By Manoj Joshi
The ceasefire ordered by the government is a poor copy of the one that was initiated by the Vajpayee government between November 2000 to May 2001. That was a carefully prepared event towards making peace in Kashmir by engaging the separatists and the militants and bypassing the Pakistanis.
A lot of behind-the-scenes work with the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) went into it. And it came apart because of systematic ISI pressure. First, after supporting it, the HM chief Salahuddin who resides in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, renounced his support.
It was viewed seriously enough by the ISI that it triggered an attack on the Red Fort by Lashkar-e-Tayyeba terrorists and a suicide bombing at the headquarters of the Army’s 15 Corps in Srinagar. It led to severe infighting in the APHC and the eventual assassinations of the principal advocates of peace, HM deputy chief Abdul Majid Dar and Abdul Ghani Lone. Eventually, New Delhi threw in the towel and invited Musharraf for talks in Agra.
The current non-initiation of combat operations (NICO), to give the ceasefire a more precise name, comes in a confused and chaotic circumstance, in the middle of the government’s blood and iron strategy to finish off militancy for good in the state.
There is no doubt that the NICO will be a boon to the militants who have been under enormous pressure. But it has not even got token support from the militants of any stripe, or, for that matter, the so-called joint resistance leadership, who also doubles as the APHC.
From Clausewitz onwards, military strategists acknowledge that military operations are a means of fulfilling political ends. In the case of the Modi government in Kashmir, it is difficult to discern any other goals other than to militarily finish off the militancy.
Though the Prime Minister’s two-hour stop-over in Srinagar on Saturday to inaugurate a hydro project is being conflated as some kind of a political gesture, the fact is that there is no discernible political initiative accompanying the ceasefire. His last set of golden words, uttered while inaugurating another project in April, were his standard wordplay—“the youth of Kashmir have two ways ahead, on one hand you have tourism and on the other terrorism.”
There are problems with this approach and the current NICO appears to be aimed at heading them off. In what is increasingly appearing to be a failed policy, the removal of armed gunmen from the scene is only leading to their replacement by a radicalised mass of young Kashmiris who are increasingly ready to sacrifice their lives in attacking military convoys and even tourist groups with stones.
So far, rules of engagement have prevented mass casualties, but the recent lynching of a JCO and the killing of a tourist signal a situation that is slowly getting out of hand with the crowds escalating their violence using stones, Molotov cocktails. The Army is simply not trained to deal with this unless the government intends to give them the freedom to deal with the situation like the Israeli Army which does not hesitate to shoot at violent, but unarmed protestors.
The difference is that while the Israeli soldiers are killing “the enemy”, Indian soldiers will be asked to fire at their own unarmed, albeit violent countrymen.
The big challenge is to evolve tactics to deal with these mobs. For long it has been clear that the Army is not the right kind of force to deal with this because it is not equipped to handle violent but unarmed mobs. This is not an uncommon challenge, it is confronted by police forces across the world in Germany, France, South Korea or Brazil.
The handling requires special tactics, equipment, a very high level of training and psychological conditioning and a significant mass of personnel who would have to be deployed across the Valley.
Though the Modi government is an expert in appropriating ideas and icons, it seems to lack the creative ability or the executive skills to go beyond simple copying. The same seems to be the case with the ceasefire or NICO.
Experience should tell us that the problem has two tracks – the Pakistani and the domestic – which must be simultaneously engaged and the process synchronised in a manner that ensures that both move at the same pace.
Engaging one and not the other doesn’t work, neither does an uncoordinated procedure. More than anything else, it also requires a point man who has the prime minister’s authority. As of now, all these seem to be lacking and so, there is little chance that there will be any forward movement.
This commentary originally appeared in Dailyo