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Ajit Doval’s Kashmir Remark: Balancing Normalcy & Anti-Terror Ops

New Delhi must urgently suggest a clear path ahead for the Kashmiris, as far as communication is concerned.

Published
Opinion
5 min read
Ajit Doval’s Kashmir Remark: Balancing Normalcy & Anti-Terror Ops
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There is this one thing that marks the present government, making it quite different from earlier ones. Prime Minister Modi is not one who likes his officers sitting in air-conditioned rooms, poring over their files and sipping tepid cups of tea. He likes them on the ground, sometimes bluntly asking senior bureaucrats what they were doing in Delhi, when their presence was required on the ground in a crisis or even for a policy review.

In the case of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, such chiding is unnecessary. The NSA usually hits the ground running, and demands nothing from his men that he is not capable of doing himself, no matter how dangerous. So when Doval speaks on Kashmir, it’s a good idea to listen carefully. He’s sitting right there, and he’s showing no signs of leaving.

‘Jihadi tanzeems’ want nothing more than crowds pouring out on the streets, and lying wounded in hospitals to be interviewed by media.
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Preventing Terrorist Groups from ‘Making’ the News

Recently, the NSA remarked that the lifting of restrictions in Kashmir, so heavily criticised by foreign media, would depend on how Pakistan behaved, observing that it’s a ‘stimulant and response’ situation.

Counter-terrorism officials, anywhere from Afghanistan to Syria, will have no difficulty understanding this. But it needs a bit of explanation for those unfamiliar with terrorist tactics. First, the old axiom that ‘terrorists don’t just want people dead, they want people watching’, could have been made for Kashmir.

Jihadi tanzeems want nothing more than crowds pouring out on the streets, and lying wounded in hospitals to be interviewed by media. The pellet gun is a publicity dividend, since at any time, a blinded child is far more ‘effective’ than a bullet-ridden body of a militant. One is killed and forgotten, but the other will tragically live forever on TV screens. In Kashmir, stone-pelting crowds are everything. Without this, it’s just another terrorist baddie strutting his stuff.

Posters from Lashkar e Tayyba are everywhere, and incidents of shop keepers being killed for opening their stores have emerged,

Second, and arising out of this, ‘no news is bad news’, which means that terrorist groups have to ‘make the news’, especially within a population that is tired of violence and just wants to go home. This is done through a complicated set of manoeuvres, starting with directions from across the border, through several communication towers located along the border in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, each belonging to a different tanzeem.

In addition, Pakistan’s cell coverage – including those from Chinese cell providers like Zong – also cover parts of the Valley, allowing directions from ‘handlers’ to not just terrorists, but a network of over-ground workers. These are people who don’t take part directly in violence, but spread messages and directives, and essentially are the logisticians of terrorist groups.

How to Curb ‘Crowd-Mobilisers’

Then there is another group, lower down the social scale in the terrorists’ handbook, known as ‘crowd-mobilisers’. Their job is to spread false rumours and news through their mobiles, backed with authentic looking photographs ( provided from across), with all of this usually spread just before Friday prayers. There, the faithful are harried and urged to fight ‘oppression’ by hate-spewing religious leaders, particularly in areas dominated by the Jamaat-e-Islami.

The charged crowd can then be expected to go out and pelt security forces with stones, and some will be wounded, or blinded, adding more grist to the mill. The ban on mobile phone coverage is designed to prevent this cycle of violence. As recent coverage of the situation by a courageous journalist shows, rumour-mongering is still the most popular pastime in some of the six districts that are militant dens.

For ‘normalcy’ to return in the form of bustling markets and schoolchildren hurrying to class, the terrorist writ has to be broken.

That coverage also stresses what a few journalists, especially the ones from the West care to note, which is that shops remain shut as much due to fear of the terrorist threat, as sympathy with these groups. Posters from Lashkar e Tayyba are everywhere, and incidents of shop keepers being killed for opening their stores have emerged. The common man on the street has little protection from those who walk the night, AK’s slung on their shoulders. Even politicians like Mehbooba Mufti have to be wary of them, as do separatist leaders themselves. Remember that Mirwaiz Umar’s father was killed for disobeying the terrorist writ. You can challenge the state and get away with it. With terrorists, there’s no second chance.

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Communication Conundrum: Militancy vs ‘Normalcy’

For ‘normalcy’ to return in the form of bustling markets and schoolchildren hurrying to class, that writ has to be broken. That’s no easy task. As is apparent through reportage, the rest of Kashmir is now free from any restrictions whatsoever. But dens of militancy like Anantnag, Pulwama and Shopian will continue to simmer as long as the directions and exhortations from across continue. That’s the ‘stimulant’ that needs to be cut off .

There is one aspect of communication that Delhi may have missed: there is an urgent need for a clear elucidation of the path ahead for the Kashmiris.

As Foreign Minister Jaishanker said recently, in exasperation, during an interview, “If you tell me how do I cut off communications between the terrorists and their masters on the one hand, but keep the internet open for other people? I would be delighted to pass on this information.”

It’s a conundrum indeed, especially since pressure from the United States — among others — to lift restrictions is increasing. These countries should know better, having valiantly fought off terrorists themselves. Pakistanis now crying themselves hoarse over the issue, should know even better. Parts of their tribal areas continue to be under severe media, communications and access restrictions, at least 5 years after counter-terrorism operations started. In much of Gilgit Baltistan, there is no internet at all.

Need for Clarification On Path Ahead for Kashmiris

There is however, one aspect of communication that Delhi may have missed: there is an urgent need for a clear elucidation of the path ahead for the Kashmiris. For instance, an assurance that their lands ( or that of uneasy Ladakh) will not be seized for private exploitation, but only for public good; that institutions are welcome — private builders are not.

That full statehood will follow a clear delimitation exercise and a period of relative peace; that more landlines can be allotted for personal use; and that medicines can be received at the door step if required, by health workers — and perhaps, a further emphasis, that Delhi cares enough to keep the prime minister’s ‘most important colleague’ on the ground, watching the events. That will, at the very least, scare the baddies away.

(Dr Tara Kartha was Director, National Security Council Secretariat. She is now a Distinguished Fellow at IPCS. She tweets at @kartha_tara. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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