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#824, 5 August 2002
Kashmir: Revectoring Indian Strategy Freelance writer on security issues
There are two conjoint problems to the present conflict in Kashmir. The basic one is the alienation of the people of Kashmir, having roots in the political mishandling of the state and in the suppression of expression of the resulting anger by application of an overly militarized template by a besieged Indian state. The second complicating one is of the presence of jehadi elements, either sponsored by Pakistan for its own geo-political ends, or by forces furthering Islamist ideology.
The contention in this article is that India has been mindful more of the latter in formulating its strategy towards Kashmir, rather than addressing the indigenous problem politically. The point being made here is that the support the terrorists enjoy corresponds to the alienation of the populace from the Indian state. Therefore, if we are to meaningfully address the jehadist elements, the thrust of our strategy must be in regaining public confidence. This will do more to undercut the terrorists than our chosen option of posturing on the border and at the LoC.
Bolder political initiative, than the currently envisaged elections, for addressing the internal dimension of the conflict is unlikely to be forthcoming, given the political orientation of the present Central dispensation. However, a practicable suggestion is that Kashmiri alienation can be addressed in some measure by reasserting control over security forces. While the army has indubitably acquitted itself with distinction given the severity of the adverse circumstance it was faced with, there is scope for reappraisal of operational strategy. That said, it must also be accepted that the military dimension of the problem has been preeminent over the past decade. It is arguable whether such an approach was warranted even then. It has most certainly outlived its utility now.
Lending it a human face by a selective, discriminatory, non-intrusive, humane and professional approach will ensure that the public face of the state most evident to the Kashmiri citizen makes apparent the distinction the state is beholden to make between terrorists and citizens. Tactical level reservations will require to be overruled by firm exercise of political control over the security apparatus that has acquired a stranglehold over both policy, societal routine and social life in Kashmir. By no means is this an advocacy in decelerating operations, but to bring about an accountability in order that the primacy of the political is maintained, as also eliminate egregious violence.
A newly elected government led by a fresh incumbent to the office of CM will be best positioned to undertake this reorientation. This will ensure that it does not squander the expectations of the electorate. In this the Center will have to play a more than a supportive role, not only because law and order is within the purview of provinces in our constitutional scheme, but because unilateral assertion of political control by the state government will be combated by central security forces deployed for protecting respective institutional autonomy. It will also demonstrate the confidence in a ‘Kashmiri’ government, the want of which over the past half century is what has brought events to such a sorry pass. It will defuse international critical scrutiny of our record in Kashmir.
Whatever be the quality of the elections, the government will be able to regain a measure of credibility by this visible display of firmness on behalf of its electorate. The remainder will be dependent on the performance of the government in other spheres. The second consequence will be constriction of the constituency compelled to support Islamist terrorism in order to perversely avenge themselves. Thus, our present initiatives at coercive diplomacy and compellence will bear the desired result of ending the conflict on our terms and in the best interests of the Kashmiris, only when supplemented by these long overdue in-house measures

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