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Can there be a military solution to the Kashmir issue?
As per an article by Rajesh Ahuja published in Hindustan Times' New Delhi edition updated on March 30, 2017, Kashmir has been on the boil as never before ever since the Hizbul Mujaheedin Commander Burhan Wani was killed by the security forces in an encounter in July, 2016.

Hizbul Mujahideen is the only active Kashmir-based militant group. 88 Kashmiris joined militancy in 2016, the highest in six years. The information was provided by Minister of State for Home Affairs in the Parliament on March 29, 2017. At least 56 of them were from south Kashmir, which has become the epicenter of the agitation that saw violent clashes between stone-pelting protesters and security forces.

Almost 100 people including security forces were killed during the months of protests following Wani's death and thousands of others have been injured. As per an article by Abhishek Shaha in the Srinagar edition of Hindustan Times dated March 9, 2017, Srinagar's SMHS hospital's figures show that over 6000 agitators have suffered eye injuries due to pellet gun fire. Many of the injured civilians were blinded by pellet guns used by security forces to disperse the crowds. The use of this so-called "non-lethal" weapon has been internationally condemned. Its use has angered the local population and fuelled the insurgency. Even the Indian Supreme Court had ordered their replacement within two months.

The number of Kashmiris joining militancy is linked to events that spark civilian anger in Kashmir. The hanging of Afzal Guru in 2014 after BJP came to power became a rallying point for Kashmiri youth to take up arms. At least 53 Kashmiris joined the militants in 2014, a sharp rise from 16 in the previous year. Earlier, 54 Kashmiris had turned militants in 2010 when three villagers were killed by the army in a fake encounter in the Machil sector near the Line of Control. Six soldiers, including a former commanding officer, were given life sentences by an army court of inquiry over the incident. Such incidents do not deter Kashmiris but rather increase their resolve to avenge their brethren.

It is well known that insurgency in Kashmir is supported by Pakistan Army, Pakistan's ISI and terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad and that many of the militants in Kashmir are from across the border. The level of violence is also related to infiltration from Pakistan. Infiltration has not stopped after the valiant surgical strike by our armed forces which killed many militants and destroyed a number of camps. Those killed have been replaced by new recruits and the camps have been relocated and their security enhanced.

Data shows that in 2016, at least 371 attempts were made by militants to infiltrate from across the border. It was the highest since 2010 when 489 infiltration bids were recorded. Pakistan is also paying the stone pelting mobs who try to disrupt operations against militants but that is only to be expected. Social media is being used to muster the stone pelting mobs. In the latest such incident, at least three civilians were killed on March 27, 2017 when security forces fired on stone-pelting protesters in Budgam district. The protesters had allegedly attacked security forces when they were engaged in a gun-fight with militants. During a visit to Kashmir recently, the Army Chief General Bipin Rawat had warned of strict action against protesters who attack security forces during anti-insurgency operations. The threat has not deterred the Kashmiri protesters from trying to disrupt operations against militants.

Lessons from the past

The problems of insurgency and terrorism are not new in the Indian context. The Indian government had to start dealing with the problem in Nagaland in 1954 when the Naga Federal Army attacked police and government offices in Nagaland. Since then, we have faced organized armed insurgencies in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Assam, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

While the problem has been around for more than sixty years, practical answers to tackle the problem have not been found. No one seems to know what to do about the problem. In India, insurgency has been successfully dealt with only in Mizoram and Punjab while it festers on in all the other states. The army had been deployed in Nagaland and Punjab and continues to be deployed in Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Manipur. Paramilitary forces like the Assam Rifles, BSF, CRPF, ITBP AND CISF have been deployed in the other areas along with battalions of state armed police. Ceasefires are periodically agreed to and negotiations are attempted with the insurgents. Amnesty is granted to surrendered militants who are often rehabilitated. Large quantities of ammunition and explosives are being seized. Militants and their supporters or sympathisers are being killed or arrested. But what is the end result? A big zero.

Insurgencies aided by Pakistan in the west and China in the Northeast ebb and flow with no end in sight. Economic activities in the troubled areas are affected causing severe hardship to the people. The matter is debated on various TV channels. Can anyone see an end to the bloodshed?

The reasons for this state of affairs are not difficult to find. Very few in the government, police and paramilitary forces, political leaders, intellectuals and the media have any idea as to what insurgency and terrorism are and what are the principles based on which these evils need to be dealt with. Without this understanding and a pragmatic and determined approach based on it, India will continue to bleed and the people of the affected regions will continue to suffer.

The primary reason why Indian security forces are not making much progress in dealing with insurgency in Kashmir is support from Pakistan and also due to the safe sanctuaries that exist in the neighbouring country. This lack of success is only to be expected. External support is a very important requirement for successful separatist movements. Vietnamese insurgents could defeat first world powers like France and the US because of economic and military assistance from the Soviet Union. Insurgency continues in Kashmir only because of economic and military support including weapons, ammunition and training from Pakistan. The insurgency groups of Northeast would have been wiped out if they had not received similar aid from the Chinese and sanctuaries in Myanmar. USA, the world's only superpower, has not been able to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan in 16 years because Pakistan provides Taliban support and sanctuaries in its border areas.

Separatists will try to ensure support of a segment of the population. This is done by selective killing of the movement's opponents, political leaders, village headmen, collaborators and informers of the security forces. They will also try to intimidate government officials, police and security forces into inaction.

To many theoreticians, the answer to separatist terror is counter terror or state terror. The main followers of this doctrine are Israel, and Turkey. The national attitude of Israel towards terrorism is an "eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" and more eyes and teeth if possible. But even after more than sixty years of adopting this policy, Israel has not been able to subdue the Palestinian people who have no external support and nothing but stones to fight back with. Counter terror includes the use of weapons like pellet guns, use of excessive force on demonstrating unarmed civilians and fake encounters. The main drawback of counter terror is that it alienates people. It violates human rights and creates unfavourable opinion both inside and outside the country. It is abhorred by intellectuals and the media. It increases the resolve of the population supporting the insurgency to continue the fight. Hanging of Mangal Pandey did not prevent the Sepoy Mutiny. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre did not stop the Indian freedom movement.

Conclusion

A fundamental fact about counter terror or state terror is that it alienates the population and absolute terror alienates absolutely and permanently. The running of an administration based on terror requires an uncommonly high degree of ruthlessness. The breed of leaders like Stalin, Idi Amin or Pol Pot who could kill millions of unarmed civilians is extinct. The tendency of security forces to use counter terror as state policy must be ruthlessly curbed. It is sad that counter terror is being adopted by both the government and the army chief. Only time will tell whether a military solution can be imposed on the people of Kashmir.

Is there any other possible approach?

I say, yes. First is to accept that killing and capturing militants and unarmed civilians is not going to solve the problem. Divide Kashmir into white, gray and black areas. White areas are those under government control. Grey areas are those where security forces and militants are both active and both have a degree of support of the population. Black areas are those where the militants have strong support of the population and security forces are at a disadvantage.

The government and security forces must defend the white areas with adequate force; patiently try to make gray areas white and black areas gray. Kashmiris must be made to feel that they are cherished citizens of India and not a bunch of militants. The role of the security forces should be to maintain law and order and protect loyal citizens. Killing and capturing militants should never be the focus. When you kill one, another five will be born. Try to get them to surrender. Have a practical surrender policy. The government and the security forces must focus on stopping the funding and arming of the militants by knocking out `hawala' traders and effective monitoring of vehicle coming into Kashmir from outside the Valley.

The Kashmir issue is not going to go away till either Pakistan or India relent. However, the intensity of the conflict will die down and a degree of normalcy will return as it did in the Northeast or the Naxal belt.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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