J&K FOCUS
Evolving Situation in J&K: Summer 2017 (Part I)

Since the turn of the millennium, most military experts have advised the Indian government and the Indian Army to view J&K related issues with a longer and wider perspective. The longer perspective is needed because the year-on-year review and concept does not lead to the desired strategic effect; and the wider perspective is required because all departments of government need to play a joint role without abdicating responsibility only to the Army. The advice has been taken in parts but a comprehensive long term strategy has somehow been elusive.

The coming together of the BJP-PDP alliance created hope since it could see more equitable balance between the Jammu and Kashmir regions with Ladakh also having its aspirations in line. However, since 2015, those hopes have been belied due to circumstances that prevented any fructification of efforts of the new alliance. The success of a political initiative is contingent on the stability of the security environment. That has remained elusive chiefly due to the avowed intent of the adversaries to disallow cementing of the political alliance and initiative; that intent has been avidly executed through the use of street power, terrorist operations and focused propaganda to lead to alienation. Thus the Indian strategy for the current season can only take a short term view because stabilisation of the security situation before anything long term is the key.  That means a greater focus on security, greater role for the Army and lesser scope for political initiatives.

This is the reason why there are few initiatives from the government despite pleadings by different delegations that have made way to the Valley. The age old dictum probably applies – one cannot begin looking for peace from a position of weakness as much as one cannot keep reminiscing about initiatives that have become history. So is the Indian position really weak from a security point of view and are the peace delegations being realistic at all? These are worthy issues to analyse as we head into the campaigning season of 2017.

Most analysts like to quote statistics to analyse the security situation but it is more the nature of incidents and how they have been handled that dictates the course of the security environment. North Kashmir has been quiet in the hinterland and infiltration attempts are taking place in some non-traditional areas; entirely expected. The Army should by now have strengthened the counter-infiltration grid for the summer. A surge in terrorist strength is the last thing that the security set up can currently afford; it will have a cascading effect.

It is Central and South Kashmir where the local flavor of terror has increased in content, the security forces have suffered attrition, and the J&K police has been targeted with a view to reduce its effectiveness through demotivation and thereby dilute the intelligence grid. The targeting of Lt Umar Fayaz, a Kashmiri officer on leave was designed to send an ominous message to those seeking to be part of the Indian system. An effective response to this has been the success of 14 young Kashmiris in the Civil Services examination, hundreds of them lining up at other recruitment centres despite separatists’ call, and the runaway success of the Army’s Super 40 coaching initiative for the entrance examination to IIT/JEE (being increased to Super 50).

Yet no one can miss the sullen silence in Kashmir’s youth. None reveal their minds but the parallel track to the turnout at recruitment rallies and skill development initiatives is also a grim reality. Losing sight of this would not help and therefore the security domain has to research sufficiently to ascertain the real factors that drive alienation so vehemently. While many have taken to the streets to demonstrate this alienation, there are others who nurse a grudge and do not display it. The Army’s outreach has always been very cordial but the real challenge for it today is with regard to recapturing the old relationship while also being strong against those who treat law and order with disdain, support flash mobs at encounter sites or target detachments of security forces as it happened in the Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi affair.

Apt to mention here that a major lesson emerging for a military mind observing South Kashmir over a period of time is the fact that the Army withdrew prematurely after a tenuous stabilisation, without going the full way. It treated military resources in the south as a bank to draw from and hence the imbalance today. The space in the Kulgam-Shupiyan belt was lost due to declaration of premature victory. It needs immediate reoccupation. As and when Kulgam had a Rashtriya Rifles headquarters the area was always more secure. The maximum gravitation of the approximately 100 local youth who have taken to militancy is to this area.

With no remorse for targeting of locals who have joined the Indian system, there appears a change in the ethics in the militancy too. That is worrisome because Amarnath Yatra, the iconic pilgrimage, will commence within a few weeks. Its security will be of paramount importance. There are rogue elements across the borders that would not stop at anything to see the targeting of India and Indians.

This commentary is Part 1 of the two-part analysis on the evolving situation in Kashmir.