit Citations). One factor which was relevant was that their families back home were safe. By the looks of it, the Centre will likely extend the ceasefire beyond Ramzan, even with violence continuing at the same — or a greater — level. This will be despite the fact that such a ceasefire provides an opportunity for terrorists to regroup.

Notwithstanding the recent handshake between Narendra Modi and Pakistan president Mamnoon Hussain, the military holds total power in Pakistan, and expecting it to change would be foolish. The ISI has enough indigenous militants in Jammu and Kashmir. Besides, JeM, LeT and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) work closely to target India.

Union minister Jitendra Singh recently stated that no decision would be taken which might undermine the morale of the security forces operating in Jammu and Kashmir. However, Rajnath Singh has said that FIRs against security personnel are being taken up with the Jammu and Kashmir government. Such a step ends up mocking the security forces. Is there any other country in the world where FIRs are lodged against army personnel by the police for doing the work of the police, in which the latter had failed in the first place?

The Centre and the home minister are complicit in letting Mehbooba Mufti release stone-pelters periodically, despite the fact that there has been live reporting of such incidents. It is extremely unfortunate that Rajnath Singh has not even tried to arrest and prosecute the people who stoned to death two CRPF personnel at Lal Chowk, Srinagar on 4 April, 2018. It is a terrible shame to meekly accept the murder of security personnel, and no other country would accept this. The 5-Cs programme (compassion, communication, co-existence, confidence-building measures and consistency) can be summed up in one word – ‘appeasement.’ Such a programme ignores Chanakya’s teaching of ‘saam’, ‘daam’, ‘dand’, ‘bhed’.

The ironic part is the manner in which the Hurriyat is being given importance once again. First, it was given a free hand to visit the Pakistani High Commission, after which there was some half-hearted action due to evidence of their links to Pakistan and terrorist funding. Secondly, it was allowed to radicalise youth, as intelligence agencies believed that the organisation is 'irrelevant.'

On balance, Rajnath Singh’s announcements may be useful in elections, but will not serve much of a purpose beyond that — unless the administration is improved and radicalised is addressed. The extent of violence will keep going up and down. However, as regards transporting the proxy war into enemy territory, this government hasn't shown any resolve in the past four years.

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Updated Date: Jun 11, 2018 21:34:51 IST