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An unintended effect of Modi govt’s Kashmir lockdown – militants caught in their own trap

Militants in Kashmir have run into what Mao Zedong would call ‘contradictions of purpose’.

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Every insurgency reaches a critical stage where some imperceptible shift in strategy changes the nature of the campaign, guaranteeing success or failure. Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, used to call it “contradictions of purpose”. The basic idea was to use civilians as human shields, and force the state’s security apparatus to overreact and alienate the local population.

However, when state forces don’t fall into the trap, it’s usually the insurgents who start losing popular support. By torching apple orchards, attacking traders, and killing an apple trucker and a stone crusher, militants in the Valley are simply betraying their desperation and sowing the seeds of their own irrelevance. The unintended consequence of the communications blackout was that the security forces couldn’t react even if they wanted to, but the “contradictions of purpose” brought upon by the Narendra Modi government with its 5 August move have refracted to start impacting the militants in the Valley.

Orchards provide cover

To understand why this has happened, we need to understand why apples and stone crushing are important to Kashmiri militants. Apple orchards have only one house in the middle of a large tract of land, insulated from prying eyes in villages and smaller towns where everyone knows everyone else. With the foliage growing outwards up to 12 feet, an apple tree blocks the line of sight and makes for the perfect cover for militants to move around freely. Apples being highly nutritious, an apple orchard thus creates a perfect ecosystem to harbour insurgents coming from a hazardous border-crossing.

A view of the packaging crates taken from full height to show the masking properties of apple trees and how short they are | Photo: Abhijit Iyer-Mitra | ThePrint

Unfortunately for the militants, the apple orchard owners are also the biggest source of intelligence for security forces, as I learned in the core apple-growing districts of south Kashmir – Shopian and Pulwama. About 90 per cent of the actionable human intelligence comes from these cultivators, who accept payment from militants to give them shelter but inform the security forces the moment they leave. This is done for two reasons: first, nobody wants a shootout in their orchard; and second, the reward for handing over a militant is far too good for subsistence farmers to resist.

Also read: After 3 killings in one day, traders told to load trucks on highways & main roads

When militants act, forces react

The apple harvest also dictates the cadence of the insurgency and counterinsurgency operations. Given the extreme danger of operating in the August-October harvest season, when the apple trees are dense, security forces avoid going into the orchards. This is usually when militants plan most of their attacks, putting the foliage to good use. When the trees start shedding in mid-October and go completely barren by November, security forces go hunting. One of the greatest worries of the local security commanders was that the blocking of mobile services had completely shut them off from this timely intelligence that they needed during August-September to fend off terror attacks from mid-October onwards.

Looking back, we can now say it was probably for the good since we know other forces were also at work. The orders from Pakistan dictated a complete halt to economic activity, to “show solidarity with the Kashmir cause”. In effect, this made the insurgents forcibly turn on their biggest benefactor in the valley – the apple farmers. The first turning point came in mid-September when an orchard was burnt down and a cultivator family was attacked in Sopore.

In the past, the smooth running of the apple business was seen as critical to the functioning of militancy, so it came as a surprise to the cultivators that this was no longer the case. During my visit, I filmed the gathering of the early September crop of the “Kullu” variety having been successfully evacuated by stealth, mostly at night, for fear of militant retaliation, and preparations were underway to do the same for the October harvest between 5th and 15th, which includes the Maharaji and Delicious varieties. Clearly, the rise in violence against apple farmers and their orchards indicates that instead of cowing down the farmers, the militants have only succeeded in aggravating them. And so, once mobile services are fully restored, the quantum of tip-offs is only going to rise.

Also read: Modi govt’s plan to empower Kashmir economically & disempower politically will cost India

Business that provides finance

The stone crushing is a different story altogether. Dominated by mafia groups across India, the situation in Kashmir is no different. Much of what happens, happens illegally. In my interviews with stone crushers from Jharkhand at a clearly illegal operation, the workers told me they had been well looked after. Within days of the mobile blackout, the quarry owners had provided them with landline phones with free calls to home. The local police, however, confirmed that the stone-crushing business continues to attract protection from higher echelons.

At the site of a brick kiln in Kashmir | Photo: Abhijit Iyer-Mitra | ThePrint

They also confirmed the existence of a “hafta” model where quarry owners would pay militants a fee to be left alone, unlike the informal arrangement mining companies have in the Naxal belt. While there was no unanimity on this (primarily because money laundering is one of the weakest points of both intel and security operations in the Valley), officers estimate that anywhere between 40 and 70 per cent of local operating funds comes from such extortion by militants.

To sum up, apple orchards provide the cover and stone quarrying the finances for significant parts of the Kashmir militancy. The fact that these two critical assets are being attacked, shows that in some form, the Indian state has reversed the “contradictions of purpose” onto the militants, who are now not just preventing people from earning their livelihood but also compromising their own operational advantages due to orders from Islamabad. Delhi may or may not have realised this, but this could very well be the turning of the tide, where Pakistan’s insurgency strategy is at direct variance with its diplomatic need to “internationalise the dispute”.

The author is a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets @iyervval. Views are personal. 

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  1. Don’t talk about bplebiscite now, many countries and many states will break if we start taking opinions of people now. Over the past few hundred years Pandits and other Hindus were converted, killed and forced to leave their mother land, also increase population by population growth. Who was ruling Kashmir at the time of accession to India? Who were living in Kashmir for the past 1000s of years and who were ruling Kashmir. Most of this who say Kashmiris neither speak Kashmiri nor have Kashmiri culture.

  2. Imran, you are looking it in such a small way that I am surprised. The situation is not so simple to solve. This is not the right platform to discuss but I can talk for hours on this subject. The complexities vary from point to point and situations change consistently.
    What starts basis some reason changes while time passes. The actual cause and reasons diminish and take a new form. Kashmir was the most peaceful place in India. When our neighbour helped some corrupt minds in Kashmir with arms and ammunition the process of turning a heaven into hell started.
    Further doing a plebiscite at this time is insane. Kids born after 1990 have just seen bloodshed and nothing good. We need to give at least a decade free of terror to Kashmir and then get a plebiscite done because at that time only will it be wise.
    Plebsite at this time shall mean chaos and contradiction.

  3. Today people express what is favorable for their existence. In the contemporary world which is the age of Anti-Christ, Appearances and Realities differ from each other. The minds are locked down and people have lost the capacity to think.

  4. This guy has a superficial understanding of Insurgency and it’s nuances. He only knows nitty gritty of the Kashmir quagmire. (Framework is utmost when one deals with any investigation).
    I fear the worst is still in the offing. I also fear that spark has been neglected, the burning of House is inevitable.
    May Lord save us.

  5. Terrorists are getting weapons and ammunition from outside of country, and may be 10% snatched from Security forces.
    If both Pakistan and China are made to pay for supporting terrorism there will be peace in Kashmir. All terrorism has some support from vested interest else can’t survive.
    Pakistan will go begging but won’t give up supporting terrorist.

  6. Signs of new political leaders emerging in the Valley are visible now. Government should encourage young leaders who are inside out Indians.

  7. And as usual a Pakistani general working as part time opinion journalist, trying to hint the misdid by terrorist (they are not militent).
    There was never a better way to mass broadcast and still hide behind the curtain of press.

  8. The argument is indeed agitating, not the expression though. Abusage and frequent solecism detract from the frame of reference , implore decoction from the outliers, and wind up as semblances in a session of imperfections, sour taste in mouth.

  9. If this was truly grassroots intelligence, it should mention what the true citizens want. We all want kashmiris like the rest of the world to live a happy life!
    I think the true point of this matter is the people of Kashmir who are legal occupiers of the land, they need to determine what they want for their future and their land.
    Why not just hold a plebiscite agree to its results and let everyone live in peace. Thats the true democratic option, not this whole non-sense of blaming others. There is no point in creating decades of unnecessary friction.

    • No, we don’t want a plebiscite when your minds are corrupted by Islam. Do you realize the islamic prophet was a paedophile? Don’t you understand that islamic terrorism is a grave threat to humanity? How can islamic mentality be trusted?

      • You are right, we are lucky that ppl of great Nation elected Modiji and he saved Kashmir from becoming a radicalised Islamic state otherwise Nehru had ensured that decades ago………
        Modiji is correcting the Blunders of Nehru chacha

    • Plebiscite should definitely be held in Kashmir, not just Indian Kashmir but in the entire Princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, including POK, Gilgit-Baltistan, Sakshgam Valley and Aksai Chin.

      For that to happen the very first condition set by UN should be fulfilled i.e. withdrawal of Pakistani forces, terrorists and Pakistani nationals from POK and Gilgit-Baltistan.

      • Rohit Singh well said….
        Fully support your views….
        Modi has stopped Kashmir from becoming a radicalised Islamic state……
        Kashmir was the biggest Blunder of Nehru chacha the so called VISIONARY PM

    • Imran you must accept Kashmir is integral part of India No repeat No compromise on that issue…..
      Issue remaining is how and when we take back the PoK, the Gulam Kashmir….
      Hope you understand and not living in fool’s paradise

  10. A grassroots analysis, unbiased too. Perhaps, after several years such in-depth study. The gullible citizens remain trapped between the devil and the deep sea. All stakeholders in Kashmir had their vested interests. Unaccounted money accounted more for terrorism and secessionism. But the learned author too called the terrorists as militants, a respectable political term though everyone knows that one who is out to unleash terror is called a terrorist.

  11. Militancy flourishes in absence of law and order. Indirect political support by restraining and selectively using the the law and order machinery also has the same result. These were main ingredients fueling the violence which have disappeared. There has never been an unrestrained repression by security forces.
    The attempts at targeting the economy is an obvious method to create a law and order problem. If the forces are seen to be acting fairly and quickly people instead of siding with the militants will side with the law and order machinery giving the crucial intelligence, further depleting the capabilities of the militants. The increasing neutralising of the terrorists will also put an end to local recruitment of the desperate few and criminals thriving on the violence.

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