J&K Situation Dynamics: It’s Advantage India For Now
Advantage India in the diplomatic domain, defeat of the deep state’s intent at the LoC and stabilisation of Kashmir’s streets will remain only a temporary achievement.
That advantage needs to be converted to victory in the domain which matters most, governance.
When events move fast in a hybrid conflict scenario, it is always good to do stock taking from time to time, especially after perceived situational success. The more important reason to do so is that we may delude ourselves in a celebratory environment and lose focus from the main task ahead. Before anything else it is important to remind everyone that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) can never be viewed in a single dimension. It is always a sum of trends in diverse fields; military, political, human, social and economic; one could add a few more as peripherals.
Stating the bare bone truth, with regard to the strategic aims of India and Pakistan may be helpful in making a case for a change of focus by India in the current situation, if required. Pakistan's aim is to bleed India through a series of actions with different levels of violence; create alienation in the state of J&K, particularly the Valley, and force the secession of the state through a combination of political, military and diplomatic measures. An essential element of the strategy is the control over escalation by keeping its multiple actions in diverse domains within a threshold of India's 'grudging tolerance'. India's aim is to defeat the proxy war launched by Pakistan, overcome the alienation of the Kashmiri people and integrate or mainstream them with rest of India to deny Pakistan's secessionist intent. India too is mindful of escalation and its own intent of pursuing high economic growth and betterment of its people in spite of provocations.
The centre of gravity revolves around the alienation of the people which is a common factor in both strategies. Pakistan wishes to promote alienation while India desires dilution of alienation and promotion of integration. Thus, the centre of gravity continues to be the Kashmiri people, in both cases.
India's efforts at achieving integration are beset by some basic disadvantages. First is the fact that a new generation in Kashmir is yearning to take charge. It's not a generation which has seen peace and tranquility in Kashmir. It has grown up used to the presence of the uniform and weapons; cases of parents perhaps humiliated, suffering the indignities of cordon and search operations and the rampant check point culture any one is subjected to in a conflict environment. Second, the compulsions of democratic politics, which strengthen the fabric of the rest of India have a near opposite effect on the population of a conflict zone. The real challenge of delivering the final blow to Pakistan's aspirations by taking the next steps after conflict stabilisation in the military domain, through the socio-political route, has remained elusive. That is because of a lack of clarity. Whether it be the soft power route (including military soft power, which has a history of acceptance and credibility) or a flexible policy of weeding out anti-national elements and winning over the populace or even a more coercive route (for whatever it's worth), the sheer lack of a strategy has disadvantaged India at different junctures. That has allowed Pakistan and its deep state to regain the initiative.
Pakistan seized the initiative once again in July 2016, in the wake of the killing of Burhan Wani, forcing serious turbulence in the streets for almost two and a half months. Fearing the flagging of the energy in the streets due to Indian peace efforts, a diluting stamina and economic problems of the people due to extended curfew, Pakistan chose to execute terror strikes against establishments of the India Army and police forces to convey messages of its full backing to the separatist elements. The Uri incident achieved for Pakistan success beyond expectations and gave it the opportunity to seek advantage in the diplomatic domain in the initial days after the incident.
However, India's very focused military and diplomatic campaign surpassed the Pakistani campaign. While the campaign in the external dimension helped isolate Pakistan internationally and regionally, the trans-Line of Control (LoC) surgical strikes met the emotive needs of India's domestic environment and after very long the projection of intent to execute retribution if pushed to the wall, now and hereafter. The combined effect of the surgical strikes, the countering of the terrorist action at Baramula and the elimination of seven terrorists in similar other operations have all contributed towards the Army regaining a temporarily lost self-esteem.
Clearly, it is advantage India at this moment. We have created apparent schisms within the Pakistan establishment, if current reports are true about the advisory given by the civilian government to the Pakistan Army. Pakistan stands deeply isolated. Even its staunchest friend China is having reported reservations of supporting Pakistan's approach to terror; particularly the distinction between friendly and unfriendly terrorists, the support for Masood Azhar in the UN notwithstanding. However, hybrid conflict situations have a nasty way of springing surprises from domains from which focus has shifted. By continuing to focus on the LoC and directing its terror groups to launch sneak attempts more often Pakistan is clearly attempting to give the separatists the will and energy to continue the movement in the streets.
The Indian Army is now as robustly involved at the LoC, in the hinterland operations and in calming the streets in South Kashmir, as it ever was in the last 27 years. This is a negative for us and a positive for Pakistan. The Army's move of two brigades into South Kashmir, the emerging return of confidence in the J&K Police, the arrest of some agitation leaders, opening of commercial establishments and the lifting of the apple crop from orchards and markets are a combination of trends which augur well for us.
The state government should also be finding itself far more confident after a very challenging period. It should look upon the situation as an opportunity to change the political and development narrative. That cannot happen if its attention remains rooted to the events at the LoC, other borders and in securing its institutions against renewed attempts at 'fedayeen' as was witnessed in 1999-2005. As soon as the situation permits the political community of Kashmir must endeavour to return to the people. The Army and the Police forces can enable this by creating locally secure conditions as and where required.
Perhaps since long the need for complete synergy between the state government and the Army has never been felt more than now. The chief minister's confidence in the Unified Command will need to be progressively enhanced. She has hardly had the opportunity to discuss with the Unified Command issues other than those which plagued the immediate. Her father had achieved this to a great extent in 2002-05. There will be political compulsions, which are fully understandable, but through more interaction with the Army's top officers there will be better understanding of the nature of conflict and a chance to debate the long-term strategy. The days of discussing winter and summer strategies are passé; long-term strategy should be the replacement.
The durbar will move in another three weeks, hopefully bringing a tumultuous period in Kashmir's history to a close. The six-month hiatus when the seat of government will be at Jammu must be spent doing some important things. First, ensuring that Jammu receives its due attention. The Jammu populace and the BJP's street have been remarkably quiet; that should never be taken for granted, and it must be compensated by paying due attention to the needs of the region. Two, winter offers an opportunity to bring comfort to the people if resources are planned and deployed in time. The Jammu-Srinagar road will close for two or three weeks bringing the annual misery in Kashmir in terms of shortages of everything. Let this be a year with a difference with special officers from concerned ministries of the state governments deputed and made accountable.
Advantage India in the diplomatic domain, defeat of the deep state's intent at the LoC and stabilisation of Kashmir's streets will remain only a temporary achievement. That advantage needs to be converted to victory in the domain which matters most, governance. Pakistan's strategy of targeting peripherals to cause greater alienation and more enthusiasm in separatist ranks needs to be countered finally in the domain of governance and political outreach, both of which should be the joint effort of the central and state governments. Portends of that seem to be appearing; fingers remain crossed.
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