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Keep militants on the run in J&K

Over the past years, many ‘solutions’ to the Kashmir problem have emerged from time to time: a US sponsored ‘way forward’ that lead nowhere; the pressure tactic of an ‘autonomy report’; ‘Track II Diplomacy’ and a great deal of meddling by entirely well-intentioned but not particularly well-informed individuals; the release of the Hurriyat leaders and the fitful initiation of ‘talks’ with them; and a short-lived unilateral declaration of cease fire by one of the major terrorist groups active in J&K, the Hizb-ul-Mujahiddeen. By and large, none of these initiatives reflected any clear perspective on the problem, any coherent vision of a process of resolution, and, certainly, none worked to a visible plan. Each had, in fact, the character of a gamble – the arbitrary introduction of a new variable in the prevailing equation backed up with the unfounded hope that ‘things may work out for the better’. They worked out, in fact, much for the worse, further destabilizing an already unstable situation, and causing greater bloodshed than has become the norm in this hapless State. It is now time to make an objective assessment whether the current suspension of offensive operations against terrorists in J&K, presently in the latter half of its third month, should be added to this listing of aimless gambits.

It is regrettable but true that, despite decades of experience with terrorism, India and its institutional structures of governance appear to learn nothing from the past. There is, instead, a constant harping on simplistic, content-free slogans – such as the insistence on a ‘political solution’, without any clear definition of what such a solution could be, and without elaboration on what norms are to apply to measure its transitional successes and failures. There is, moreover, a complete absence of understanding of the fact that, just as the use of force has its inherent limitations, so has politics. What the one can do, the other cannot. There is a great deal of talk about the need for a political solution – and this is correct. But the search for a political solution is not a necessary exclusion of the military option. It cannot mean that the army and the paramilitary forces must first, suddenly and arbitrarily, be immobilized or withdrawn from the area of conflict so that ‘politics’ can come into play. Such a strategy of abandonment simply hands over the Valley to the terrorist warlords and their puppeteers in Pakistan.

A great deal has now been written about the peace process in Kashmir. But there is, in fact, no such animal in existence. The unilateral declaration of a suspension of offensive operations against terrorism cannot be termed a ‘peace process’. This is, at best, a tactical ploy to create international pressure on Pakistan to curtail support to terrorists operating from its soil. At this level, it appears to be working. There has been a cessation of cross border artillery exchanges and small arms fire between the Indian and Pakistani Army units stationed along the LoC. The Indian defense establishment has, however, rubbished Pakistan’s claim of significant withdrawal of forces along the LoC. Nevertheless, the Pakistan leadership has been forced to initiate at least some apparent moves to curb the activities of the jehadis within that country, and there have been announcements that the military government there would prevent the collection of funds for the ‘jehad’ and the open display of weapons by extremist groups. I am, however, extremely skeptical of the eventual impact of all these moves. The fact is, the terrorists are clearly instruments of the Pakistani state, and, on the Kashmir issue, their interests are identical with those of the present regime. While there may be some tactical shifts on both sides in order to pander to international opinion, the ground situation will remain the same, and in the event of any weakness on the part of the Indian government, the bloodshed in J&K will only escalate. To believe otherwise is merely wishful thinking.

Consequently, irrespective of what ‘political solution’ is pursued or secured, it is my firm conviction that, as long as the terrorists are not given everything they want – and they don’t just want Kashmir, if you read what they say, you will know that they think of Kashmir only as a gateway to the rest of India – they will keep on killing. Terrorism will eventually have to be defeated on the ground through the use of force. This does not exclude a political solution to the problems of J&K. But such a solution has to be negotiated with the political players there, not with terrorist warlords based in Pakistan. Here it is important also to distinguish between terrorism and any other political or economic problems within the State. Terrorism is no longer a ‘Kashmiri’ problem. It is an export and an imposition sourced from Pakistan. Terrorism itself will have to be resolved through the use of force. There can and must be no negotiations with terrorists – though there are strong lobbies who believe that there should be. Such negotiations only strengthen the terrorists, not only within these areas of conflict, but elsewhere as well, wherever criminal opportunists and violent groups believe they can secure similar results by resorting to the same methods. There has been a gross underestimation of the ‘demonstration effect’ of terrorist actions, especially where these secure even qualified success, and this can prove, over time, to be suicidal for all of civilization.

It is now time to assess the impact of the present suspension of offensive operations in terms of morale and effectiveness of the Security Forces in J&K. There have been several demoralizing attacks against the SFs themselves, and some utterly barbaric incidents involving civilians. It is a fact, however, that, in the first two months of the one sided ‘cease fire’ the total number of fatalities has gone down, in comparison to the months preceding the cessation of offensive operations, but fatalities among civilians have risen, and there is an atmosphere of fear and rising disorder in the State. There has, moreover, been a significant worsening of the ratio of security personnel and terrorists killed: in the first two months of the ‘cease fire’ this was 1:1.97, as against 1:3.04 in the first seven months of the year 2000. The worst element in the current scenario, however, is the sense of impotence that has been imposed by the bar against offensive operations. It is difficult for fighting men and those sworn to the protection of law and order to understand the wisdom of a decision that tells them that they cannot act against criminals and terrorists, even when they have specific information regarding their whereabouts and activities, until after they have actually struck. Nevertheless, I do not believe that there has been any excessive loss of morale on the ground at this point. How long the spirits of the SFs can be sustained at existing levels in the face of continued attacks and the present one-sided ‘cease fire’ is, however, a moot question.

The course of current events is particularly unfortunate in view of the changing ground situation in recent years, and the increasing confidence, especially among the local police force. The State Police appears to be more willing to take on the militants than was the case in the early phase of terrorism in the State. This is at least in part a consequence of the change in public perceptions. The erosion of popular support to the terrorists, accentuated by the increasing activities of terrorists of foreign origin, gives the local police a clearer mandate to act against the ‘jehadis’. This is very important, especially in view of the fact that these policemen are drawn from local communities themselves, and are not only influenced by the popular sentiment, but are also vulnerable to attacks on their families. This base in the local communities can also be a source of extraordinary strength, once cooperation from the people increases. Information flows from the public regarding the movements of terrorists have been steadily increasing over the past months, and this is another reason for numerous successful operations by the security forces, especially in the months preceding the declaration of suspension of offensive operations. I believe that, if they were not asked to fight with their hands tied behind their backs – as is the present case – the police and SFs could be enormously effective in their fight against the terrorists now, and are capable of explicitly defeating the militancy in the State.

(Published in The Pioneer, February 17, 2001)





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