By Ali Ahmed
The chief minister in Kashmir has presciently identified that Kashmir is at a critical decision juncture. This involves decompression of the state in sync with the violence indicators. This would facilitate a switch from a military dominant strategy to the political prong. Central to this is the status of the AFSPA. The state government can at best provide its inputs to the central government, as Omar Abdullah has rightly stated.
The central government has the diplomatic, intelligence and military input for a well considered decision. The army chief has indicated that the army has sent in its view via the ministry of defence. It is now for the cabinet committee on security (CCS) to take a decision since there appears to be a divergence between the views of the state government and the defence ministry. Even though it is so well known as to amount to being trite, the Clausewitzian principle bears recall that in considerations on conflict the political supersedes the more narrow military.
The army rationale would of necessity be on security grounds, such as the possibility of areas from which the ‘disturbed areas’ status is rolled back being used by terrorists once again as sanctuaries. The military logic in this case would likely be that sanctuaries would be made available to terrorists for hiding out of reach of the military in areas they would not longer be allowed to operate in.
The example of Imphal from which the status of ‘disturbed areas’ was withdrawn has been cited. An instance exists in the manner in which the Hil Kaka area in Surankot served as a sanctuary outside of areas declared disturbed up until 2000. It required the army to launch Operation Sarp Vinash to evict the concentration of terrorists in the area.
Currently, terrorists are under pressure across the state and any let up may give them a lease of life. Some candidate areas where near normalcy has returned have ethnic groups that require protection from incidents such as communal mass killings. Even if the disturbed areas status can be reinstated, it would amount to shutting the barn door after the horses have fled. It would expose the people in such areas to additional pressures once the army arrives to regain control.
Given the weight of this argument, the counter would require to be equally compelling. What are the arguments that can make it persuasive?
Politically, it is fair to argue that terrorism and militancy are amenable only to political resolution. The current juncture at the end of a quiet summer in Kashmir is therefore an appropriate one for a political initiative of this nature.
Diplomatically, there has been considerable ground covered over the past year. The grant of MFN status by Pakistan to India suggests this. The first round of talks not amounting to a ‘composite dialogue’ has been completed. Pakistan seems to be on board.
Pakistan can well appreciate the trouble it is in. In the past two decades of insurgency India has lost 4,800 troops of which some 1,600 have been army soldiers. Officially, over 13,000 civilians have perished. When contrasted with the figures suffered by Pakistan, they have an unmistakable problem at hand. They have lost 12,000 servicemen of which 3,000 have been military men. 30,000 civilians have died. This indicates that the blowback has been twice as costly in half the time. This also suggests that Pakistan would be amenable to the external prong of the strategy, already in play in India and evident at the SAARC meeting and granting of MFN status by Pakistan.
An internal package can include the recommendations of the interlocutors along with the five working groups. Even as some of the economic points have been under implementation for some years now, this winter could see a firming in of peace in case the balances are announced and progressed. The roll back of the AFSPA, where warranted by the security situation, must be seen in this context.
In any case the Supreme Court judgment has left little scope for discretion making roll back inescapable. It had ruled in the Nagaland case:
“It is, therefore, necessary that the authority exercising the power under Section 3 to make a declaration so exercises the said power that the extent of the disturbed area is confined to the area in which the situation is such that it cannot be handled without seeking the aid of the armed forces and by making a periodic assessment of the situation after the deployment of the armed forces the said authority should decide whether the declaration should be continued and, in case the declaration is required to be continued, whether the extent of the disturbed area should be reduced.”
Therefore the AFSPA roll back must be as part of a strategy for conflict resolution. It can easily be anticipated that this would not only please the common man, but also indeed, the army.
Research Fellow, IDSA
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