Treating J&K As Just A ‘Security Concern’ Delegitimises Military
Endless insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir will unfairly put the performance & image of the armed forces at risk.
The armed forces are not supposed to be ‘operational’ within, but only on the borders, as internal security is the mandate of the State or the Central Armed Police Forces. This presumption is not the reality in Kashmir.
The idyll of cantonment ‘peace stations’ in the hinterland was traditionally for retraining and recuperation, after ‘field’ or ‘ops’ tenures. The popular visibility and imagination of the military soldier for the average citizenry was traditionally in regimental regalia or ceremonials. Not so anymore, and certainly not in Kashmir.
The predominant image of the military soldier for the Kashmiri is a ballistic-helmeted, in combat-fatigues, armed and forever in ‘ops’ mode. Optically, this is also the most definitive impression of the sovereign’s imprint in the restive region-
J&K: Virtual Disappearance of Democratic Imperatives Like Local Politics
The underlying simplistic notion that Kashmir is only a security concern, has led to the virtual disappearance of the other democratic imperatives like the vibrant local politics, administrative buzz, non-governmental organisations, media and other elements of a dynamic democracy.
Seemingly, the ostensible solution to the lingering societal unrest is precariously predicated on the singular concern of ‘security’.
This facile and binary appreciation of the ground situation assumes the unimportance of any perceived socio-political detachment, psychological concerns, or even historical missteps. All recent executive decisions like the dismissal of civilian government, abrogation of Article 370, reduction to a Union Territory and pre-Covid lockdown that entailed arrest of almost all local politicians – has widened the emotional-gap of the valley with the rest of the country, and this is invariably sought to be allayed by the military.
This incorrectly posits the only visible arm of governance, that is, the ‘Indian soldier’, as the reason for and the target of, all societal angst and expressions against recent decisions.
This, when the ‘Indian soldier’ is doing a duty that he/she is not mandated (for example, internal security) to do in the first place, let alone have a ‘institutional’ opinion, of its own.
The local Kashmiri does not differentiate between the executive decision-takers and the military, and while the so-called ‘tough approach’ galvanises political passions in the rest of the country, the Valley sinks into the abyss and the military is inadvertently left to pick up the gauntlet.
Lip Service To Vajpayee’s ‘Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat, Insaniyat’
This narrative also burdens the national expectations on to the military to successfully ‘resolve’ the Kashmir impasse. A dangerously divisive ‘scorecard’ emerges, that records the fatalities on either side of the argument, to justify the continuation of violence. Endless blood is lost, and an enemy-nation gleefully stokes the fire to keep its treacherous commitment to ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts’.
This dull, blunt approach is devoid of any societal ‘heal’ as the political rhetoric of the day relegates the same to the realm of appeasement, enfeeblement and ‘surrender’. From time-to-time, a perfunctory lip service is paid to the profound ode of Vajpayee’s ‘Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat, Insaniyat’, as almost all three elements of that invocation get diluted by the day.
The deliberately stoked passions of the rest of the country too played a part as it seduced many to believe that the ‘back of the insurgency was broken’ after demonetisation, after dismissing the ‘corrupt’ government, after ‘reuniting’ the constitutional status, after splitting the state and so on and so forth – fact is, violence has not abated and the societal distance is arguably, at its peak.
However, such ‘muscularity’ also disturbingly posits the military to be an alternative to the functioning of democracy, with all its composition.
Why The Military Must Be Deployed Sparingly
This belies the constitutional preference of the armed forces as the ‘sword-arm’ or the ‘last resort’ that is meant to ‘control’ only a specific internal security concern – the operative word is ‘control’ and not ‘resolve’ a larger societal issue, by itself. The military is the most effective, disciplined and trustworthy arm of governance that needs to be deployed sparingly, specifically and not permanently, and certainly not, exclusively. The history of resolving insurgencies in India has always been accompanied by ‘accords’ that were fronted by political, socio-economic, psychological compromises, and the sovereignty remained guaranteed by the security steel afforded by the armed forces.
Insurgencies in Punjab and the Northeast too had a strong ‘security’ component, but it was always accompanied by a holistic, democratic and psychological recognition, restoration and redressal.
The armed forces are an invaluable component of any future Kashmir solution, but it will always be a component and NOT the entirety of the solution.
Today, the hopes in Kashmir are exclusively and unfairly pinned on the military to invariably ‘resolve’.
We Can’t Replace Civilian Democracy In J&K
The endless dragging-on of the Kashmir insurgency will unfairly put the performance and image of the armed forces itself, at risk – as the draw of cards dealt to them is stacked against history, logic and good sense.
The nation cannot afford to see its armed forces as a replacement for civilian democracy, nor see its armed forces unable to achieve its objectives.
Either way, it delegitimises the armed forces in the long run, besides taking a toll on precious lives, for want of a liberal, inclusive and democratic instinct in the nation.
Such over-exposure to civilian strife also breeds ‘political opinions’ within the ranks of the military that has its own disastrous consequences for the institution, which perform best when it disallows the air of societal ‘divides’ entering its barracks.
Such is the sensitivity towards keeping the military apolitical, that it took the top US General, Mark A Milley, to issue an unprecedented apology for the impression generated by walking along with President Donald Trump at Lafayette Square, “I should not have been there,” and added, “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
This is the real danger of thrusting the military onto a domestic unrest permanently, as also implying a ‘solution’ by way of its operations. Such a burden is unfair on the armed forces, it is unfair on our Kashmiri people, howsoever misguided some may be, and above all, to the democratic traditions and future of India.
(Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. 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.)
(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.