To solve Kashmir conundrum, India needs political will to carry 'irregular war' into enemy territory

The euphoria over Pakistani DGMO asking for a ceasefire and both India-Pakistan agreeing to abide by the 2003 agreement has been shattered with two BSF jawans were killed and 12 civilians injured on Sunday after Pakistan pounded 10 posts and 35 villages in the Jammu region.

Soon afterward, Indian television news channels labelled Pakistan “coward”, ISI-henchman Masood Azhar publicly declared firing will not cease, and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said that the DGMOs from the two countries must talk. It is the same cycle that follows every such incident because India consistently fails to acknowledge the strategic asymmetry that Pakistan enjoys over India in terms of irregular warfare.

 To solve Kashmir conundrum, India needs political will to carry irregular war into enemy territory

Protesters throw stones on the police in Srinagar on Saturday. PTI

Take a look at the ‘conditional’ ceasefire that was imposed in Jammu and Kashmir during Ramzan on the advice of Mehbooba Mufti. Many write-ups appeared hailing it under the euphuism of Non-Initiation of Combat Operations (NICO). The Americans are leaders in coining terms like NICO — remember the terms “violent terrorism”, “good terrorists”, “bad terrorists”?

From the American perspective, “good terrorists” can continue with their radicalisation programmes till they don’t indulge in “violent terrorism”. But in citing NICO, India forgets that the Americans are not engaged in counter-insurgency on US soil. They can afford a lull in supporting an administration in foreign territory. Instability may be beneficial for continued presence, apart from many other reasons. During NICO, US troops can go into their ‘green’ zones under layers of security.

All this, however, is hardly relevant to Jammu and Kashmir where NICO implies opportunity for terrorists to regroup in the absence of cordon and search operations, and search and destroy missions. Not that any action is taken against armed terrorists who even fire weapons during funerals of those killed!

One major reason cited for NICO in Jammu and Kashmir is that Kashmiri youth were joining militancy in increasing numbers. Militants killed in the Valley rose from 12 in 2014 to 23 in 2015, 33 in 2016 and 80 in 2017. Correspondingly, the number of youth joining militancy rose from 53 in 2014 to 66 in 2015, 88 in 2016 and 131 in 2017. They arrived at the conclusion that conditional ceasefire would deter the youth from joining militancy. Was any analysis done why the youth are joining militancy and what is likely to happen during NICO? What about after Ramzan is over?

A Jammu and Kashmir Police report analysing 43 encounters between November 2016 to April 2018 in which 77 militants were killed while 104 were recruited reveals that almost half the militant recruitments in the Valley after Burhan Wani’s killing was within the 10-kilometre of the residences of the militants killed or the encounter sites. The report says that while new inductions exceed militants killed, 41 percent recruits were within 10 kilometres of encounter sites, 27 percent within 11-20 kilometres and 18 percent within 10-15 kilometres. It also says that the recruitments during 2010-2018 came from 354 villages and that at the beginning of 2018, there were 149 active militants.

The report suggests multiple circumstances that draw a correlation between militants killed in encounters and new inductions. The killing of local militants in encounters is part of a circle that acts as a catalyst to further the recruitment. The report indicates that despite successful operations, militancy, in no way seems to have taken a back seat.

But the above report is silent on many issues like: first, what is the population growth rate in the Valley and the corresponding unemployment rate – after all Wani himself wanted to join the Indian Army and hundreds line up whenever there is army recruitment; second, where, how, and by whom is the radicalisation taking place – including in mosques, schools / madrassas; third, have those inciting the youth been identified (without mentioning names) and have any actions been taken to deter them from carrying out such activities; fourth, what's the status of the de-radicalisation programme, if any; fifth, there's no mention of stone-pelters, their numbers, support base, ineffective counter-actions, etc. Only to say “militancy in no way seems to have taken a back seat” without suggesting what needs to be done is abject surrender.

A number of terrorist-related incidents have taken place during the conditional ceasefire in places like Shopian, Bandipora, and Pulwama. In one incident, a mine protected vehicle (MPV) was blown off with a powerful IED. There are videos on the social media: one showing how locals are welcoming gun-toting militants, and another showing ambush of a security forces patrol in Pulwama, lead scouts caught in the militant fire and a killed soldier being beheaded by the militants. The incident of stone-pelters attacking a CRPF vehicle from last Friday (1 June) from all directions, and the driver in a bid get away trampling two people of which one died, has Srinagar on the boil.

The manner in which India deals with stone-pelters is cowardice; it encourages them to indulge in such activities, and earn money in doing so. The DRDO developed non-lethal laser dazzlers, hand-held and weapon-mounted with a range of 50 metres and 500 metres respectively, and were successfully tested in 2014-2015, but are yet to be deployed. This is despite that two CRPF personnel were stoned to death at Lal Chowk in Srinagar in April this year. What can be more shameful than this?

In the absence of addressing the unemployment and radicalisation (which should be Mehbooba’s focus) and effective psychological operations, the situation is likely to get worse. The release of Azhar resulted in killings of hundreds. The impotence to deal with stone-pelters will make the situation more adverse. Giving Rs 1 crore to the next of kin of the CRPF personnel stoned to death is not the solution. Political will needs to be found to carry the irregular war into enemy territory, not mere talking of ‘surgical strikes’ for electoral purposes. More terror attacks will keep coming till then.

The author is a retired lieutenant-general of the Indian Army.

Updated Date: Jun 04, 2018 09:48:42 IST