The Kashmir conflict Political Leadership must Evolve a National Consensus

Ever since independence and whenever there is internal instability in Pakistan, the establishment there attempts to divert the attention of the people by invoking the bogey of Islam being in danger in Kashmir. It then tries to foment trouble in the Valley by ostensibly supporting the so-called freedom fighters while actually provoking right-wing fundamentalists to raise the call for azadi. 

Such a situation has arisen again and the Musharraf regime is at its wits’ end as it tries to contain sectarian violence and terrorism. It is possible that the military regime could once again seek to channelise the energies of the extremist groups to Kashmir. The Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), an autonomous New Delhi-based national security think-tank, held a seminar on the “Current Situation in Jammu and Kashmir: Contours of Future Strategy” on January 2, 2008. 

Current scenario

Lt Gen M L Naidu, the Vice-Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS), delivered the keynote address. Mr Shekhar Dutt, Deputy National Security Advisor, Lt Gen A S Sekhon, Director-General Military Operations (DGMO), and Lt Gen R K Nanavatty (retd.), former GOC-in-C, Northern Command, reviewed the current security situation. Mr N N Vohra, the Special Representative of the Government of India for Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Information Commissioner, AVM Kapil Kak (retd.), Additional Director, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi, and Dr. Navnita Behera of Jamia Milia Islamia, examined the strategies necessary for the resolution of the conflict in Kashmir. 

Jammu and Kashmir is completely under control. A sense of normalcy has returned with schools, colleges and hospitals open, commerce flourishing and tourists thronging the scenic spots. Over three lakh pilgrims went on the Amarnath Yatra in 2007 and Janmashtami and Dussehra were celebrated in Kashmir after almost two decades. Lt Gen Naidu was of the view that while there was an almost 50 per cent decrease in the number of violent incidents during 2007, compared with 2006, there was no let-up in attempts at infiltration from across the Line of Control (LoC). At the same time, levels of militancy in the hinterland are now somewhat more enhanced. Clearly, the Pakistan army and the ISI have ordered a “tactical freeze” in J&K in view of the unstable situation in Pakistan. Its army’s grand strategy of wresting Kashmir from India and “bleeding India through a thousand cuts” has not changed; only the tactics have changed as the Pakistan army is itself bleeding profusely from self-inflicted wounds. It could once again raise the ante in J&K when it suits its purpose to do so. 

The number of trained and armed terrorists in J&K has now come down to about 1,400, from about 3,000 till a few years ago. Of these, about 700 to 800 are in the Kashmir Valley and the remainder in the Jammu region. However, not all of them are actively engaged in hit-and-run operations. There are many “sleeper cells” that are lying low and waiting to strike at a more opportune time or when ordered to do so from across the LoC. After the recent successes achieved by the security forces, wireless intercepts have revealed that the morale of the terrorists is low and self-preservation is a major motive. They no longer have the support of the people and are being increasingly resisted. 

Indian Kashmiri militant groups are now relying less on violence and more on other means like mass protests, influencing viewpoints through coercion of the local media, prevailing on the members of local bar associations to file human rights abuse cases and nudging some of the political parties that are constituents of the Hurriyat Conference to carry forward the agenda of separatism. 

After numerous calls for “demilitarisation”, the mainstream Kashmiri political leaders have realised that the term “demilitarisation” is technically applicable only to the LoC. As and when the LoC is accepted as a permanent border, with some adjustments, it will be up to the negotiating teams of India and Pakistan to plan a phased demilitarisation of troops deployed all along the line. The term “disengagement” is more appropriate for discussing the force levels of the army and other security forces in the hinterland of J&K. In case the situation continues to improve, it will be counter-productive for the security forces not to gradually reduce the force levels. This decision would have to be made jointly by the state and central governments based on the professional advice of the army chief and the intelligence agencies. There was a consensus at the conference that the present situation is not conducive to reducing the number of troops as the J&K police and the para-military forces are still not in a position to take over the responsibility. However, army battalions camping in public places like school and college compounds are being gradually moved out and the premises are being handed over to the local authorities. Also, cases of inadequate compensation are being examined jointly and redressal is being given where due. 

One senior participant was of the view that under the present circumstances, the unilaterally declared and mutually observed cease-fire on the LoC is of significant advantage to Pakistan as it has negated the Indian army’s military superiority and the ability to undertake punitive measures against Pakistani army posts that are engaged in aiding and abetting infiltration. Also, the construction of a continuous wire fence along the LoC has yielded dividend in the Jammu region but has been relatively less effective in the higher mountain ranges along the LoC. It has tied down a large number of troops for maintaining a constant vigil. It also tends to encourage a siege mentality and curbs the initiative of infantrymen. The aim should not be the deterrence of infiltration, but the physical elimination of infiltrators. It was recommended that the manning of the fence along the LoC be handed over to the Rashtriya Rifles and the Border Security Force so that army battalions are left free to perform their primary task of ensuring the integrity of the LoC. 

Many of the participants lamented the absence of a clear and comprehensive strategy that simultaneously addresses political, diplomatic, economic, social and psychological issues that are central to the conflict in J&K. Apart from the lack of development, poor governance was especially identified as a major factor that is hampering efforts at conflict resolution, if not actually fuelling the conflict further.

Panchayati Raj

The early introduction of Panchayati Raj was recommended as a measure that will enhance people’s participation in governance. A state-level Finance Commission is also necessary to allocate funds for development. It was pointed out that 100,000 widows and orphans need to be urgently rehabilitated. The enactment of a Right to Information Act for J&K was considered imperative. 

Perception management is another neglected field that needs to be urgently addressed. The majority in J&K is no longer interested in joining Pakistan or even in seeking azadi. People are looking for a just and equitable political package that will address their feelings of alienation. They are likely to settle for substantive autonomy that gives them the right to genuine self-governance without undue interference from outside the state. The continuing lack of political will to find a solution to the people’s problems is a major stumbling block. This could perhaps be attributed to the complexities of coalition politics. In the national interest, the political leadership of the country must rise above following a partisan approach to this serious issue. The political leadership ought to evolve a national consensus to resolve the conflict in Kashmir.

The writer is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.