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The Kashmir crisis in its present form can be traced back to the India-Pakistan war of 1971 and the birth of Bangladesh. Pakistan suffered the humiliation of a crushing defeat, a formal surrender with around 93,000 prisoners of war, and, most of all, the country being split into two. A firm realisation also dawned on Pakistan, that it could not match India in conventional terms, and hence she launched a well-crafted strategy of ‘death by thousand cuts’. Started initially in Punjab in the early 1980s, it was more successful in Jammu and Kashmir later, and continues to date.
As a professional, one must grudgingly give full marks to our adversary for crafting this ‘low cost-high gain’ strategy. Using terrorists from across the borders and separatist elements within, they succeeded in tying down a disproportionately large force. Not only this, their handlers from across the borders kept reinventing and realigning the modus operandi of terrorists and other force multipliers, depending on the context and the situation.
The Kashmir crisis in its present form has been caused, to a large extent, by Pakistan's actions since 1971.
Over the last three years, after the abrogation of Article 370, things had been improving. The cycle of violence had been broken. But that threw a spanner in terrorists' work.
Identifying potential threats in advance requires the strengthening of civil society and other stakeholders, such as grassroots politicians, the clergy, teachers, and others. Unless all stakeholders are energised, meaningful change cannot take place.
As things improve in other parameters, it is time that the political aspirations of the erstwhile state are met.
There should be no hurry to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits or other minorities in the Valley before the situation has stabilised. What has been spoilt over three decades cannot be undone overnight.
How Pakistan Fuelled Terrorism in Kashmir
For nearly two decades, there was widespread violence and terrorists roamed and operated in Jammu & Kashmir in thousands. As security forces brought the situation under control and violence levels decreased, the separatists and their sponsors started evolving new tactics and strategies to keep the pot boiling in Kashmir for a decade or more. From 2009 to 2011, each summer, they employed stone-pelting campaigns as a new form of agitation. They soon realised that unarmed struggle found more acceptance in the western world.
A few years later in 2015, they combined stone-pelting with counter-terrorist operations and used it as a force multiplier. It was used to distract security forces during encounters and even help terrorists escape by opening another front against them.
The robust anti-infiltration grid and an effective security situation in the last decade resulted in a drastic decrease in the number of residual terrorists in the Valley from thousands to a couple of hundred. Moreover, terrorists were hardly trained as they were unable to exfiltrate to PoK for training. So, they came up with another strategy – a proactive use of social media as a force multiplier. The skillful use of media and social media allowed them to build narratives, while also helping them mobilise crowds. Social media became the primary means of radicalisation as well.
Is This Really a 'Return to the 1990s'?
The security forces, intelligence agencies and the administration have only been reacting to these developments with better defensive measures. The surgical strikes in 2016 and the Balakot airstrikes in 2019 were two pre-emptive steps. On 5 August 2019, India abrogated Article 370 and 35A, getting ahead of the curve. Separatists, Pakistan and other vested interests did not know how to react.
Over the last nearly three years, let us examine a status report in different parameters. There is less violence on the streets, the Jammu & Kashmir administration is undertaking extensive public outreach, improved administration in various fields, assisting in economic activities, and for nearly two years, there were no civilian deaths, as a result of security forces’ actions. The cycle of violence had been broken. This clearly threw a spanner in terrorists’ works. The other side wanted to play the victim card.
And that is why there has been a spate of targeted killings, focused on soft targets – to disprove that we’re moving towards better times, if not normalcy. If terrorists target security forces, it has a limited effect on the populace.
But when the common public is in the crosshairs, it has a more chilling effect. It banishes the feeling that things are improving. It instils fear and uncertainty in the minds of the public, more so if the minority community is targeted.
All talk of ‘a return to the nineties’ is statistically off the mark, but such is the impression created by targeting soft, non-VIP targets.
Strengthening Grassroots Politics and Stakeholders
So, what can be done to stay ahead of the curve? Continuing to provide good administration, better business opportunities and meeting aspirations for growth are good steps, but not good enough. Trying to provide a security-focused solution against targeted killings will yield limited results, as most such solutions are more effective after incidents.
Identifying such potential threats in advance requires the strengthening of civil society and other stakeholders, such as grassroots politicians (Panchayats, District Development Councils), well-meaning segments of the clergy, teachers, among others. Unless these stakeholders are energised, meaningful change cannot take place.
The so-called ‘hybrid terrorists’ who don't have a track record and perhaps do not go in for a second operation, can only be identified by society. Thus, civil society’s role is crucial. In Mizoram and Punjab, civil society played a significant role in drawing the saga of terrorism to a close in the eighties. Counterterrorism cannot become a spectator sport between security forces and terrorists, with Kashmir civil society watching from the ringside. The latter will have to participate, sometimes risking dangers.
Meanwhile, as things are improving in other parameters, it is time that the political aspirations of the erstwhile state are met. With the delimitation process having been completed, the stage is set for the holding of elections. Special hand-holding by the Centre will be a pre-requisite for better times, but the political process must begin. The stakeholders should feel responsible and work together to improve the state of affairs. In my view, there should be no hurry to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits or other minorities in the Valley before the situation has stabilised. What has been spoilt over three decades cannot be undone overnight. It is better to delay the process rather than have disappointments and loss of lives. Patience in certain aspects is strategic in nature.
We must now stay ahead of the curve in every way and not be reactive to terrorists’ designs. Only then can the overall situation improve. And only then will the conditions be safe for minorities to live and work in Kashmir.
(Lt General Satish Dua is a former Corps Commander in Kashmir, who retired as Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. Views expressed are personal. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)