Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Kashmir mess is largely a failure of imagination

THERE should be no doubts in anyone’s mind that what is unfolding in the Kashmir Valley is not part of the separatist game plan. While alienation and angst may be the cause for young men to come out and take on the police, their motivators are hardened militants who operate in the shadowy world of subversion, insurgency and espionage.

But let us be equally clear that the big failure has been New Delhi’s. The present mood in the Valley has been set by large public agitations such as those related to the Amarnath Yatra in 2008, followed last year by the Shopian rape case protests.

The failures can be divided into three— that of imagination, anticipation and that of management. There is little use blaming Omar Abdullah for the problem. The responsibility must be shared between the state and Union governments and the answers that are needed can come only from the effective team- work of the two.

All this is to state the obvious.

The failure of imagination lies in the inability of Manmohan Singh’s government to build upon the solid foundations of the 2003- 2007 period when the ceasefire on the Line of Control came into effect and Pakistani infiltration markedly declined, as did the violence in the Valley. One indicator of this is that the number of security personnel killed went from a high of nearly 300 in 2004 to 80 or so in 2009.


In all fairness, the Prime Minister did a lot in terms of resolving the issue with Pakistan. It were his personal efforts that led to the breakthroughs in opening up the LoC to trade and to advancing the back- channel discussions till they narrowed the Indian and Pakistani positions dramatically. But, where he could have done more, he failed. This was in negotiating with Kashmiri parties to draw down the separatist agitation.

True, this was a more complex task since there were so many more variables at play— the various Kashmiri political parties, the different groups of militants and Kashmiri civil society elements and so on. But it is difficult to avoid the feeling that this was due to a shortfall in the effort, rather than the degree of difficulty that was confronted.

The issue of anticipation and management must rest with the intelligence and security establishment in Srinagar and New Delhi. Anticipation can only help you if you have the managerial abilities to deal with the situation and, important in the current context, the effective instrumentalities to do so.

It has been 70 years since the Central Reserve Police Force was founded to take on the resurgent national movement in 1939. It’s been sixty plus years since India became free, and two decades and more since the force was first deployed in Jammu & Kashmir, yet there has been no change in its organisation, principles and ethos. It was— and it remains— essentially a crowd control force which relies on the sequence of tear gas, lathi and bullet. Across the world, even in authoritarian states like China and Iran, managing violent demonstrators and crowds has become a fine art, but in India, it remains a uniquely brutal colonial- era industry.

North Block refuses to see the Kashmir problem in any but a transient mode.

The assumption is that the Kashmiris can be defeated through attrition brought on by applying overwhelming force. What it is doing to the security forces has been amply manifested in the instances of suicides of personnel posted in operational areas. What it is doing to the civilians has been clear to us in the past few days.

Because the Ministry of Home Affairs has worked with the assumption that status quo ante will soon be achieved, they have yet to train the kind of police forces that are needed to cope with the demands of the long haul.


The ad hoc approach is manifest in the fact that the CRPF is being used as a crowd control force in most of India, an urban counter- insurgency and anti- riot force in the Kashmir Valley and a rural counter- insurgency force in the jungles of Dantewada— and it is not being adequately trained and equipped for any of these tasks.

In Kashmir, for instance, though the challenge has morphed from the early days of the insurgency to a sophisticated political struggle, the CRPF has not changed in terms of equipment, organisation and doctrine. The CRPF needs a new set of crowd control equipment, training and orientation.

There is a two- track struggle going on in the Valley. The first is a military conflict involving Pakistan- trained and armed militants who are adopting the clever tactic of mostly lying low and allowing the overground elements to stoke anti- Indian fires. The second is a civil protest movement which is a mélange of separatism, Islamism and alienation against misrule and lack of avenues for productive employment. It is important to understand the difference between the two and to acknowledge that to counter them require two different sets of tactics.

The military challenge is easy to handle and it has been handled competently by essentially containing the Pakistandirected insurgency. The civil challenge is more complex and is not being handled well at all. Instead of using a mix of political, police and psychological tactics, we are witnessing a military response, or, to be precise, a paramilitary one.


The same Union government decided in the early 1990s that a special force was needed to handle communal violence and so the Rapid Action Force was created as a sub- unit of the CRPF. But it took three decades of communal violence and its increased virulence for the Home Ministry to finally act. In fact the RAF’s model of independently mobile units with specially selected personnel who are trained and equipped for their specific task is a good one for Kashmir. To this end personnel need to be educated on the sociology and pathology of street violence, and the units asked to familiarise themselves with the sensitive areas.

All that is lacking is imagination in North Block, and some bureaucratic energy, to create such a special force for the Kashmir Valley.

These days it is difficult to avoid a sense of déjà vu on Kashmir. As in 1990, the heart of the separatist struggle has shifted to Baramulla and Sopur, which are strongholds of the Jamaat- e- Islami. Then, as now, the CRPF is playing a stellar role, or to be accurate, the role of a dark star that sucks up every possible effort to normalise the situation.

If things continue the way they are doing, you can be sure that we are far from resolving the Kashmir problem, even after discounting the Pakistan factor.

This appeared in Mail Today June 30, 2010

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