By Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain*
The long festering Kashmir street disturbances and the four-hour encounter at the Uri administrative base have a distinct connect, which is easy to identify if one knows the entire dynamics of the sponsored proxy war under way in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).
But first, a short focus on the street turbulence after Burhan Wani’s killing.
What went wrong?
Firstly, it seems we just took our eyes away from the scanner. We felt that the absence of high levels of violence and reduced strength of terrorists meant a returning peace. We rarely looked at the people’s dimension, the alienation index. In all the experiments we did with outreach to the populace (Awam) in 2010-12, this author always harped that this peaceful period was not due to our success but due to the end of agitation stamina, with reference to the 2008-10 agitation; and it happens to even the most resilient ethnic groups or nationalities of the world.
What we generated with some of our initiatives of grass roots outreach, sports tournaments, interactive seminars, skill development, employment opportunities and change of force ethos to friendly soldiering, surprised the people and created lots of excitement in the Kashmiri society and media. We could not sustain it. Much of it happened due to apathy and much due to bureaucratic obstacles. For example, the goodwill annual cricket tournament, Kashmir Premier League, started by the Indian Army in 2011, did not last beyond 2012 because the MoD (Finance) had objections to the use of the Sadbhavana budget for a cricket tournament. No one bothered to check what electrifying effect the tournament had on the Awam. The Army brass and the MO Directorate were not in sync with Northern Command and the issue was never pushed. There were many such initiatives that languished due to sheer lack of understanding in the military civil bureaucracy.
Second, the system took democracy for granted. The conduct of elections was not democracy; the translation of the election to a sustained outreach by political functionaries to their electorates would have been. It did not work that way. The security situation precluded such activity and the governance was just not energetic enough to make a marked difference. From 2014 onwards, the time was spent in election mode, overcoming the effects of floods, government formation and stabilisation.
Why is the Youth So Alienated and Up in Arms?
The social effects of conflict on youth are extremely marked. Those born around 1989 have grown up with the sounds of gunfire and gun culture around them. They have abhorrence for the uniform, however much the Army’s soft power efforts. They have seen their parents humiliated at check points and seen uniformed men barge into their homes to search for militants. It is difficult taking this hatred out from their psyche unless some deep psychological efforts are made. Burhan Wani and his comrades were from this generation. This is a different and more difficult generation to understand.
No one yet has clear explanations for the Islamic State (IS/Daesh) phenomenon. That their elders hounded out the Kashmiri Pandits and destroyed the pristine environment and inclusive culture of Kashmir has never been brought home to them because the mosques have been speaking a rabidly radical language for years. There was no effort towards bringing them around to an alternative narrative.
Pakistan’s Deep State sensed its opportunity. Pathankot had effectively demonstrated its ability to upset a fast moving peace process. With a low terror footprint in Kashmir’s hinterland, it could not demonstrate a similar relevance. The Indian Army’s stranglehold over the infiltration routes could not guarantee success of any attempt to execute a high profile action on an objective in the hinterland that would spur the young Kashmiris to continue their stone throwing agitation with greater vigour.
The choice was limited since the past two years, which is why the focus of high profile strikes shifted to Jammu division and North Punjab. When the vigil in Punjab also increased, attempts were made to penetrate the frontlines in Kashmir for strikes at places where the Anti-Infiltration Obstacle System was well inside the LoC. Tangdhar was one such place but success eluded there. Poonch again failed.
It, unfortunately for us, finally succeeded at Uri. Yet, the losses due to circumstances were so high that it generated concern beyond what Pakistan had ever catered for. The idea was to bolster the morale of the youth in the streets of Kashmir’s hinterland. Instead, it has led to crossing of the Rubicon of India’s tolerance and demands in India for retribution are no longer cosmetic.
When public anger rises, nations undertake tactical responses to cool it down and await a more opportune moment for a response that will deliver a bigger punch. It is never standalone. In the world of hybrid warfare, which is what we are being subjected to, the response should also be in the hybrid domain. That means a vast scope to choose the areas of activity. The different kinds of military operations, strategic diplomacy and communication strategy are the obvious choices for the moment.
* Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain
Member, Governing Council, IPCS, & former GOC, 15 Corps, Srinagar