How to End Insurgency in Kashmir
Namrata Goswami wrote an interesting article in the Small Wars Journal, analyzing India’s stride in its counter-insurgencies, particularly in its Northeast against the Mizo and Naga insurgencies. Her article concludes that ‘popular legitimacy and population support’ are the most critical factors for optimal counter-insurgency outcomes.
Gathering from a wide study, she elaborates the best practices for making counter-insurgency successful. These have been summarized below, with a slight explanation of each as I understood them:
-Primacy of Political Goals (counter-political-webbing in the socio-political network of the population harboring the insurgents)
-Centre of Gravity – Population (trying to win the support of the neutral majority as opposed to the minority support for either the insurgents or the counter-insurgents)
-Counter-Propaganda (to resonate the counter-argument ‘the government is the real savior of the people’, as opposed to the insurgents’ slogans of being their saviors)
-Resolute Leadership (with a clear conceptual broad based understanding of the counter-insurgency mission, with national priorities in clear perspective, ethical role-model and one that will synchronize the work of all agencies)
-Intelligence (on-ground information about the people, place and problem)
-Unity of Effort (in politics, military, agencies, media, police, etc.)
-Appropriate Force Structures (using force restrictively, while maintaining its superiority, and working in people-centric ways)
-Rule of Law (counter-insurgency forces to practice highest legal standards)
-Operational Clarity (in diagnosis of the problem, flexibility in action, clarity of task allocation, and aim of counter-insurgency, which is to control and secure the people).
Interestingly, this analysis is based on the insurgency problems India is facing in its own states, which essentially share the broader Hindu culture, and where the slogans of the insurgents have mainly been ethnic, socio-economic and political. Even so, the writer concludes that political corruption and the absence of resolute leaders at the local level, the army’s continuous questioning of its counter-insurgency mandate, lack of coordination in intelligence gathering, and lack in assessing public perceptions, all have been factors that have added to the prolongation of insurgencies in these areas, turning them into ‘multiple insurgencies with competing interests, seeking to maximize their own influence and survival’, and making the borders of Nagaland and Myanmar ‘porous and subject to heavy insurgent traffic’, importing threats to neighboring provinces and even states. But how does this compare with the insurgencies in Kashmir?
As pointed out by the author, it is true that each insurgency may have its own uniqueness based on the culture and socio-economy of the people that have allowed the insurgent group to harbor between them. Even as we try to assimilate different insurgencies in Pakistan, we find no or very little correlation between them. Many insurgent groups in the north of Pakistan that have taken root in the aftermaths of 9/11 pose to be of ‘extreme religious ideology’, trying to win legitimacy on ‘pan-Islamic’ bases. This very contrast of a ‘broad-based ideology’ as opposed to the northeast Indian insurgencies which were ethnical in root, with a slogan to secure the interests of their own people at the most, raises the need of questioning the ability of a people, considered as a most deprived part of our country, to have crossed the walls of their immediate, primary needs and have jumped to an ideological, revolutionary need in their outset. This also contrasts with the prior history of militant groups that have held ground in Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan, some under ethnic or linguistic slogans, some with separatist aims, some as an umbrella for different criminal activities, and some branding themselves as saviors of Kashmir; an immediate issue at their borders.
Yet, each kind of insurgency, if dealt under the guiding principles Namrata has gathered, needs to be assessed uniquely; evaluating the mindset of the people who would rise up to radicalization; of those who immediately surround them; and those who, being the majority of the population, have not taken to eliminate them with power. It has to be assessed how the ‘idea’ that dawned upon a single individual, gained acceptance within the immediate group, how the idea changed shape with each successor, and how several psychological, social, economic and fund factors made the groups what they are today. It has to be assessed if a criminal mindset, which is already a radical, has masked itself with ethnic or ideological reasoning; or has an altruistic mindset, struggling for the betterment of a section of society, been hijacked by criminal inclinations in time. And it has to be decided that the insurgent is always bad, insofar as it breaks the law of the country, breaches the writ of the government and therefore its sovereignty, and plays havoc with the lives and peace of the community. But, at the same time, it has to be accepted that the difference between a criminal gang and an insurgency is the latter possessing a self-acclaimed legitimate basis, which if ‘just’ will not be curbed down with force alone but with real time deliverance of the issues they address. And only if their legitimacy is fake can the majority of the population be brought to support the counter-insurgent’s point of view, and only then the use of limited warfare can be carried out without the fear of mass agitation from the general populace.
How does the uniqueness of Kashmir and its insurgent groups fit in the best practices of counter-insurgency chalked above?
Emphasizing on the Primacy of Political Goals, Namrata says that ‘Politics provides the frame of reference in counter-insurgency’, that while the military’s role is supportive, ‘counter-insurgency has to be 100 per cent political, with commanders even at the lowest level conceiving of it as “political warfare”’. The reason for the political approach is to find means of gaining the support of the neutral majority, and prevent it from swaying towards pro-insurgency in ideology and in providing them with safe havens, where livelihood and progress can be ensured. Even though counter-insurgency work in Kashmir has maneuvered in the political setting of the state to some success, and several political parties that had started with a separatist agenda have been slowly subdued to a more submissive stance, where now they denounce violent means to achieve their goal of self-determination and want to work in terms of negotiations; but it is also notable that once a party proves to be pro-India, it swiftly loses popularity and trust among the general masses, forcing it into the pro-counter-insurgency minority population. Syed Ali Geelani, in a very recent interview, reported:
‘There is a use of power and wit to low down the zeal to fight for truth. The ones who easily give in are lured by scholarship of state, employment, trips, etc., and are deshelled of the vigour they harbour to fight for Jammu and Kashmir.’ (Source)
Therefore, one of the counter-insurgency best practices seems to be working fine here, but along with this political maneuvering, an effective Counter-Propaganda was necessary, as winning individuals or parties will not do if the majority population does not accept the counter-insurgency’s ideological legitimacy. But, more so, Namrata has clearly warned that an alternative ideology must be followed by quick practical remedies. She says, ‘exaggerating capabilities, promising goods to the population, offering political empowerment have to be followed up with deliverables within a short span of time. Failure to do so would discredit the counter-insurgency forces’.
One such exaggeration was observed in 2012, when Rahul Gandhi visited Kashmir with an entourage of top business icon from India, including Chairman Tata Group – Ratan Tata, Chairman Aditya Birla Group – Kumar Mangalam, Chairman HDFC Ltd. – Deepak Parekh, Chairman Bajaj Auto Ltd. – Rajeev Bajaj and MD & CEO Team Lease – Ashok Reddy; but no big industry has yet unveiled in Kashmir to date. The roads and railway lines which are prerequisite to industry are meager with a road length of 127/1000 sq km and railway lines of 0.40/1000 sq km as per a 2001 planning commission report, and a ‘6.50 lakh unemployed youth registered with various Employment and Counseling centers’ in 2013, according to Economic Times.
In the case of Kashmir, if we identify the Center of Gravity of the Population, we will see instead of a set of ‘pro-insurgent minority, a pro-government minority and a neutral majority’ in the cases of both Mizo and Naga uprisings in Assam, a contrasting ‘non-neutral majority favoring the insurgents’ to be found. Perhaps it can be compared that at one time the Mizo majority too stood with the insurgents and supported independence from India, but that was when the Army had been brought in for rigorous action, and when later, the Army action was decreased and a political settlement had been reached, the majority again became stable along with the pacification of the movement; meaning that it can be generally expected of a majority population to act unsatisfied and unstable as long as heavy military is deployed in their midst. Therefore, the question comes out to be whether the counter-insurgents, i.e., the Indian Army in Kashmir, have the capability to forge a political settlement with the insurgents, in a way that their grievances are delivered in real-time, and make the majority believe through political webbing, propaganda or development projects that the Indian government will surely bring about the peace and progress that the insurgents offer in their ideology.
For such a political primacy, the Indian government and its military force should have to act not only with a Unity of Effort, but surely this effort should be projecting itself in a way that the population should ‘feel secure and safe’. To achieve such a consensus, Namrata warns that the military activity should be restricted to the ‘least possible’, focusing more on a show of deterrence and very less in active small-wars, while allowing time for the government to make a counter political web within the people and for its institutions to develop healthy working relations with them. Therefore, the maths between the insurgents and the counter-insurgents must be such that the former must be using force to destroy life and property just to create fear, while the latter must be using the least force and that also in the most lawful manner so that they should be recognized only as the flag bearers of the Rule of Law.
If so, it seems obvious that the Indian state and its counter-insurgency force have long been treading a path to failure. They have used force freely to keep a majority population harassed and in fear throughout the time that they have held government there, making Kashmir the most highly militarized place in the world. They have used that force in the most illegal ways, breaking the civil standards of their own law and the human right standards acclaimed throughout the world. Without doubt, uncountable details of the gruesome harassments, rapes, tortures, extrajudicial murders, ruthless interrogation centers have been recorded by many human right organizations, brought up in the UN council and printed on the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri majority population. It must be true that the insurgents must be breaking the law too, holding some fear factor in the people around them and must have destroyed the life and property of the people; but when compared with the over 1.2 million Indian Armed Forces against a few hundred or perhaps five to ten thousand insurgents, who operate in hiding and do not have any defined fortified sanctuaries, it is common sense to judge who holds the real fear-card in the Kashmiri populace.
Along with political oneness and clarity of idea in all state entities, and appropriate allocation of tasks in different limbs of the counter-insurgency, it should be able to show a Resolute Leadership. This requires to have ‘national priorities and goals in clear perspective’, with the counter-insurgency maintaining the highest ‘ethical model’. It seems as if the military factor of the counter-insurgency is really just a camouflage and the real effort is to win the people by talks, promises and revival of the livelihoods by developmental works, patching the deprivations of the people with new hopes that come with schools, medical centers and new industry, etc. In Kashmir, however, there is a paradox – do the ‘national priorities’ go headwinds with the needs and wishes of the majority population? Kashmir is an information-locked state; movement is often restricted between districts and even neighborhoods; trade and industry predominantly small-scale; there is lack of professional institutions/universities and no jobs for the graduates.
The Global Peace Index Report 2013 (pg. 52) identifies several indicators that help to measure peace and stability in a country/society, one of which is the military expenditure as a percentage of GDP, and another is the number of armed-services personnel per 100,000 people and so on. Interestingly, Haseeb Drabu, ex-chairman J&K Bank (2005-10) and economic advisor to the state government (2004-09), in an interview in 2011, said:
‘There’s the economy of J&K and there is the Government of J&K. The Government of J&K is completely dependent on the Government of India. The economy of J&K is not dependent at all on the economy of India, or on the Government of India, except, of course, that there are trade relations. There is normal transactional business. Fruit is exported. There are also imports from the rest of the country. ….then there is a fostered dependence, which has been created in the system over the years. So the government was not obliged to raise resources to fund itself. This is the best way to keep a government in control’.
Which means that not only has India made Kashmir the most heavily militarized zone in the world with 3,37,000 army personnel there, i.e., one trooper over every 18 persons, but it has actually made it its permanent policy to keep it that way by keeping the government totally unrelated with the affairs of the people. This kills the best policies of counter-insurgency collected by Namrata altogether, as such a chaining of Kashmir’s state authorities in chains of gold is, at the same time, undermining the rules of operational clarity, appropriation of task, unity in effort and resolute leadership; as all these four fail to reach the majority population of Kashmir, with a permanent disconnect between the populace, as their Chief Minister therefore behaves more as a servant of the state of India than an elected representative of the populace of Kashmir. And this has encouraged the primacy of politics, intelligence and rule of law to be used as weapons against the majority populace instead of making them tools to make society safe, secure, peaceful and prosperous; which leads to counter-propaganda failing upon the people.
Indian failure to confront the issue of insurgency in Kashmir has eventually aggravated the issue, making what might be called an insurgency in 1947 into a freedom movement, more deep rooted in the hearts and minds of the people of Kashmir with every passing year and decade. This failure is surely based on India’s approach of not taking Kashmir as part of its own from day one; the Kashmir insurgency has not been treated as those of Mizo or Naga, with some give and take and more power resting with those provinces in the end, and the separation of Nagaland. Nor did India learn to retreat its forces from Kashmir, as it did for the Mizo.
In fact, bad practices have lost India its right to call itself a counter-insurgent at all; for a group of people harassing the people, breaking the law, obstructing justice, and becoming a barrier in the progress and development works meant for the people is the ’Insurgent’ not the Counter-Insurgent. And if at all you call it so, for all the undue atrocities and injustice that the people have suffered every day, the state of insurgency has become so bad that it might not be quelled till the last mind thinks and the last heart beats in Kashmir; if hearts and minds count at all!