Disengagement and Withdrawal Theory Pushing Kashmir in to Disarray

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Kashmiri villagers grieve by the body of Burhan Wani, chief of operations of Indian Kashmir's largest rebel group Hizbul Mujahideen, during his funeral procession in Tral, some 38 Kilometers (24 miles) south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2016. Indian troops fired on protesters in Kashmir as tens of thousands of Kashmiris defied a curfew imposed in most parts of the troubled region Saturday and participated in the funeral of the top rebel commander killed by Indian government forces, officials and locals said. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

If I have to answer what is going wrong in Kashmir, I would say the syndrome of disengagement and withdrawal theory on the part of government, political leadership and executive. The space that has been created by the disengagement has been encroached upon by terrorists and separatists;though the theory is based on human behaviour and disengagement due to aging of body and mind that result in abdication of the roles one could play and inability to reconcile to the changing reality. Withdrawal and disengagement in Kashmir has resulted due to reduced interaction with public, lack of comprehension of the nature of conflict, fatigued perception about conflict in Kashmir and tired ideology to find solution to the paradox that is called “separatist movement in Kashmir”. The problem is that once the disengagement and withdrawal theory sets in motion, it becomes irreversible and loses the normative control over own actions. Today civil society, political leadership, state and central government, separatists and even security forces seem to be losing normative control over the circumstances.

In my opinion Kashmir is suffering less due to physical / direct violence and more due to structural and cultural violence. Direct violence has slowly been replaced by “structural and cultural violence”. As per Dr. Paul Farmer, ‘Structural Violence’ includes any violence or suffering caused by the structures and institutions of a society. People who suffer from structural violence cannot control the conditions that have caused their sufferings. This is what exactly is happening in Kashmir. Similarly ‘cultural violence’ is making the direct and structural violence look right. Religious and political intolerance is sign of cultural violence. This trend is more divisive, unrelenting and uncompromising. The worst impact of structural and cultural violence is that it does not allow any space for reconciliation and reconstruction of society and state.

This aspect is being overlooked due to ignorance and lack of vision to identify real problems to find a solution. What is Going Wrong? Everyone is trying to treat the symptom (terrorism), but efforts to treat the disease are somewhat lacking. Disease, in this case, is inability to engage with the public, politically, socially and economically. Public discourse has often been missing in J&K at times on account of political jostling, and post the 90s terrorism disallowed any discourse or engagement between the stakeholders. When political leadership found it difficult to manage the turmoil, security forces were asked to wash the dirty linen with a magic wand. Such a strategy is bound to fail and is failing now. What next? The Government and political leadership are struggling to find a tool to deal with unarmed Jihadi and public disorder. It must be understood that victory of the state does not rest in defeat of own people and death of own citizens. The problem is who acts as a bridge between people and the government? In normal circumstances political leadership and civil society act as a bridge between people and the government. But that bridge no more remains relevant to the public at large because polity of state cannot think beyond getting into power. The second big question is who to talk to?

Political class, separatists or civil society? Political class and separatists have made themselves inapt due to their selfish and self-serving motives. And civil society has no space left to function as a third sector. Talks with Pakistan are inconsequential until or unless India is able to engage with the Pakistan Army. Talking to the Pakistan Government is something like talking to a messenger that has no power to take decisions. The state and public institutions are mute and passive if not collapsed. There seems to be no sane voice that can be heard in this drummed up atmosphere. The perception management by security forces and establishment can only succeed if there is engagement first and perception later. Perception management is not doling out small favours to individuals or a group of people. Gratification has been misunderstood as the tool for perception management. There is a need a rethink a new strategy. Perception by Army alone is a bad idea to pursue if the apathy of state continues towards its own citizens.

There were hundreds of Kashmiri militants but no one could wield the kind of influence Burhan Wani had. He was born post 1990 and had seen the violence and terrorism in his backyard. The children in the villages often played the game of Army versus militants. And probably he too played the same game, but at that time no one realized that one day this boy would take Valley by storm. What is different about new age terrorists in Kashmir? They do not shy away from public eye, openly display their videos and pictures on social media maintains public contact through social media and are keen to become the voice of young intolerant Kashmiris. Burhan Wani became a terrorist with a public face.

The seeds of the new brands of terrorism in Kashmir infact were laid post 2010 when the state misread the situation and considered it beginning of an end of militancy in Kashmir. But the youth suddenly emerged from the shadow of the leaders of the separatist movement. Both the Hurriyat and hardliner Gillani faction were considered by these young militants irrelevant and nothing more than puppets either in the hands of Pakistan or India and slowly encroached upon the space that was once occupied by th Hurriyat. These indigenous terrorists are bold, expressive and ready to side-line the political class and separatist leaders. They very carefully built their image as  pro Kashmiri and sent a message that they were not anti-Kashmiris including Kashmiri Pandits.

Burhan Wani surprised everyone when he said “Hindus of Kashmir who are living outside the state can return to the places in Kashmir where they have their houses and the land. We will protect them.” Countering a BSF officer he said “I want to make it clear that we have no such plans to attack Amarnath Yatris. Nor do we want to do this. Yatris are here to perform their religious duty and we are not against it,” he said. He had asserted that they would protect even the Amarnath Yatris. More importantly he sent a message to all those who are engaged in tourism and Yatra to do their business as usual and that earned him support of a very large section of people. But who knows whether it was at a price so that business could  run as usual? More than the security forces, Burhan had become a threat to the existence of Hurriyat and political parties in Kashmir. Elimination of Burhan Wani in reality has come as a relief to the Hurriyat and politicians because he encroached upon their spaces and they did not know how to react to this poster boy. The Hurriyat may be shedding crocodile tears but it has given them a new lease of life. Efforts should have been made to whip up the crack or difference of opinion between Hurriyat and Burhan Wani.

Is there a need to change the strategy? The new breed of terrorists are abrasive, bold and ready to take risks. All have personal weaknesses and are not fair in their handling of public. The strategy to expose their misconduct or deeds in public eye is lacking. Through credible information there was a need to expose chinks in  personal lives. The best way to kill a phenomenon is not by bullet but assassination of his character and conduct so that the same public that worship him detest him. But that must be exposed with certain truth and facts. There is a need to eliminate the image and aura before a terrorist is physically killed. Their façade of high moral stand on Jihad needs to be exposed in a carefully crafted strategy. There was complete silence on the part of political parties NC as well as PDP after Burhan Wani was killed (except for tweets of Umar that were not comforting). There were 16 hours before the valley actually plunged into chaos. The night should have been made use of. The family members and even the Hurriyat should have been told that they could gather peacefully and march with the procession without violence. Communication should have been made with the public through all channels to prevent any loss of lives. But it seems that state government went numb and thought that by imposing restrictions pent up feeling could be suppressed, a  strategy that went horribly wrong.

Communication with the public is vital and all efforts should be made to reach out so that no trigger is given to subversive elements to destabilise the environment. Kashmir is dynamic and ground situation changes fast. What succeeds in North Kashmir does not succeed in South Kashmir and what succeeds in Kashmir valley may not succeed South of Pir Panjal. This can only be understood by those who have been on ground and have hands on experience. Therefore, in the fitness of things the government should appoint in charge of Kashmir Affairs someone who understands the dynamics of Kashmir very well. A well-known Kashmiri author and journalist said that no one understands Kashmir better than the Army. He said that Generals Hasnain, Shubroto Saha and many of their predecessors knew the dynamics of valley far better than even the local Kashmiris and politicians. But to neglect their expertise and knowledge is a tragedy.

The basic principle of appointment of domain experts is mandatory to head such sensitive appointment or an advisory committee. The centre of gravity in counter insurgency areas is masses. Thus connect and communication with the masses can never be severed. It is not important how good the centre state relationship is, but what is more important is relationship with the state and the people and centre government with the people. There is no interlocutor or a group of people who are in touch with locals so that communication can be established with the people how to resolve this paradox and deal with crisis situation. It is time that those who have ground knowledge and understand the ground reality are tasked to act as fireballs under such circumstances. The communication is required with ideologues, religious heads, youth leaders and even the local militants through over ground workers.

Whenever there is chaos in the Valley the Army, CRPF and state police are left to fend for themselves. Political and bureaucrats go missing in action and when the storm passes by they emerge from the ruin of the society to regain their authority. This must cease, politicians and bureaucrats must be at the forefront instead of security forces. They must take responsibility and accountability. Clear directions must be given to the security forces what actions to be taken. If the political leadership is numb the bureaucracy should step in. At least one of the organs must function. Paralysis of state machinary is seen too often and too frequently in Valley. This happened during the 90s when insurgency erupted, it happened during the earth quake in the Valley, it happened during floods in the Valley. There should be a full stop to this practice.

The Valley is already in disarray, efforts of the government should be to ensure that trouble not spread  South of the Pir Panjals, an area that  has been a balancing factor and has not followed Valley in their footsteps to create turbulence. It must be nurtured, bridges built with public especially the youth and the Hurriyat kept under tight noose. “Doctrine of Restrain” is the need of the hour but it must have limits. It is the responsibility of the state to lay down the red lines. A nation can’t allow its soldiers and police men to be lynched by masses. Such a situation will lead to complete anarchy. It is not the choice of the masses to cause unacceptable collateral damage and loss of life and property, thus a limit is needed. A law abiding nation cannot  afford such an absurd situation. There are voices in political circles that Burhan Wani alive was a lesser threat than Burhan Wani dead. Such utterances are made so that security forces are deterred and discouraged to undertake counter terrorist operations. What is significant is that Security Forces have eliminated all but two terrorists from the famous Facebook picture. Even if they are alive they are psychologically dead.

(This article originally appeared at the CLAWS website)

Profile photo of Narender Kumar
Brig Narender Kumar is an Infantry Officer with close to 15 years’ experience in counter insurgency and anti-terrorism operations having served in Sri Lanka (Operation PAWAN) J&K and North East. He has been part of UN Mission in North Africa and had a tenure in Indian Training Team in a foreign country. He has served as Brigade Major in Western Theatre, Col Administration of a Division and Brig General Staff of an Area responsible for Northern Border. Commanded a Rashtriya Rifles battalion in J&K and Assam Rifles Sector in North East.