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Friday, December 13, 2013

the military in kashmir

The debate between the generals
By Firdaus Ahmed

A piece in the column by Shekhar Gupta, National Interest, has prompted a rebuttal from Ata Hasnain. Gupta referred to a senior 'soldierly' general with five tenures in Kashmir telling him that with 'victory' over the Lashkar achieved, the military had little to do. Hasnain, who was commanding general in Srinagar a little while back, disputes this. He opines that 'victory' needs to be measured against politico-military aims. 

Absent government action, the military had to unilaterally set for itself this yardstick: "integrate Jammu and Kashmir with mainstream India, politically, economically, socially and psychologically". He lets on that the aim has not been achieved and it 'would take years of committed campaigning' before it is. Since the army is the only agency with 'the capability to strategise, plan and stay committed to such a campaign', he argues against overturning the gains made over the past quarter century in getting the army step back. 

He invites his fellow former member of the brass - Shekhar Gupta's informant - and other 'arm-chair strategists' - presumably a tongue-in-cheek reference to Shekhar Gupta himself - to visit the many guest rooms the army has prepared all over the state to get a better vantage on the situation in Kashmir. The elements in this situation, to him, include a separatist-radical nexus; a body of surrendered militants who could revert to militancy due to non-materialisation of what has been promised them; and the precedence of Pakistani effort to get people to rise along with their conventional attacks may find resonance, since 'finally' what matters is what 'people think'. These, together with the expected geopolitical changes in the vicinity, suggest that the 'context' is not right for 'declaring victory prematurely'. 

To the general, 'victory' is 'not against the people of Kashmir but for them, and against the intent of Pakistan, the separatists and terror groups.' Therefore it is 'for' the people of Kashmir that the Rashtriya Rifles needs to remain in place, with the AFSPA for cover. Furthermore, he reminds that the RR cannot be moved off to Chattisgarh since it would be required to defend strategic arteries. After all, there are more surrendered militants who have not received their promised recompense as a 'potential source of home terror' in Kashmir than those waiting in staging camps across. More importantly, he reveals that the RR is an 'add on force for conventional operations' in order to balance the 110 Wings of the Frontier Corps that Pakistan has reequipped for similar ends. Therefore, it is a misunderstanding at the tactical level if 'to neutralise just a handful of terrorists each year' is mistaken as the RR's task; it is instead to 'cement the separatist population with the mainstream' as befits a counterinsurgency force. 

In admitting to a wish that 'Gupta had faulted the army for not demanding the articulation of a politico-military aim', the general reinforces the well-known secret that India does not have a strategy. As a result of this, the army has arrived at a strategy of its own. This has been articulated candidly by the general in his rebuttal of Gupta's argument that the army having done its job militarily, must now vacate the hinterland and concentrate on the Line of Control. The army's position therefore seems to be that the populace is potentially restive and the neighbor can yet take advantage of the situation. Therefore, the army needs to stay on, but with a better understood and implemented purpose of cementing the population with the 'mainstream'. 

Gupta makes the point that Kashmiris could do with sharing the 'peace dividend' by a 'disarming' of Kashmir, referring to statistics on the return of peace. To Hasnain that is an illusion. Since the general ends on a note exhorting the reader - and perhaps Gupta - to 'learn to trust the army' since 'it is your (the reader's) army', it would be too much to expect the general to dwell on how much the army is itself causing the alienation that the general admits to exists in Kashmir.

There is little doubt that army presence in their midst and the continuance of AFSPA are disliked by many in Kashmir. These are then red rags that feed into a situation in which 'separatism and radicalism run hand in hand in the Valley'. In other words, the Hasnain's solution is part of the problem. The advantages for the army are many. Guest rooms at 'Keran, Machel, Gurez, Uri, Sopore, Tral and Shopian' for one; even if Hasnain's refutation that new golf courses have come up is taken. Second, the RR gets to stay on in the cool climes of J&K rather than clear Bastar's jungles. Third, this would be for an indefinite duration since as Hasnain deems it there are no 'agencies who can take it (Kashmir) forward to "peace".' 

Hasnain's praiseworthy plain-speak must be taken seriously. It is clear that Kashmir remains potentially unstable. Also the dreaded '2014' - bandied about since the advent of Obama on the world stage - is barely round the corner. However, it is equally clear that unresponsiveness to Kashmiri demands on AFSPA and military presence, referred to by Gupta as the army's 'veto', is part of the problem in Kashmir. Hasnain's solution is that since the army is going to be part of the scenery in Kashmir, it should be put to better use as befits a counter insurgency force. Gupta's view and that of his general informant, is that the military must step back. Hasnain thinks that would be premature. To Gupta, the time is ripe to trust people to hold back the separatist-radical-terrorist tide. Whichever side of the debate one is, the debate is academic. 

What is clear is that the status quo will prevail over the near term. With the national and state elections close at hand, experimentation with the security grid is most unlikely. From the results of the recent state elections it is clear that the next dispensation in Delhi is very likely to be different from the present one. The current government in its lame-duck year is unlikely to make any changes. The next one if of the saffron hue has already declared its intent obliquely: to review Article 370. When it is so engaged it would be equally unlikely to make any changes, particularly since as it goes about debating Article 370, all of Hasnain's fears would likely be a reality on the ground. 

Therefore, it is not, as Hasnain seems to suggest, the reality in the Valley that will end up precipitating matters and also not what happens across the border, but what happens in Delhi and how it (mis)manages Srinagar.

News Updated at : Friday, December 13, 2013

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