The unpopular coalition government could not provide the healing touch in Jammu and Kashmir.
The current situation in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly in the Valley, is a classic example of our dithering political strategy.
The Indian Army had created an enabling environment for politics to take centre stage and resolve the problem. Politics did come to the fore, but instead of a solution we saw the revival of the insurgency.
“War is not a performance of senseless passion, but is controlled by political objective,” said military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. This is equally true for an insurgency. Both the insurgents and the government have a political aim and evolve a political strategy, which drives their military strategy. Both strive to win the hearts and minds of the people to garner their support.
Insurgents use force to undermine the state’s authority and to coerce the population to tow their line. The government, on the other hand, uses force to neutralise the insurgents and ensure that its writ runs in the state to bring about economic well-being of the people and resolve their political grievances.
Once a conducive environment has been created, politics must take centre stage and military must fade into the background. There are some historical examples where predominantly force or military means have been used to neutralise insurgencies. However, the same is not possible in a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-lingual democracy like India.
We have contained and managed most of our insurgencies, but have been able to successfully resolve only a few. Mizoram, Punjab and Assam to some extent are the notable examples.
This happens because we do not formalise our political strategy and the political end state we are seeking. Military is utilised to contain and manage the insurgency by tiring out the insurgents and their support base with use of minimum force.
Partial political solutions in form of local elected governments are relied upon to improve the economic well-being and resolve political grievances. Given our political culture, this arrangement never fully satisfies the aggrieved population and insurgencies tend to simmer and revive.
Resurgent nationalistic ideologies have also queered the pitch in recent times. Nationalism has become the dominant face of our public life. Nationalists clamour for a force or military-predominant final solution. Military is egged on by a charged section of the society to abandon its time-proven people-friendly approach.
No healing touch
In 2011, violence in Jammu and Kashmir was on the decline, the number of active terrorists had been reduced to double figures. There was little or no fresh recruitment of local terrorists. The Army had strengthened the counter-infiltration grid and infiltration was down to a trickle. People were tired and wanted to lead a normal life.
This phase continued until 2015. Politically, a great opportunity was lost and despite having elected governments no headway was made. The previous central government relied on talks with Pakistan to find a solution and did not focus adequately to engage the stakeholders in the state.
The current government made a promising beginning. Sample the speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a rally in Sher-e-Kashmir stadium in Srinagar on 8 December 2014. Referring to the sacrifice of soldiers during Kashmir floods, he said: “Bhaiyo aur behno, apni jaan ki baazi laga kar ke bhi, logon ki raksha karna, yeh hamara mantra raha hai (We will save lives at the cost of our lives; that is our motto)”.
“Pehli baar sena ne press conference kar ke kaha ki jo do naujawan maare gaye the, woh sena ki galti thi. Aur sena ne apni galti mani… Aur isliye mere Kashmir ke bhaiyo aur behno, main aapko nyay dilane ke liye aaya hoon (In a first, the Army admitted at a press conference that the killing of the two youths was a mistake. I have come ensure justice for the people),” he said at the rally.
There was expectation in the air. Even sceptics were optimistic, but politics failed to deliver and insurgency saw a revival in Jammu and Kashmir. The unpopular coalition government could not provide the healing touch. There was no worthwhile political engagement. The coalition partners worked at cross purposes to pursue own ideological agendas. Special status of the state was questioned. A 25-year-old insurgency was now looked at as a law and order problem.
People got frustrated, which manifested into violent mass agitations, which were handled with crude use of force. Resurgent nationalism clamoured for a crackdown. Stage was set for the revival of the insurgency after the summer of unrest in 2016.
A fresh opportunity
A great opportunity was lost, but it has come knocking again after two-and-a-half years. The security forces through a concerted campaign have brought the situation under control. The military battle is once again on the threshold of being won.
It is my assessment that by summer of 2019 the stage would be set for politics to once again take centre stage. Hopefully by then, both the Centre and the state will have new governments. I hope the politicians, media and the public rise to the occasion and we collectively do not fail our nation, and the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Lt Gen H.S. Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post-retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal.