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To tackle terrorism in Kashmir, Indian forces need local help – we have snapped that line now

In the near future, Pakistan will intensify the hybrid war to take advantage of the increased alienation of the people in Kashmir.

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National Security Adviser Ajit Doval during an interaction with a select group of journalists last week said, “We would like all restrictions to go (in Kashmir) but it depends on how Pakistan behaves”.

NSA Doval’s statement is a tacit admission that despite India’s diplomatic and military measures, Pakistan still controls the narrative and the security situation in J&K is contingent on its ‘behaviour’. This reflects badly on our national security strategy.

To make matters worse, after the abrogation of Article 370, our human intelligence sources in J&K have dried up, and this can have serious implications for India’s counter-terrorism strategy.

With just 250 terrorists active in the region and no extraordinary mobilisation of Pakistani troops along the LoC as feared, India must now once again rely on its time-tested model of people-friendly operations that strictly adhere to the law of the land.

Also read: Army’s new headache in Jammu and Kashmir — Pakistan instigating civilians to march to LoC

A rather quiet LoC

In the last one month, Pakistan has gone on a diplomatic offensive, running a campaign against India based on half-truths and Twitter gossip. This campaign has had little or no impact in the international circles.

Despite speculative reports in a section of the media, there has been no extraordinary movement of troops by Pakistan near the Line of Control (LoC). The LoC, in fact, has been rather quiet.

It requires no reiteration that Pakistan has been steadfast in pursuing its long-term strategy of a hybrid war in J&K, and I do not foresee any change in that. The current lull along the LoC is primarily due to the security precautions taken by India.

Also, Pakistan does not want to jeopardise its diplomatic offensive or its case before the FATF. In a nutshell, the ‘restrictions’ imposed in J&K indirectly suit Pakistan.

Lull before the storm?

According to NSA Doval, 230 terrorists are waiting to infiltrate (and some may have). In the near future, Pakistan will intensify the hybrid war to take advantage of the increased alienation of the people in Kashmir, with even the pro-India voices likely to join the radicals after the abrogation of Article 370.

All actions of the Narendra Modi government and the security forces are only focused on forestalling the proverbial ‘storm’ – the violent protests that are likely to break out once the restrictions are lifted.

Also read: How this General saw Kashmir 50 yrs ago – No signs of fundamentalism, Army had people’s trust

Counter-terror operations take a hit

At one level, the security measures may have been successful in keeping violent protests in check.

At another level, they have jeopardised the counter-terror operations. Since 5 August, only two terrorists have been killed and two suspected terrorists apprehended.

As per the J&K police chief, nearly 250 terrorists are currently active in the region. Logically, with additional security forces and ‘restrictions’ in place, this period should have been utilised to wipe out these terrorists.

But why has this not happened?

This is because our main source of information – human intelligence – has dried up. Due to the absolute alienation of the people in Kashmir, ties have been snapped with the local information channels.

This is a very disturbing trend and is likely to jeopardise our counter-terror operations in future. The clampdown is also preventing interception of terrorist communications and contact with active sources. Another important source of information – the local police (at thana level and below) – has also become defunct because of the administration’s insensitive handling.

The ‘civil disobedience’ movement, which is taking shape in the Valley, is a cause of worry too. It is currently being dismissed with a casual ‘so what?’. But if the restrictions continue and the movement gains traction, India will start losing the support of the international community.

The Narendra Modi government and the security forces need to address these issues urgently.

Defining political & military aims

Rather than merely managing the situation post abrogation of Article 370, and waiting for Pakistan’s ‘behaviour’ to change, we need to seize the moment.

Our strategy must not be contingent on Pakistan’s ‘behaviour’, but based on clearly defined political and military aims. Politically, we need focus on winning the hearts and minds of the people and engaging with the ‘local leadership’. As a first step, all restrictions need to removed.

There is no point saying there are no credible leaders left in Jammu and Kashmir. Either create a credible leadership or negotiate with the pro-India voices currently in detention. Nothing can be worse that imposing ‘political stooges’ on the people.

The military needs to revive its human intelligence grid. The counter-infiltration campaign must be strengthened with additional troops and increased surveillance.

So far, our political strategy has been driven by the military strategy. This approach only leads to conflict management, not conflict resolution. It is time to reverse the process.

Also read: UN rights chief asks India to ease Kashmir lockdown, raises NRC list controversy

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.

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  1. The General lives in fantasy land. There won’t be any meaningful change in Kashmir until there is sizable number of Hindus and Indian supporter reside in the state. Now it will be possible not today but in 20 years. Just watch the Pakistani reaction to removal of 370. They know what will happen after 20 years – no takers for stone thrower reward.

  2. You tried for 70 years and achieved nothing. Let Modi and Doval try a different path. Even if they fail, it is a lot better than what you did. Better to fail with pride than to fail with appeasement. And I don’t believe they will fail.

    Besides, force works – with Muslims.

  3. Gen Panag says the army should try to re establish the human intelligence grid.
    This is very sound advice, his is a voice of reason amongst this madness.
    It’s rather too late to restore the the usual intelligence sources, the damage has been done, that horse has bolted!
    Its never going to happen the days of the Mukhbir and the SPO informant are over.
    These ‘spies’ fear death not only in the hands of the terrorists, but they will be torn to pieces by the Kashmiri population and even their own relatives.
    Anyone suspected as helping the security forces however indirectly will be socially ostracised and even murdered.
    Now instead of targeted killings of militants, expect the Anti insurgency grid to be blinded with lack of information, go berserk in some of it operations and attack civilians. The tried and tested method of torture to gather information will have become its only source.
    If this happens the insurgents will learn, evolve, take counter measures and eventually operate like, the impossible to penetrate, al-Qaeda.

    Informants and those suspected, are being summarily executed by the militants with the Support of the people, this source of intelligence has considerably diminished.
    On the other hand the J & K police, already demoralised by the situation, have families that have to live amongst the people, Very little human intelligence now comes from heads of Kashmiri police stations. This is an intelligence disaster Ajit Doval knows this via his former IB colleagues in Srinagar..
    Torture has increased in lock ups due to the drying up of these and other intelligence sources
    The security forces arrest children, hold them hostage and blackmail the parents for information as the Zionists do in the occupied territories, but this is not working, the fear of the militant who is now overwhelmingly supported by the people is greater.
    The Internet clampdown has disrupted communication between independent militant cells. The centre in Pakistan which acted as the ‘cut out’ between cells has been unable to pass on messages between cells. This is why the locations of arms and ammunition, IED bombs etc..left by supply cells are not being communicated to the operational cells.
    The inability to communicate with militant cells in the valley has also disrupted the return of militants into India after training , this is the reason infiltration across the LOC has dried up, but as Ajit Doval said there are 150 militants waiting to enter once communication is restored between these clandestine cells.
    The militants in the valley have no shortage of recruits and there are a large number of sleeper cells waiting to be activated.
    The authorities have to clamp down on mobile phones and landlines, as one only has to connect to a broad router in India via the telephone to send coded TCP/IP packets via the Internet servers outside Kashmir, to establish communication between cells, the messages routed via the cutout operatives in Pakistan.
    The brutal treatment meted out to minors by security forces only serves to push them deeper towards recruitment by insurgents.
    There is no separate juvenile justice mechanism to ensure that the children who participate in civil protests and stone pelting don’t get radicalised inside the police, army and CRPF lockups, where torture and misconduct are rampant.
    The Indian state must show far greater sensitivity in dealing with children participating in political violence like stone pelting
    The reports I am hearing coming out of Kashmir in this regard are disturbing.

  5. After reading the column, difficult to believe that recent changes mark a transformative improvement over how Kashmir has been dealt with since 1948. 2. Gen Rawat had once said, These people are picking up stones, I wish they would pick up guns instead. The underlying message was not lost on anyone. The Kashmiris seem to be building on that proposition. We will be completely peaceful in our protests, deprive you of the justification to use lethal force. With the world’s gaze on Kashmir, that will be a difficult situation to deal with.

    • The recent changes have ended 7 decades of mutual hypocrisy and finally revealed the truth about Kashmir to both the Kashmiris and the world. Since 1949 there was no question of the borders changing – of Pakistan vacating PoK or India withdrawing from the Kashmir valley. The people of Kashmir sold the fantasy of “azadi” now realize that is not happening. 40 years of militancy and “struggle” has made things worse – not better for the Kashmiri. The new myth now of “demographic change” and all the vacuous arguments used to frighten people about India and the danger of Article 370 will collapse with time as they see no great “deluge” from Indians wanting to live in their so-called “paradise” and nothing preventing them from living as they did earlier. The only change will be now they can’t ignore the reality of the millions of people who live in Kashmir but didn’t have a right to vote as Kashmiris – the refugees from West PAkistan who are still “refugees” , the dalits and the tribals who were marginalized .
      There will always be people who choose violence – India will always be ready to deal with them. Now with the trouble makers out of the limelight – it is time for Kashmiris to accept the truth finally – that the borders won’t change, the only thing that can change should be the people.

  6. Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) forgets why the Indian forces do not seem to be loved by the Kashmir people? How to win trust? Why since 1947, a cut-off is installed between the population and the military forces in charge of their protection? Is continuous troop reinforcement the appropriate measure? Certainly not.

    • What “love” do the Indian forces have for the Kashmiri people ? What love do the Indian people have for the “kashmiri” ? The problem seems to be a fixation on what hte Kashmiris want – who has to “Earn” their love – not what they have done to earn any “love” or “understanding” with anyone in India. There is nothing “special” in the Kashmiri that they are entitled to “Special status” or people in India have to strive to “earn” their “love” . They are 8 million people who seem to think 1.2 billion should be at their beck and call. People who think they are doing 1.2 billion a favor by being associated with India grudgingly – when in truth in 1948 they have no say over anything and no right to “allow” or “reject” anybody. Kashmir does not belong to Kashmiris – it belongs to the tens of thousands of Indians who died fighting there – to protect the peace, to protect the sovereignty of Kashmir from China and Pakistan and to those brave police, paramilitary and civil servants who risked their lives to make sure the good roads, the good hospitals, the good schools, the numerous universities, the numerous colleges, the good infrastructure built there with Indian taxpayer money could help and benefit the locals.

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