The Internal Security Centre at IDSA conducted a talk by Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain (retd) on 06 January 2014 on the topic “Kashmir 2014: A Review and a Prognosis”. Gen Hasnain provided a strategic review of the Kashmir situation through the 1990s and 2000-2013 followed by a prognosis for the period 2014-18. This involved analyzing key concerns like the effect of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdrawal on Kashmir, issues pertaining to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in J&K and the need to take Operation Sadbhavna to the next level.
Followings are the key points brought out by the speaker in his talk:
Highlighting the strategic importance of Kashmir, Gen Hasnain argued that it is important to keep in mind the October 1947 ‘Instrument of Accession’ and the 1994 joint resolution of the two houses of the Parliament, asserting the idea that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) is an integral part of India. Having said that, he laid emphasis on changing the narrative for Kashmir against established narratives and then went on to analyze Kashmir’s current status and where is the situation heading.
After years of antipathy and anguish, many people claim victory in Kashmir today. But the question is, can a victory be declared when there isn’t even an articulated political and military aim? Gen Hasnain felt that while a military aim existed in vague terms, a political aim in Kashmir has been eluding for long possibly because of the unclear external and internal dynamics. . Militarily, infiltration has been taken care of and every year the numbers of successful infiltrators in the valley are dwindling – all thanks to the Line of Control (LoC) fence which was constructed in 2003-4 that changed the mathematics of terror; more terrorists being eliminated than the numbers that could successfully infiltrate. Politically, however, he stated that there is a long way to go and the Army would have to continue to be the lead agency in supporting and rebuilding efforts; this is because of the outreach that it has and the organizing will and zeal to bring normalcy in Kashmir. No other agency has the strength and capacity to pursue the agenda of simultaneously preventing terrorist revival and stabilization. However, the Army’s presence and lead status will always be exploited by inimical elements to question the Government’s intent and resolve to integrate Kashmir. Continuing antipathy towards the Indian establishment, disappointment in governance, unresolved issues of thousands of surrendered terrorists, failure to take stock of the youth, and most importantly the growth of radicalization in Jammu and Kashmir, will continue to add to the negativity surrounding the transition.
Therefore, it may be wrong to assume that the role of the Army is over. While the Army’s place at the remote LoC is well accepted its continuing presence in the urban hinterland is hotly contested by local political parties, ideologues, separatists, intellectuals and human rights activists. In this context, Gen Hasnain conveyed his perception that the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) (which largely manages the hinterland) was raised not only for a militaristic purpose but also for a larger national aim of integrating the Kashmiris with India politically, socially, economically and most importantly, psychologically. The demand for a drawdown of the RR is likely to gather strength in the near future but must not be accepted until completion of the full integration process is completed. He stated that thus far the Army has done its work well; however, it has been successful in eliminating the terrorists but not terrorism in J&K.
Further, while talking about Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Hasnain prompted at certain conditions that had first demanded its creation – Pakistan sponsored terrorism, protection of all communities (for instance the Kashmiri Pandits) and symbols of national pride. Highlighting the fact that most of these conditions have still not been met he did not see the logic of getting rid of AFSPA. Moreover, even the army can only expect its soldiers to function best once it guarantees legal protection in case of inadvertent mistakes and empowerment to co-conduct operations without reference. As far as the human rights issues are concerned, it would be important to keep in mind that in an active Counter Insurgency environment, a good number of cases can fall prey to manipulation, which only puts immense pressure on the Army, diverting its attention.
What should be done necessarily to avoid falling for these manipulative triggers? To begin with, the answer most importantly lies in perception management. The army needs to get its perceptions correct. It has to change its narrative and show every Kashmiri that the army is not the enemy of the people. Operation Sadbhavana has to move forward to build a more people-oriented approach where dignity and self-esteem of the average Kashmiri is accentuated. And this can be done, for instance, by managing the force ethos and keeping in mind the cultural sensitivities of the people. The Army therefore needs to pay much more attention towards cultural training of its rank and file so as to respect the sensitivities of the local population.
Overall, for Gen Hasnain, militarily the situation is under control. It is unlikely that 2014 will be a template similar to 1989 (when the Soviet Army withdrew from Afghanistan), and ISAF withdrawal is unlikely to lead to a major influx of foreign terrorists; the security forces just need to ensure that the overall terrorist counts do not rise. What is perhaps more dangerous is that there still is a potential for violence, which is constantly being fuelled by anti-India sentiments and cries of separatist radicalism amongst the people. However, the state can take stock of this situation, mainly by outreach and a greater connectivity between Delhi and Srinagar. True victory will only be achieved when every Kashmiri will start considering himself as an Indian.
Key points that were raised during the discussions:
One of the major factors furthering conflict in Kashmir is the huge amount of financial assistance from outside India for various radical and fundamentalist purposes.
More often major focus from the security, political and development discourses have always been concentrated on Kashmir valley whereas the areas like Jammu and Ladakh are hardly attended. There is a need to address the issues in these areas as well.
Points were raised regarding the status of Kashmir Pandits and their return to the valley. This aspect necessarily puts a question mark on the inclusiveness of the Kashmiri society these days.
It has been felt that there rules a sense of victimization among the Kashmiris by the state of India in general and by the Army in particular. This perception, most of the time, over rules all the good intentions of the state establishment.
Many outside Kashmir have a feeling that the problem in Kashmir is a self-created one. There are vested interests of the power elite in the state, which as believed by many, tries to keep the conflict in continuity.
[Report Prepared by Husanjot Chahal]