This can be a make or break moment in Jammu and Kashmir, but hardly the time to cut back Indian Army deployment

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) reported in Parliament on Tuesday (9 July 2019) that in the first six months of 2019 the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed improvement with terror-related incidents seeing a 28 percent decline; infiltration reduced by 43 percent, local recruitment declined by 40 percent and neutralisation of terrorists increased by 22 percent.

 This can be a make or break moment in Jammu and Kashmir, but hardly the time to cut back Indian Army deployment

File image of Home Minister Amit Shah. Twitter/@BJP4India

There is no reason to disbelieve data presented to Parliament because manifestation on the ground also points to an improving situation in the state. However, when the security situation improves in Jammu and Kashmir there are far more questions to be asked because this isn’t the first time that such a phenomenon has been witnessed. Many times in the past prospects of peace have been evident, only to see a complete downturn shortly thereafter. The situation in hybrid conflict conditions cannot remain static; either way, it will improve or deteriorate as per the pull and push by stakeholders.

In the past when such situations presented themselves government initiatives were either begging, unenergetic or simply not thought through. This time it could be different because at the helm of affairs is a Minister of Home Affairs who appears to have a far better understanding, has the wherewithal to take initiatives, is politically more powerful than any of his predecessors in recent memory and has great experience in coordination. Amit Shah’s recent visit to Kashmir appeared to give this perception to most keen observers of Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, many were surprised by the optics and the substance of the visit. However, a few facts need to be stated.

Although the government is not projecting that everything has been turned around in Jammu and Kashmir it will need to be mindful of the fact that indicators of absence or reduction of violence do not necessarily indicate normality. In hybrid conflict involving irregular warfare, neutralisation of terrorists addresses only the periphery of the problem. The continuum is provided by four parameters -- human resources (includes infiltration of terrorists and recruitment), overground workers or OGWs, ideology, and financial networks which include war waging material.

What the home ministry is reporting to the Parliament is a single parameter; covered by the strength of terrorists, infiltration and recruitment. When there exist all other parameters the feasibility of resurgence remains high. The other truism is that at most times in the past a short period of relative peace in a particular segment has been taken as normality and redeployment of forces has been done to reinforce other relatively more volatile areas. This has invariably upset the equilibrium gained. I mention this because already there is a clamour for reduction of the army’s footprint in the current situation. The flagship organisation which spearheads the campaign must not see a reduction without completing the job it has been deployed for.

Although the home ministry may not have given figures and statistics for the remaining parameters indicated above there is every indication that dedicated efforts quite different from the past are underway or already well emplaced. It may be early to assess how far these have been successful. It is also difficult to judge whether the overall success in combatting and neutralising terrorists has come because of improved strategy and coordination or because of a temporary pullback by Pakistan in its support to the separatist elements and terror organisations. Pakistan is under intense international pressure and the strictures placed by the demands of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) do not give it much leeway. The government must be given the credit for exploiting the available window provided by Pakistan’s back step; such opportunities come fleetingly.

What is lesser known is that the decision to commence addressing the 'eco-system' which drives separatism, terrorism and OGW networks probably came two years ago. Before that it was well known to all that Jammu and Kashmir functioned under a nefarious influence of well-placed functionaries, a tardy bureaucracy and a biased anti-national media. Those dealing with security repeatedly pointed this out but in the absence of any cognisance of this, failed to take it further. The disconnect that New Delhi had with ground realities in Jammu and Kashmir did not allow any out of the box thinking or acceptance of ideas.

Two years ago the National Investigation Agency was probably tasked to target the financial networks. In the past before this, the terror-stricken area had seen no control over these networks with money flowing from abroad into separatist coffers even through legitimate channels but utilised for anti-national activities. Probably the NIA’s initial success revealed what the state was up against and we could witness over the next couple of months a much more synchronized and focused effort to neutralise the financial networks. A parallel effort will need to be launched against OGW networks other than those involving finances. The Jammu and Kashmir CID has enough information on these and needs only empowerment and backing to execute its campaign.

Shah’s visit to Kashmir has been able to communicate the government’s clear intent. After a long time sources in Kashmir are saying that the government appears keen to negate the perception that Jammu and Kashmir’s separatist and terror industry has virtual official backing due to apathy and lack of initiative. Many within the local population who at times question the corruption prevalent in the system and the inability of the administration to deliver quality governance now appear enthused. Can this be the make or break moment in Jammu and Kashmir? It can, provided the government does not get over-enthused by the initial success and attempt to drive too hard. Balance is the watchword.

The separatists have been emasculated but not paralysed. Both they and Pakistan would look for ways for re-gingering things to their advantage through triggers. It happened in 2008 when an innocuous direction, involving ecological protection, by the governor for the land under the ownership of the Amarnath Shrine Board was deliberately misperceived and manipulated towards triggering a season of disorder. It actually paved the path to three years of paralysis in Jammu and Kashmir.

There are demands from overenthusiastic quarters to immediately abrogate Article 35A and commence the process for removal of Article 370. Nothing could be as disastrous as this and the government has a sense of history and the maturity of appreciating what this could lead to. Its carefully crafted strategy which appears succeeding could come unstuck pushing us back to contesting street turbulence and an eventual constitutional initiative could be pushed back even further.

There is one issue the government appears to be struggling with, although it has identified the threat for quite some time now. That is the obviously enhanced footprint of Islamic radicalism which helps drive greater alienation gives more space to anti-national elements. Due to insufficient understanding of the dynamics of Islamic radicalism, there is hesitation and lack of will. Both have to be overcome if a final and comprehensive push has to be undertaken to neutralise perpetrators of violence, anti-national activity and separatism in Jammu and Kashmir.

Updated Date: Jul 11, 2019 09:16:13 IST