By Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd)
After a particularly harrowing year, now is the time in J&K to be more optimistic. We can move ahead by strategising. Serious ideation, instead of negative reviews, is required and a window is available for that. The world is witnessing a change in the strategic environment. Tackling core issues is the need of the hour.
The year 2016 had so much negativity for Jammu and Kashmir that in the new year every article or essay related to the state is tending to be negative. Recalling the year gone by; the state of polity, level of alienation or the continued Pakistani role, are among the subjects being discussed by analysts but rarely do we find suggestions on the way forward. 2016 will probably be most remembered for the reverse in the tide although we have witnessed equally serious situations in the past and bounced back to full control thereafter.
There have been constants in all these situations as well as dynamic and fluctuating aspects too. Strategic planners, who are reviewing and re-examining future strategy, need to be aware of the reverses and the bounce backs of the past. They have to be aware of the constants, the imponderables and the “definitives”. It is not as if India sat back on its haunches and did not respond in equal measure and more when its security was threatened in Jammu and Kashmir. What perhaps it did lack was the killer instinct to resolve the issue or send an appropriate message to adversaries that there was no question of their success in the face of India’s comprehensive resolve.
There are different ways of looking at the situation and this can be done by reviewing what happened at some junctures in the 28-year asymmetric conflict in the state. In 1996, militancy was still at a high but the mercenary content from outside South Asia was diluting. A bold decision was then taken to go in for elections, with the full knowledge that neither was the situation conducive for electioneering, nor would the turnout indicate any major success. This was just a year after the Al Firan kidnapping incident which had sent shock waves around the world. Alienation was high, Kashmir's media and intelligentsia were spewing venom at the Indian government and Army but militarily some success had been achieved with the setting up of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) headquarters in south Kashmir. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had succeeded in building a political consensus of sorts with his February 22, 1994, joint parliamentary resolution indicating India's full resolve to not only defend its stance on Jammu and Kashmir but also recover all its former territories. The Indian position on Jammu and Kashmir and human rights was projected at the 1994 meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission at Geneva by none other than a delegation which had the presence of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Salman Khurshid. Could there be a better message of political consensus on a national security issue? This brilliant period of national consensus diplomacy needs reiteration in today's environment. It was India all the way.
Later, 1996 proved to be a crucial year in which the democratic process was re-seeded in Jammu and Kashmir after a fairly long time. The effects of it may not have been immediate but the long-term effect was profound.
In 1999, the situation was the worst in a decade. North Kashmir had been denuded of troops with the move of 8 Mountain Division to Kargil. Tension on the LoC remained high even after withdrawal of the Pakistani troops in Kargil. There were incidents in Gurez, Gulmarg, Lipa and elsewhere even post-withdrawal. The so-called Fidayeen had just commenced their suicide attacks in mid-1999, which had got all security forces in a defensive mode, at least for some time. Yet, the Parliamentary elections were held, though again with low but a marginally better voter turnout. There was no flinching from the difficult task.
I remember running battles with terrorists and sounds of blasts all around our location at Avantipura on polling day. In 2003, the LoC was still alive with heavy artillery exchanges when we decided to commence construction of the LoC Fence. As the then Commander of the Uri Brigade even I had serious doubts about its viability. However, the ingenuity and energy of the troops in taking ownership of respective segments ensured that the terror mathematics was reversed in three years. Along the way, President Pervez Musharraf announced a unilateral ceasefire. We supported it and played along. There was no change whatsoever in the levels of alienation or activities of the separatists but the effect of changed strategy of focusing closer to the LoC, led to reduction in successful infiltration and dilution in terrorist strength in the hinterland. This had a cascading effect on future operations. The period 2001-7 was the consolidation stage. The Army had the sagacity to fully support Mufti’s “healing-touch” campaign, even as it undertook proactive operations against the terrorists and achieved spectacular results.
In 2008-10, the separatists changed strategy and took their struggle to the streets. There was paralysis of administration and chaos in the streets but it could not be sustained. With an outreach programme for the youth, the public at large and greater political activism, we turned 2011-12 around. This gave Jammu and Kashmir probably its most peaceful period in two- and-a-half decades and its best tourism and horticulture figures in some years. Infiltration was reduced to the lowest ever and the ratio of security men to terrorists killed during the year was also by far one of the best. A hope was rekindled in the public.
Unfortunately, new militancy, lack of continuity, out-of-context demands by the state government, without considering the security situation and a general apathy by the leadership allowed a drift. This resulted in the mayhem of 2016, post the killing of Burhan Wani. The current situation has been described as an ominous silence awaiting outburst from pent- up passion. 2017 could witness this or, going by our past record, fresh initiatives could come from any quarter. This could once again witness a turnaround, this time hopefully sustainable.
There is no need for despondency among those who matter in India's strategic discourse. Such campaigns by our adversaries are open-ended, without pegged way points to objectives. The world is witnessing a change in the strategic environment.
This is the time when those with a grasp of geopolitics have to be in sync with those looking at geo-strategic aspects. Initiatives must include incentives for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. A general theme giving sustained peace a chance, along with means by which all core issues can be discussed by the people most affected, could be the need.
For that, leaders have to come forward, shed inhibitions and take issues by the horns, as was done in the past. The stakes of peace must be dwelt upon minds and hearts with a resolve that 2017 will never be a repeat of 2016.
The writer, a former General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, is now associated with the Vivekanand International Foundation .
The Tribune, January 13, 2017