The conflict in Kashmir

AFSIR KARIM

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THE term low intensity conflict (LIC) covers a large spectrum of hostile activities without the armed forces of the adversaries coming into direct confrontation. LIC can encompass insurgency, guerrilla warfare, terrorism, cross-border raids and nacro terrorism. The military action in a LIC, unlike in conventional wars, remains subordinated to immediate political motives.

LIC can be waged by a combination of political, economic, informational and military instruments. It may be launched with the primary objective of destabilising a regime. The first step in the process is the general mobilisation of the populace and establishing a popular cause with the aim of overthrowing the regime. To morally and physically isolate the regime, insurgent–terrorism is unleashed once the targeted government has lost popular support. Guerrilla warfare combined with urban insurgency may then be launched to confront the regime militarily.

Destruction of industrial assets, of means of communications such as bridges and roads, burning of school buildings, desecration of religious places – can all form part of LIC. Various influential segments of society like doctors, lawyers, editors of local papers and religious leaders may be terrorised and coerced to expand the political and economic dimensions of the conflict. Subversion in terrorism is used simultaneously to demoralise and break the political will of the targeted regime. Finally, the police and armed forces of the regime come under attack.

The late President John F. Kennedy once described such a war as ‘…another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origin – war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins; war by ambush instead of by combat, by infiltration instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him…’

LIC can be launched in the name of religion to achieve political aims. Pakistan sponsored such a conflict in Kashmir a decade ago with the hope of wresting J&K from India through a combination of military and political pressures. This kind of war is easier to launch if the targeted regime is insensitive to people’s needs, corrupt and inefficient. The conditions in J&K were not very different in 1988-89 when Pakistan sponsored insurgency and terrorism in the state.

For a decade we have patiently borne Pakistan sponsored insurgent-terrorism, acts of subversion and vicious propaganda about suppression of human rights in Kashmir. Pakistan has presented Kashmiri Muslims to the world as an enslaved and oppressed people who are not allowed to practice their religion and who are being coerced to accept Hindu cultural and religious practices.

 

 

A covert campaign to introduce fundamentalist Islam has been successfully conducted by Pakistan in Kashmir for over two decades to alienate Kashmiri Muslims and create a communal divide between Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims. Muslims were urged to overthrow the regime and demand independence. All material and military assistance was provided to Kashmir militants by Pakistan. The term azadi was deliberately kept vague to deceive the Kashmiri Muslims. The Pakistani term azadi connotes independence from India and merger with Pakistan, not an independent Kashmir. The JKLF, which campaigned for an independent status for Kashmir, was gradually sidelined and various Pakistani militant groups took over the movement to conduct a military and religious campaign on the model of Afghan insurgents.

Fundamentalist groups such as Hizbul Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harkat-e-Mujahi-deen launched violent campaigns against the state government and central agencies. A little later mass demonstrations and hartals were organised in all major towns to muster support of the people for the campaign. Hindus and non-cooperative Muslims were either killed or driven out. By then a large quantity of weapons and explosives had been dumped in the jungles and mountains of J&K by ISI agents.

 

 

Gradually highly trained armed cadres were infiltrated to launch guerrilla warfare, insurgency and terrorism. India’s security forces were selectively targeted. The people of Kashmir were used as a human shield when the army and paramilitary counter-attacked. Foreign mercenaries took over from the local armed cadres because the expected support from the people was not forthcoming despite the concentrated doses of indoctrination and lure of money. It became increasingly apparent that Pakistani sponsored groups had not been sent to assist the movement for independence but to serve Pakistan’s geostrategic interests. The Kashmiris were used as mere pawns in the game, who would have no place once their utility was over.

Kashmiriat was under attack and the so called jehad was directed mainly against democratic norms and liberal values ingrained in Kashmiri culture. This realisation came rather late, after more than 10,000 Kashmiris were killed and over 30,000 had to leave the state due to brutal attacks by Pak-sponsored mercenaries.

The decade long insurgency launched through surrogate forces by Pakistan left Kashmir in economic and cultural ruin. Though the military campaign against the Indian Army made no headway, it caused immense suffering to the Kashmiri people as crossfire between the insurgents and the army invariably proved a death-trap for people.

 

 

Though the LIC in Kashmir is a war which is limited to a particular geographical area, it has international ramifications. The military dimension remains subordinated to political considerations which dictate the use of weapons and tactics. LIC in J&K encompasses a wide variety of operations by irregular forces. Victory and defeat here cannot be measured in purely military terms, as strong military actions can often lead to political setbacks.

In J&K the main instruments of Pakistani launched LIC have been terrorism and psychological war (Psywar). Terror was used to overawe and coerce the common man to revolt against the government. The Pakistani agents among the population and government departments spread disaffectation and deftly used their political skills to bring the common man out on the streets in mass protests. Indiscreet handling of the public demonstrations and indiscriminate firing by armed police forces increased alienation manifold during the period. As the government forces came in direct confrontation with the masses, repression gradually intensified; searches and arrests made life unbearable for the common man. It became increasingly evident to the people that the government was insincere and incapable of solving the problems of Kashmiris. People rose in violent revolt, resulting in more police firings and harsher repressive measures.

At this stage the administration was paralysed through sabotage and terrorism. This covert campaign made the J&K government ineffective as well-trained ISI agents had infiltrated all the vital organs of the state to paralyse the working of the government. It was a signal success of Pakistani plans that the Kashmir Valley became engulfed in violence and mass protests and people generally supported terrorist groups.

At another level, propaganda and whispering campaign continued to awaken religious fundamentalism among the Kashmiri masses. The Jamaat-e-Islami (Kashmir) was at this stage in the vanguard of the religious revivalist movement in the Kashmir Valley. During this campaign, religiously inspired mobilisation of the Kashmiri Muslims was carried out to demand establishment of Islamic Kashmir as a part of Pakistan. Bad governance and dishonest politics in J&K were fully exploited by Pakistan ISI to wean people away from the national mainstream.

 

 

By 1990 the antigovernment movement had turned into mass politico-religious hysteria, spurred on by harsh measures taken by authorities which resulted in the death of a large number of innocent people. By this time the Pakistan sponsored terrorists had acquired sophisticated weapons and could now attack security forces in towns, using the people as a human shield. This turmoil hurt the Kashmiri people the most and they started turning away from Pakistan sponsored terrorism.

By 1995 the tide had begun to turn; by then violence instigated by the terrorists had taken a heavy toll of life without any political or material gains for the Kashmiris. The vicious propaganda about suppression of human rights in Kashmir launched against India by Pakistan also brought no long-term gains; the international community discovered the truth and the people of Kashmir knew the truth in any case. The people were now fully aware that Pakistan’s aim was only to malign India, that it had no constructive programme for Kashmir. It also became apparent that by sponsoring terrorism, Pakistan was merely playing with Kashmiri lives. To add to their woes, the mercenaries started indulging in rape and murder and became a law unto themselves.

 

 

The last straw was the burning of Sufi shrines and the brutal massacre of minorities. The Kashmiri Muslims deeply resented these acts despite fundamentalist propaganda to brainwash them. They realised that the fair name of Islam was being used for political purposes which served only Pakistani interests. As the people in towns refused to provide shelter to the armed mercenaries, the terrorists were forced to take shelter in remote mountain ranges and jungles where the army inflicted heavy casualties on them. Kashmiriat was slowly winning and fundamentalists were losing ground; people in increasing numbers resisted the assault on their culture and religious values. The Assembly elections held in September 1996 confirmed the change in public attitude towards Pakistani policies. Several Kashmiri separatist groups openly renounced violence despite fear of the terrorist guns and supported the move for elections.

The National Conference government that assumed power in 1996 after the Assembly elections held out a promise of peace for the people. But the government soon disappointed the common man. The administration remained inefficient and unresponsive to the people’s needs. The common people could not repose faith in the government to either save their life and limb from the terrorist onslaught or to improve their economic conditions.

 

 

The psychological divide between people of the Jammu region and the Kashmir Valley widened due to the general neglect of the former by the Abdullah government. The alienation of the masses continued to grow and people wondered if they had made the correct choice. The sluggish state of economy and growing unemployment disillusioned the middle class and the ever increasing number of educated unemployed became restless. These conditions of political and economic neglect are driving many youth back into Pakistani arms. The growing dissatisfaction may soon be turned into violent public outbursts by Pakistani agents and the cycle of anti-government movements may restart.

The army and the police forces have only succeeded in containing terrorism but not in blocking entry of armed mercenaries with sophisticated arms and explosives. The Hurriyat and the other pro-Pak elements may possibly wrest the initiative unless the National Conference and other secular parties join hands to defeat them politically. The present situation represents a stalemate which, however, cannot last unless the government of J&K is able to take political advantage of the situation with innovative actions. The initiative must be wrested from Hurriyat leadership and its attempts to call hartals and strikes must be frustrated. The Jamaat-e-Islami leadership has lately declared that it had been supporting the militants because of the fear of their guns. A strong political movement against the terrorists and their supporters must be launched and effective protection provided to the people.

The Indian Army is currently engaged in searching and destroying the terrorists who operate on both sides of the Pir-Panjal range. Large number of well-armed Pakistani sponsored mercenaries groups have established bases in these ranges leading to frequent encounters between the army and the terrorists. The Pakistani sponsored groups, however, continue to operate in remote areas. They attack isolated minority groups and demand food and shelter at gun point. The organisations of village guards and other collective civil security measures are not always successful in saving lives in remote areas because the terrorists attack by surprise; they are free to choose the time and place of their attacks. Possibly, a combined action programme of all security and state agencies would produce better results.

 

 

It is often speculated that Pakistan is preparing to infiltrate larger groups of war-hardened Taliban mercenaries to confront the Indian Army. The dramatic victories of the Taliban in Afghanistan cannot, however, be replicated in J&K. First, bribery and treachery played a big role in the Taliban conquests in Afghanistan. Second, the Taliban used artillery and tanks in Afghanistan which they cannot bring into Kashmir for fear of an Indo-Pak war. Third, the terrain in Afghanistan was well-known and familiar and their adversaries were not fully trained for conventional warfare. In J&K the Taliban will face a larger and better trained force in the Indian Army which is highly motivated and well-equipped. The smaller Taliban groups equipped with lighter weapons can only harass the army by using guerrilla tactics and no more – a contingency for which Indian Army is well prepared and trained. Their experience of combating insurgents, guerrillas and terrorists in Nagaland, Assam, Kashmir and Sri Lanka gives them a unique advantage in such conditions.

The Taliban will receive little or no support from the Kashmiri people; Pakistani cross-border clientism is not likely to succeed anymore. However, effective protection of minority pockets will continue to pose a major challenge for the government and the security forces. We need new technologies which can help in creating fortified villages with alarm systems to bring security forces to the spot for rescue in a very short time.

A well-trained force which has a large number of Afghan mercenaries alongwith the regular Pakistan Army, intruded across the LOC in the Kargil sector this year. They occupied heights which provided direct observation over NH1 a, the road which connects Srinagar with Leh via Zojila and Kargil. Their presence was discovered only in the first week of May; action has since been on to evict them from our area. In the space available here all that can be said is that Pakistan has introduced a new dangerous element to the ongoing proxy war which can lead to an Indo-Pak war if not controlled in time. Failure in the Valley was perhaps the main cause which led Pakistan to extend the proxy war to Ladakh.

 

 

Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism can be curbed by strong political international pressures viz. by promoting regional security agreements against terrorism. Sponsored terrorism poses danger to all the countries of South Asian region and they should be made aware of this fact through concerted efforts. Combined anti-terrorist programmes including sharing of information regarding terrorist bases and movements, their plans and objectives, will go a long way in checking cross-border terrorism. A joint campaign against narco-terrorism, smuggling of arms and explosives in the region too will greatly help in countering terrorism and insurgencies. All South Asian states must stand together to combat terrorism and sponsored low intensity conflicts. India should seize the initiative to give a practical shape to joint action against terrorists.

 

 

It is also necessary to launch a meaningful counter-offensive against Pakistan’s surrogate forces operating in J&K to neutralise and defeat Pakistan’s political supporters. Pakistan’s dubious designs to subjugate the state by use of surrogate forces should be exposed to the international community.

An important step would be to establish the legitimacy of the state government in the eyes of the people through free and fair elections alongside political campaigns to convince the people that their legitimate aspirations will be respected. A corruption free and competent administration which is responsive to the people’s needs and takes urgent steps to right the economic wrongs and improve the lot of the common man is essential. The government must guarantee protection against the terrorist guns by raising special forces and guards to protect villages and small townships in remote areas.

A high priority must be assigned to improving economic conditions in rural areas, both in the Jammu and Kashmir regions. Land reforms, provision of uninterrupted electric supply, good transport system and availability of essential commodities will greatly help in winning people’s confidence. A commonly articulated complaint of the Kashmiris has been ‘who cares for us’. The government of the day must show that it not only cares but its determination to improve their lot. In the final analysis, the people must be won over if Pakistan’s sponsored small war is to be banished from J&K.

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