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Winning the battle of perception in Jammu & Kashmir

Jammu & Kashmir is passing through a very crucial phase. While government agencies are working to restore normalcy in the state, vested interests, which include pro-Pakistan elements, separatists and Pakistan sympathisers, are determined to ensure that the state remains in turmoil
Dec 21, 2018
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Jammu & Kashmir is passing through a very crucial phase. While government agencies are working to restore normalcy in the state, vested interests, which include pro-Pakistan elements, separatists and Pakistan sympathisers, are determined to ensure that the state remains in turmoil.
 
The modus operandi adopted by the spoilers is to create a situation that leads to alienation of the people and creates an anti-government mind-set. An anti-government perception is built among the public to promote the narrative that the government is anti-Kashmiri. In such a scenario, the media has an important role to play. The manner in which an event is presented to Kashmiris and to the nation helps in building perceptions, to quite an extent.
 
The recent Pulwama incident was an ugly attempt again by the spoilers to derail the process begun by the governor’s administration to win over the youth and attempt to restore normalcy in trouble-torn South Kashmir. Most of the media headlines, both electronic and print, read, “7 civilians, 3 militants, 1 jawan killed in Pulwama gunfight.” The local and vernacular press highlighted Omar Abdullah’s tweet describing the incident as a ‘massacre’.
 
The headlines should actually have read, “7 stone-pelters, 3 terrorists killed and 1 jawan (soldier) attained martyrdom in Pulwama encounter.” Use of correct terminology helps in building a correct perception and the media must realise it. The second headline is correct and portrays a better image of the security forces who undertake these operations as a duty to the nation. Terrorists are enemies of the nation and those who assist them deserve no leniency. The nation needs to recognise the sacrifices made by soldiers in anti-terror operations, in Kashmir, the North East or Maoist insurgency-infested areas in the heartland.
 
It is time the mainstream leadership and Kashmir civil society starts investing in the return of normalcy. The majority of people, who have only been suffering and gained nothing from the ongoing turmoil, are yearning for peace. The effect of turmoil is equally being felt by the other two regions of the state, where the demand for trifurcation of the state is gaining momentum but is not in national interest.
 
Rather than pacifying the public and preaching restraint, leaders issue provocative statements adding fuel to the fire. A former chief minister tweeted, “Protests around encounter sites are now the norm not the exception. Why are we unable to learn how to handle them better?” Indirectly, he is justifying stone pelting on the security forces and blaming them for not being able to handle stone-pelting mobs.
 
Another former CM tweeted, “No country can win a war by killing its own people.”
 
Rather than being indebted to the jawan and his family, the stone-pelters attacked the jawans with stones and climbed on their vehicles to snatch the bodies of the terrorists. How can the security forces be blamed for these civilian casualties as if jawans have no human rights? Human rights are applicable to everybody including the soldiers. 
 
Why should terrorists be referred to as “militants”? There is a distinct difference between a militant and terrorist. What cause are these terrorists fighting for except furthering the Pakistani agenda of “bleeding India through thousand cuts?” There is quintessential evidence to prove that what is going on in Kashmir is not militancy but a Pak-sponsored proxy war. The entire terror infrastructure and network has the support of Pakistan including arming, equipping and financing. Even official handouts issued by the state government use the word “militant” and not “terrorist,” for reasons best known to the police and bureaucratic machinery of the state.
 
The truth is there were three heavily armed terrorists and seven lightly armed terrorists. All 10 were killed in a mandated military operation conducted by the security forces in an area declared “Disturbed” by a competent civilian authority. They died of their own will and security forces cannot be held responsible. The three armed terrorists could have surrendered when the police appealed and lived as civilians thereafter. They chose to not do so. The seven should have discretely stayed away from the encounter site. Scrutiny of their mobile calls will reveal that they were summoned to reach the encounter site after the encounter began and came from different places and were not locals. They were summoned as part of an escape strategy which a Territorial Army soldier turned terrorist Gowhar Thokar had mastered, successfully escaping from security cordons many times earlier.
 
How can the jawan, who laid down his life for his country, be clubbed with terrorists and be referred to as ‘killed’? The martyrdom of jawans in the line of duty cannot be belittled by using wrong terminology. The soldier lays down his life unflinchingly for his country without caring for family. He is a martyr. A nation that fails to honour its martyrs is doomed to fail.
 
Insensitivity must be replaced with apathy and care. Proper selection and use of correct terminology will certainly help the nation win the battle of perception.
 
(The author, a retired Indian Army officer, is a Jammu-based security and strategic analyst. He can be contacted at anil5457@gmail.com)

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