Disequilibrium: The Phantom of a Bloody Opera
Gen Rawat’s comments have been needlessly taken out of context as liberals have been quick to vilify him and paint a dramatic picture of oppression and repression in Kashmir, which requires an urgent political solution within the boundaries of the Indian Constitution
As long as the walk between subjectivity and objectivity is strewn with imponderables, short or long, people will exploit the nuance associated with the gait and the shape of the obstacle. The wild and unseemly extrapolation of Gen. Bipin Rawat's comments about Kashmiri stone pelters and flag wavers once again throws into stark relief how perception and reality coalesce to leave a bitter taste in one's mouth for no rhyme and reason. Bleeding liberals are quick to pounce on comments of those in authority to vilify people and paint a dramatic picture of oppression and repression. The Chief of Army Staff obviously overcome with emotion at the sight of six bodies draped with the tri colour returning from Kashmir as martyrs said certain things which have been taken completely out of context. He is the new phantom in what is the longest lasting bloodthirsty opera; incendiary and volatile, a tinderbox. The debris of the killing fields mounting all the time. The disappearance of the Moi - e - Muqaddas (Holy Relic of the Prophet) long years ago or the hanging of Afzal Guru more recently have not resulted in as much ferment and tumult as now. Every small event or statement being used to whip up frenzied and fearful lies. Azadi is non negotiable since it is inextricably woven into the fabric of the Indian state.
Let us examine the General's statement objectively removing subjectivity from the equation - "While our aim has been to conduct people-friendly operations, the manner in which the local population is preventing us from conducting the operations, at times even supporting the terrorists to escape… It is these factors which are leading to higher casualties among the security forces… We would now request the local population… local boys if they want to continue with the acts of terrorism, displaying flags of IS and Pakistan, then we will treat them as anti-national elements and go helter-skelter for them… If they do not relent and create hurdles, then we will take tough action." Perhaps the wrong usage of helter skelter has got the goat of the bleeding hearts. Added to that is 'tough action' which in this case is being construed as a bullet. Nowhere has he said that he will wage war on the youth, all though I must add that if the youth is like Burhan Wani who has sworn vengeance against the Indian state by seeking to kill Indian soldiers, then his end must be as gruesome as Wani's. I have absolutely no compunction in this regard, anyone who wages war against the state is anti national and should be terminated with extreme prejudice. My question is simple do these jehadis give our soldiers or para military a chance? Or for that matter do the Naxals even think for moment when they kill wantonly and are at their barbaric worst in Sukhma or Jagdalpur. So, why these double standards? Of course blood is needlessly spilled in both cases, but the colour should be viewed from the same prism. It is the same Indian democracy, which on Thursday released Kashmiri boy now man Md. Rafiq Shah wrongly accused in the Delhi blasts case. After 12 years, the poor man walked free without rancour, his three words to the Judge who acquited him poignant - Justice has prevailed. Yes, there are excesses when you are involved in a guerrilla war, quelling a dangerous fighting force made up pre dominantly of 'infils', but what Gen. Rawat has thrown into stark relief is that those fighting the Indian Army are terrrorists and those supporting them are anti nationals. I am very clear that he is bang on.
Profiteers Yasin Malik and his ilk (they have made big bucks from the tragedy which has played out in Kashmir) are quick to join the debate on such issues, their voices don't count beyond Lal Chowk, but sections of media make them relevant and heard. Malik has claimed laughably that stone pelting was part of a non-violent struggle. Another member of the noxious piranha - Mirwaiz added his two bits but his take borders on the ludicrous - It shows his (Gen Rawat's) lack of knowledge... Kashmiri youth have not taken to arms for fun nor are they made to hit streets in protest but they have been forced... as the space of Kashmiris has been squeezed,..Gen Rawat should know that their struggle is not against any nation but "we are fighting for a just cause". It is the separatists who have given the clarion call for dislocation of life in Kashmir Valley. It is the separatists under Syed Ali Shah Geelani who have imperiled dialogue and made life a living hell for ordinary Kashmiris. By front running a delusional freedom struggle and ensuring that life is crippled for months on end, they have shown themselves to be what are - Janus faced puppets dancing to the tune of the marionette based across the border. Like clockwork, on Friday, immediately after the prayers, the flags and the stone pelters re-appeared in Kashmir Valley. The copycat Intifada movement, which normally surfaces in the summer is back in winter itself, which means that Delhi has to brace itself for another brutal summer of discontent.
Pakistan's asymmetrical war of a death by a thousand cuts continues to be evolutionary, there is no fixed template other than buddy paired fidayeen targeting military installations and our soldiers, resulting in heavy casualties. At one level, what do you do if the enemy is prepared to die?. And at another laxity in our vigil and surveillance is also costing us. The surgical strike is a forgotten memory, Pakistan's launch pads have been refurbished with the promise of jannat and border sneak ins and skirmishes are back. Indian Army's death toll in 2016 was at a six year high of 63. Fatalities in terrorist violence all told included 14 civilians, 88 security personnel and 165 terrorists in 2016. In the new year, five civilians, six security force personnel and 19 terrorists have been killed and the snow is still melting.
Syed Ata Hasnain, a ex-GOC of India’s Srinagar based 15 Corps who has on ground experience of operations in Kashmir succinctly sums up the scenarios through his writings and verbalising - "Paid rabble rousers in villages use the local mosque's public address system and social media to generate a flash mob," deciphering the reality behind orchestrated mob attacks. Used as a ruse to keep security forces busy so that militants go about their work, Hasnain writes, "This does three things to the situation: Prevents the army from closing on the target hideout, obviates CRPF from being effective in the cordon, and diverts attention from focus of operations. It makes an already difficult situation far more challenging. Momentary loss of focus leads to casualties as exposure from cover is liable to make troops easier targets." I am actually surprised that the government of India has not utilised these winter months for back channel dialogue with the separatists. For starters the governor N N Vohra should be removed and someone like Gen. Hasnain should be sent there. Yes, it requires a political dialogue and not a game of brinkmanship, but equally, it is a military problem too. An all encompassing dialogue with the separatists and Kashmiri polity has to take place, one cannot escape this reality and soft separatist Mehbooba Mufti herself needs to be part of these confabulations. A lasting political solution is imperative and some form of autonomy has to be given as a measure of goodwill. What form and shape this takes is open ended, but you cannot continue to have the Intelligence Bureau run the Valley from Delhi. One had thought that the BJP in a coalition in Jammu & Kashmir would take the lead in this regard, but sadly things have gone into a tailspin. If one reckons that there is a contradiction in my approach to handling Kashmir Valley, then let me crystallise my idea - no compromise on terror and terrroists both infils or locals, but open the door to meaningful deliberations which lead to outcomes by involving the dysfunctional and hallucinational Hurriyat. Freedom is not an alternative, Kashmir represents the idea, ideal and idiom of India.
Nature it is said abhors a vacuum and in a situation where ferment already exists, outliers decide to enter the game by spreading disinformation and the power of rumour overrides everything. The outliers are both within the Valley of Kashmir and deep inside the Indian state in positions of pre-eminence, changing the narrative and queering the pitch for the security apparatus. By romanticising and glorifying a Hizbul commander like Burhan Wani, a dangerous and seditious game was played out last year. The pungent odor of a similar kind is being used to fuel the current unrest using Rawat as an instrumentality. A self-defeating process of emasculating and undermining the security forces was and is being done systematically. The visual presence of the paramilitary and Indian Army has become a symbol of revulsion in the Kashmir division, but they are only doing their job, which is to ensure that there are no security breaches along the International Border and the Line of Control as also supervise law and order within the Valley. A distinction needs to be made between the counter insurgency operations that the army is involved in as it deals with infils and their ‘death by a thousand cuts’ strategic imperative and the role of the paramilitary and Jammu and Kashmir Police which is essentially there to manage crowd control and quell rioters and protestors. Somewhere all this gets mashed up leading to multiple problems for the security network.
The army has a grid that functions like a concentric circle right across the valley starting from the LoC right into the innards of Srinagar city. There are over 300,000 army soldiers both along the border and for counter insurgency operations in Kashmir Valley. While the northern army command is based in Udhampur, there are three Corps — 14 (Leh), 15 (Srinagar), 16 (Nagrota), with around 60,000 troops each. They are on the outer periphery of the concentric circle as it winds inwards. Add to this the counter terrorist force — Rashtriya Rifles, drawn from the ‘ghatak’ platoons of the Army, which has 62 battalions (all told around 70,000 soldiers). This is the dreaded element of the army, which is involved in combing and search-and-destroy operations against insurgents. The Rashtriya Rifles itself has five division-like headquarters — Delta force: Doda, Kilo force: Kupwara and Baramulla, Romeo force: Rajouri and Poonch, Victor force: Anantnag, Pulwama, Badgam and Uniform force: Udhampur. Over and above this, the 26 Infantry Division (approximate strength of 20,000) is based in Jammu, which comes under the Western Army Command headquarters in Chandimandir.
The toxic ideology of political Islam and its dissemination through the worldwide web is arguably a more feisty adversary than actual gun toting militants. Dovetailed with the mass uprisings of 2008, 2010 and 2016 in the form and shape of the Intifada have altered the discourse somewhat amongst the dissatisfied youth, yearning for a better life. The Indian deep state and its security rig have to evolve to meet the requirements of a changing dynamic in the Valley. For the more things change in Kashmir, the more they remain the same. What is germane to the discourse is a political solution for the youth of Kashmir viz. employment opportunities and deradicalisation programmes to be scaled up rapidly. Almost in parallel, the Army and the paramilitary has to pony up and evolve from being seen as an ‘occupation force’ to one that is battling insurgents trying to pouch its jugular vein. There cannot be any compromise on Iron fist, but at times with velvet glove tact.
A distinction needs to be made between the counter insurgency operations that the Army is involved in as it deals with infils and their ‘death by a thousand cuts’ strategic imperative and the role of the paramilitary and Jammu and Kashmir Police which is essentially there to manage crowd control and quell rioters and protesters. The Indian Army has kept itself away from downtown intifada action and restricted its role to counter insurgency where it is doing a fine job. The LoC and IB are being patrolled by the Army, while the job of dealing with stone pelters is that of J & K Police and the CRPF. Somewhere all this gets mashed up leading to multiple problems for the security apparatus. Once again Kashmir is fragile, once again the ‘game’ players are proactive and India has to be vigilant. Pakistan will continue to fish in troubled waters, keeping its hopes alive of India’s vivisection through the pouching of Kashmir. The Indian deep state has to be extra careful for the ruling party is an equal partner in the political conglomeration that rules the state. When the extreme right of Indian polity decides to get into bed with the extreme right of Kashmir politics, it is a marriage made in hell.
Sandeep Bamzai