The Indian state has been containing, managing and resolving, wholly or partially, insurgencies for the last six decades. Nagaland, Assam, Mizoram and Punjab are stellar examples.
Over the years, a time-tested strategy has been evolved, which entails absolutely no compromise with the unity and territorial integrity, people-friendly military operations, adhering to the law of the land, and respect for human rights. It also involves militarily reducing the insurgency to manageable levels to facilitate persuasion and political dialogue, negotiating with both overt and covert leadership, giving concessions within the Constitution, and signing a formal accord to restore democracy.
This strategy is based on the theory that people seek dignity and well-being above everything else. In a democracy, as long as the state does not use its powers indiscriminately, the romanticism associated with the separatist cause withers away with the passage of time. Finally, people come around to compromise on the ideals’ for a better future.
In Jammu and Kashmir, every government has followed this strategy till 2014.
Failing to provide a political solution
Despite containing insurgency and restoring democracy in J&K in 1996, the powers-that-be failed to find a lasting political solution.
The insurgency once again peaked during 2000-2003 and thereafter witnessed a decline, hitting a real low between 2011 and 2015. Post-2015, Pakistan (as well as separatists) has strived to resurrect the insurgency in the Valley, but the scale has remained within manageable limits – currently, about 250 terrorists are active in J&K.
There are many reasons for India’s political failure to resolve the Kashmir issue. The active support of Pakistan, which has kept the hopes of the separatist leadership alive; the over-reliance on mainstream political governments/parties, which have failed to satisfy the aspirations of the people; the failure of the central government to evolve a consistent political strategy to engage with the separatist leadership; and making Pakistan a party to the problem.
Adopting a ‘muscular’ approach
The Modi government initially followed the time-tested policy, but with a ‘muscular’ approach, to deal with terrorists and the separatist leadership. In J&K, the BJP formed a coalition government with Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but it failed to provide the much-needed healing touch to go along with the political process.
There was no worthwhile political engagement. Ideology and nationalism were over-emphasised and special status of J&K was questioned. Political and public jingoism led to the security forces deviating from the time-tested people-friendly operations.
The frustrated people resorted to violent mass protests and even started disrupting the anti-terrorist military operations. The government in New Delhi lost patience and imposed Governor’s rule, with effect from 20 June 2018.
Ideology trumps political wisdom
On the brighter side, the Modi government managed to diplomatically isolate Pakistan and aggressively carried out operations across the LoC/IB in the form of surgical strikes. This government no longer considered Pakistan as a stakeholder in Kashmir, treating it only as a perpetrator of terrorism.
With this backdrop, expectations were running high when the Modi government came back to power with a bigger mandate in 2019. Everyone hoped that the government would go back to the time-tested national strategy to find a political solution to Kashmir.
Post-Pulwama, the security forces through sustained operations had created the right environment for holding fresh elections. Pushed to a corner and facing criminal investigations, the separatist leadership was also amenable to the idea of renewing the political process to find a lasting solution for J&K.
However, the success of a high-pitched national security-driven campaign emboldened the BJP, and ideology trumped political wisdom. Article 370 was nullified on 5 August under the cover of massive deployment of security forces and a ‘communication blackout’.
Alienation and urge to resist
There was no logical reason other than political ideology for revoking the moth-eaten Article 370. And by so doing, the symbolic hope for political reconciliation has been shattered.
The situation in the Valley has since gone from bad to worse. People in Kashmir feel that their culture and identity are now under threat. The hope of the silent moderate majority for a political solution has given way to despondency and people are more alienated than ever. They believe they have been ‘cornered’ and have no option left but to ‘resist’. In view of the massive deployment of the paramilitary forces, the resistance has manifested into ‘civil disobedience’ and non-cooperation – against which the state is powerless.
More violence likely
Let there be no doubt that the Modi government is riding a tiger in Kashmir. The massive presence of the security forces has ensured that peaceful/violent mass protests cannot take place. But the sword of Damocles is hanging over Kashmir’s future. The international community has pointed at the ‘humanitarian crisis’ in Kashmir.
The absolute alienation of the people is being exploited by separatists and Pakistan to resurrect the insurgency. Violence has been on the rise in October, with people from outside the state being targeted in terror attacks – the latest incident took place in Kulgam district on 29 October in which five labourers from West Bengal were killed.
I foresee an increase in Kulgam-like violence and terror activity.
How to get off the tiger?
In my view, there is no other option but to revert to the time-tested counter-insurgency strategy that India has been following since 1956.
Release all political leaders and let normal political activity begin. Stop the ‘us versus them’ narrative – the separatist Muslims of Kashmir versus a nationalist India – in politics and media. Draw a clear distinction between citizens and terrorists. Under no circumstances should the security forces deviate from people-friendly operations and the principle of using minimum force.
The Prime Minister must go to Kashmir and make an emotional appeal to the people in the presence of the political leadership of J&K, the leaders of opposition and the corporate community.
This is a fail-safe approach to heal the scarred psyche of the people. He must announce the following steps:
- A time-bound, scheduled restoration of pre-5 August ‘normalcy’.
- Resumption of political activity and holding of elections.
- Broad outline of a development package with public and private commitment.
- A stipend scheme for unemployed youth and affirmative legislation to employ them with the private industry in other states.
- Broad outline of the dialogue process with all stakeholders, including separatists.
- Concessions within the Constitution to maintain the culture and identity of J&K – it could be a modified version of Article 370.
- Outlining an education and healthcare package since these aspects are always the closest to people’s hearts.
The Prime Minister has the oratorical skills and a proven track record to not just promise but also deliver. I have no doubt that he can convince the people of 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. Views are personal.