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Army Must Combat Lethal Infiltrators, Not Go After Stone-Pelters

Sending army for the Valley’s Operation Calm Down was a mistake that resulted in Uri tragedy, writes David Devadas

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Intelligence and analysis can be critical to winning war-like situations. And since well before 9/11, it has been obvious, what I call ‘war-like situations’ can be far bigger contemporary challenges than formally declared wars.

What has happened in Kashmir over the past year amply demonstrated that India’s intelligence and analysis was in shambles. What has happened since 8 July, when militant commander Burhan Wani was killed, demonstrated that intelligence and analysis were still bumbling along in disarray. What has happened over the past couple of weeks leaves one lost for words.

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The timing of the decision to beef up joint operations by police, army and paramilitary forces in south Kashmir shows that intelligence and analysis remain in a shockingly poor state. Indeed, one should say an unforgivable state. All the intelligence agencies, armed forces and police intelligence wings, analysts in the prime minister’s and major ministries’ set-ups, and in sundry think tanks, evidently remain at sea. Not only have they failed to get a grip on the nature of the challenge, they are taking hopelessly ill-advised decisions.

The decision to push the army into Operation Calm Down to try and suppress the stone-pelting teenager warriors in south Kashmir was one of the worst advised. It was wrong for a range of reasons. Here are some of them:

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Sending   army for the Valley’s Operation Calm Down was a mistake that resulted in Uri tragedy, writes David Devadas
(Photo: IANS/ Altered by The Quint)
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Army Is Not For Stone-Pelters

One, the decision came just a few days before the Pakistani attack at Uri. The army should have been reserved for the vital task of taking on the lethal infiltrators that had already been streaming in over the past couple of years. The graph of ingress had been rising and had gone up to a feverish level since around the Independence Day. That was just around three weeks before the south Kashmir plan was put into action.

It should have been obvious by then to any sensible analyst, even one with intelligence of only the cranial sort rather than the inputs sort, that the army had to gear up for the infiltrators — if not also for potentially more daunting challenges. Evidently, this was not obvious to the army brass. The generals in-charge were eager to play street cop.

The most insightful generals of the past, men like General BC Joshi for example, were crystal clear about the fact that the army is not meant to be used against their own people. One wishes fervently for such commanders amid the current challenge —which might yet turn out to be an unprecedented one.

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Sending   army for the Valley’s Operation Calm Down was a mistake that resulted in Uri tragedy, writes David Devadas
(Photo: PTI/ Altered by The Quint)
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Give Disillusionment Space

Two, a growing number of people in Kashmir was getting gradually distressed with the stone-pelting mobs of teenagers that have held large parts of Kashmir in thrall over the past several weeks. The silent majority was not backing the demonstrations from even a couple of days after militant commander Burhan Wani’s death on 8 July. A couple of months on, that number was growing. Given time, it would have found a way to assert itself.

The apple season is here. Despite words of bravado about willingness to lose the season, people have battened down to harvesting the biggest crop of the year. The streets of Srinagar are full of carts and mini-tempos filled with apples selling at twenty rupees a kilo. Large parts of south Kashmir, including Shopian, Pulwama, Kulgam and Tral, depend heavily on the crop. The last three of those four centres have been among the most heavily affected by demonstrations.

Exams too are creeping up and the studious minority of teenagers who want an education-based career have been getting increasingly uneasy. The autumn too has arrived in Kashmir, and the cold of winter would surely have brought some respite from even the most die-hard demonstrators.

And now, the Uri attack has jolted Kashmiris into seriously questioning what the supporters of their struggle across the Line of Control really have in mind. Some are even asking if the Pakistanis have the Kashmiris’ best interests at heart.

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Sending   army for the Valley’s Operation Calm Down was a mistake that resulted in Uri tragedy, writes David Devadas
(Photo: IANS/ Altered by The Quint)
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Goodwill Lost

Three, Operation Calm Down has needlessly put at risk what little is left of public goodwill for the army in Kashmir. Senior figures from the ruling establishment acknowledge that the police did not measure up. That was good reason to haul up the police, establish a strong command structure, and provide more professional back-up than the CRPF has given. It was not a good reason to send out the army to back the police.

Operation Calm Down stands in stark contrast to 2010, the last time the government reached the end of its tether with regard to civil order in the face of stone-pelting mobs.

The then Corps Commander, Lt Gen Naresh Marwah, had assiduously kept army troops away from police operations. Even when the then chief minister, Omar Abdullah, demanded an army flag march, Marwah smartly sent a convoy with red flags down the Boulevard along the Dal Lake, and no further.

The result was that not a single army vehicle or personnel was attacked. A majority of the Kashmiri youth did not use invective for the army as they did for the police, and even more so for the CRPF. The army earned goodwill in a real sense, the way it had over part of the previous decade — for which Marwah’s ebullient successor claimed credit.

The irony is that, when it kept so firmly away from policing in 2010, the army was not even needed for the sort of daunting operations that it is engaged in right now in places like Uri.

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Sending   army for the Valley’s Operation Calm Down was a mistake that resulted in Uri tragedy, writes David Devadas
(Photo: IANS/ Altered by The Quint)
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Deliberate Obfuscation

The crying shame is that not only were the plethora of intelligence outfits oblivious to the nature of the threat India faced (as has became apparent at Uri), an argument for pulling the army in for Operation Calm Down was deliberately orchestrated through false reports.

A report was put out a few weeks ago that south Kashmir was all but lost, that only four police posts remained in the entire region. It was a deliberately misleading obfuscation of the sort this country must stop tolerating if it does not want to lose its integrity.

The fact is that police posts are not police stations. They are outposts of police stations placed for the convenience of small hamlets in normal times. Indeed, many of them have been wound up since they are vulnerable to stone-pelting mobs. However, all the police stations were functioning at high intensity round the clock — literally — when that false report was planted to pave the way for Operation Calm Down.

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Enough is Enough

It is imperative that the vastly flatulent intelligence set-up try and get what it can of its act together relatively quickly. Decisions like sending the army out on Operation Calm Down just when far greater challenges are round the corner are mistakes India cannot afford.

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(The writer is a Kashmir-based author and journalist. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:   Kashmir   Burhan Wani   Uri Terror Attack 

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