Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik has acquired an understanding of the core problem areas.
When Satya Pal Malik was appointed the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, there were a few who raised questions about his lack of familiarity with the state. However, his recent interview with The Indian Express shows that he has quickly acquired an understanding of the core problem areas and, more importantly, shows no hesitation in voicing his views. The message he has conveyed will be viewed positively by the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Governor correctly identified that “we have to kill militancy, not militants. We have to make militancy useless in the eyes of the people”. Many of us have been emphasising this truism and arguing that the real measure of success does not lie in the body count of the terrorists killed but in the rejection of violence by the society. This requires a much more comprehensive multifaceted approach.
When Governor’s rule was imposed in the state in June, the Director General of Police had stated that counter-terror operations would be intensified as it would now be “much easier to work”. This had raised apprehensions that the security forces would now have a ‘free hand’, unencumbered by political oversight. This issue has been laid to rest when the Governor clarified that the Army had never asked to be given a free hand.
The Governor showed his willingness for dialogue, not only with the Hurriyat but also terrorists who are willing to put their guns down. It also appears that the government has decided to put Article 35A on the back burner for now. This could be reassuring for Kashmir.
Now that the tone has been set, how should the rest of the music play out? We have primarily looked at the situation in Jammu and Kashmir as being a threat to our national integrity. While this view is not completely wrong, in looking through the prism of threats, we have often lost sight of opportunities that have come our way. There were many such opportunities in the past that were missed.
If the current spell of the Governor’s rule is to be seen as an opportunity, two players have to play a major part – the central government and the security forces. The Prime Minister’s desire to give Kashmir “the impression that we are their friends”, as Malik recounted, must be backed by visible steps. The Governor has admitted that he does not have the authority to start a political conversation. This initiative will have to come from New Delhi.
It will also do a world of good to keep contentious and divisive issues off the table for the next few months. There are deep suspicions in Kashmir about the intentions of the Centre, particularly with regard to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. If these fears can be allayed, it will provide the right climate for positive engagement with various groups in the state.
Youth engagement requires a strong push. In the past, there has been an attempt to dismiss the youth protesting on the streets as being paid to pelt stones. This absurd classification prevented a real understanding of their deep-rooted angst. The Governor has talked about how young boys are filled with frustration and losing faith in the system and political parties. This comprehension provides a much better basis for trying to find solutions to address the anger of the youth.
The security forces also have a key role. They will do well to remember that achieving a short-term effect cannot always be equated to succeeding. The killing of a terrorist is an essential part of the Army’s role, but if it encourages five others to join terror ranks, there is a need to debate our operational approach. Similarly, large-scale cordon and search operations discourage terrorists from seeking easy shelter, but if they end up alienating the common people, we can think of going back to the earlier practice of intelligence-based, small-team operations.
The human security angle in counter-insurgency operations is extremely important. When people feel secure, they will gravitate towards the government that has provided this environment. If they are insecure, they will lose faith and point fingers at the Army and police who are meant to ensure their safety.
The security forces must critically assess their methodology and metrics for measuring success. Quantifiable metrics based on violence parameters are only a small part of the complex picture in Jammu and Kashmir. Over-reliance on these can sometimes lead to a worsening situation, even as we feel that we are winning.
It can be argued that the current situation in Kashmir looks more like a challenge than an opportunity. This may be true, but in these uncertain times in Jammu and Kashmir, all we will get is some fleeting opportunity. The Governor’s words may provide an opening that, if utilised well, can offer some hope.
The author is Former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command.
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