An offensive strategy

Print edition : February 05, 2000

The BJP-led Central Government's new 'offensive strategy' to engage terrorists in Kashmir would only jeopardise the internal security arrangements in the State.


IN 1649, Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh went to battle at Kandahar, pitting their armies against the Safavid dynasty's forces. Despite suicidal charges that were fuelled by opium, the Mughal infantry was driven back. When all else failed, Aurangzeb reached fo r his prayer mat to call god to the aid of the Mughal armies. Dara Shikoh, for his part, pushed sorcerers and shamans into battle. But prayer and black magic, the holy book and occult invocations, all proved inadequate to retake Kandahar. Persia's modern artillery ensured that the city of Aurangzeb and Shikoh's forefathers remained in Safavid hands.

Union Home Minister L.K. Advani is an unlikely candidate for description as a latter-day Aurangzeb. But the fact remains that the making of policy on Jammu and Kashmir is beginning to resemble a bizarre, narcotic-driven ritual, complete with mystical inc antations and magic potions. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government's new policy on combating terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir is more than a public relations exercise to retrieve the credibility lost by its capitulation to the hijackers of Indian Airli nes Flight IC 814. Announced on January 17, the new policy transcends actuality, making it clear that the Union Government wishes the real world did not exist.

Consider the facts. Advani announced that new, specialised units of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) would be set up to address terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Two days later, officials in Jammu were informed that 26 companies of the CRPF, consist ing of over 3,000 personnel, were to be withdrawn from the State. The companies will come from the training reserve strengths of each of the CRPF battalions, made up of six companies, posted in the State. None of them, perhaps unsurprisingly, is actually being withdrawn for transformation into the crack anti-terrorist force Advani had spoken of. State security officials were curtly told that they were needed for election duties in Bihar.

Under other circumstances, the withdrawal of the CRPF battalions would not have been a problem. But the deployment of security forces for purposes of internal security has been severely thinned in the wake of the Kargil War. Fiftyeight battalions of the Army were hurriedly withdrawn from anti-terrorist duties soon after the Kargil War broke out. Although most of the troops have now returned to their previous locations in the State, independent estimates suggest that some 22 of these battalions are now c ommitted to defensive duties along the Line of Control. The string of attacks this winter on Army camps has led to a near-doubling of troops committed to securing their own locations. The withdrawal will inevitably put further strain on operational resou rces.

MASSING troops to secure the Rashtriya Janata Dal's defeat in Bihar at least makes some crude political sense. However, other elements of the BJP's new policy on Jammu and Kashmir do not. Advani spoke, for example, of extending the current Unified Headqu arters structure down to the divisional and district level. This is meant to help Army units liaise with the State police, the Border Security Force (BSF) and the CRPF. But such coordination already exists on an informal basis, and there is reason to be lieve that the new structures could create more problems than they solve. Indeed, the result of district- and divisional-level headquarters is likely to be the replication of the power struggles in the existing twin Unified Headquarters at Jammu and Srin agar.

As the announcement that the Army's 14 Corps will have overall control of the new Unified Headquarters at Leh suggest, the plan appears to be a response to Army demands for overall control of counter-insurgency operations. In August last year, plans for control of the BSF by the Army had provoked a furore in the State security apparatus. Based on a 1998 internal document issued by the Army Training Command in Shimla, those ideas appear to have been pushed through in a modified form. Past experiments of this kind were far from successful. In 1997, Doda district was carved into four "core group" areas, and an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police was assigned effective charge of each Army brigade. Power struggles and institutional egos predicta bly disrupted the earlier parameters of cooperation between the forces, and the concept was quietly shelved.

What form sector operations might take is also far from clear. The Home Minister announced that 49 operational sectors were being carved out in order to improve efficiency. In fact, 30-odd sectors already exist, built around the Army's brigade-level depl oyments. The new sectors would presumably break down the cutting-edge deployments in some of the existing areas from the brigade to the battalion level. But no one at the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has so far cared to explain just how this will impro ve the functioning of the counter-insurgency grid. At best, the new sectors would put in place some kind of additional structures with specifically assigned charge of areas particularly hard-hit by violence.

Even more bizarre is Advani's demand that security forces in the State "take a proactive approach against the terrorists in the hinterland and establish area domination by day and by night" ('Govt. plans unified command against terrorism', The Times o f India, January 18, 2000). That the Union Government imagines that security forces personnel spend their nights in bed illustrates just how detached from reality the politicians and bureaucrats who frame policy can be. Advani also spoke of "round-th e-clock operations to neutralise terrorist modules", an insult to the officials and troopers who often spend days on end without sleep engaged with enemy fire. Making forward-line officers and personnel scapegoats for the larger doctrinal and strategic f ailures of the Union Government is perhaps politically expedient, but has led to more than a little bitterness.

Security officials in Kashmir wryly suggest that the solution might lie in the creation of a Unified Headquarters in New Delhi, not north of the Zojila pass. The Union Government's allegedly new policy was crafted by a Byzantine maze of agencies and bure aucrats including Union Home Secretary Kamal Pande, head of the Home Ministry's Jammu and Kashmir cell, T.R. Kakkar, and members of its Internal Security cell responsible for all India matters. The heads of the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and An alysis Wing, Shyamal Dutta and A.S. Dulat respectively, also pitched in, along with Chief of the Army Staff Gen. V.P. Malik and heads of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the BSF and the CRPF. Few of these security officials have any real contact with the State, bar the odd, airborne day-trip.

Home Minister L.K. Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes after a high-level meeting on the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir, in New Delhi on January 17.-

IF security personnel in Srinagar are demanding a Unified Headquarters in New Delhi, their calls are not purely ironic. Advani's own incantations on Jammu and Kashmir have been mirrored by a series of similar magic formulas broadcast by Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh. Although Advani ensured that the January 17 meeting was chaired by Vajpayee, the fact remains that the BJP's internal fissures over Jammu and Kashmir have become embarrassingly evident. Replete wit h real durbar intrigue in the finest medieval tradition, the BJP's internal war on Jammu and Kashmir has crippled state policy as never before.

Jaswant Singh's unsubtle efforts to recruit the United States' assistance on Kashmir have, so far, had results not dissimilar to those of Advani's "proactive" policy. On January 19, the U.S. and India agreed in London to set up a joint working group on t errorism. Since exchanges of intelligence are well-established, it is unclear just what purpose such an institution would serve. U.S. demands that Pakistan shut down the offices of organisations such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen are driven by released ter rorist Masood Azhar's recent declaration of a jehad against that country. The U.S. has, in contrast, shown no inclination to sever its abiding relationship with its loyal client-state over violence in Kashmir.

What Jaswant Singh's desperate calls for U.S. mediation, cast as an appeal for assistance against terrorism, have achieved is to strengthen Pakistan's position. On January 20, Pakistan's Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf cited the examples of Koso vo and Bosnia to argue for greater U.S. intervention in Kashmir. President Bill Clinton, in turn, has on more than one occasion affirmed Pakistan's claims that Kashmir is the principal cause of tension between India and Pakistan, and a possible nuclear f lashpoint. It seems evident that the U.S. will use Clinton's coming visit to India to broker the contours of a settlement on Kashmir, a prospect that India's External Affairs Ministry has for several good reasons resisted for five decades.

Pakistani newspapers have been replete with speculation that the U.S. may, in the near future, appoint a special envoy on Jammu and Kashmir, mirroring similar arrangements for Tibet. Such a move would help push informal plans long advocated by the U.S. f or soft borders in Jammu and Kashmir, and near-complete autonomy for the Indian-held areas of the State. In practice, the plans are certain to ensure the ascendancy of far-Right Islamic groups in the region, with obvious consequences for India. The U.S. would, of course, emerge as the central architect of South Asia's future. The journey that began with Vajpayee's letter to Clinton asking for help with the Kargil War would then be complete.

ONE interesting sign of things to come is the announcement by the State Government last month that it would proceed with the implementation of plans for broad autonomy for the State. The proposals, outlined in the Report of the Committee on State Autono my, released in March last year, would replace, among other things, the fundamental rights granted by the Indian Constitution with new rights to be written into the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution. The Supreme Court's jurisdiction in the State will then e nd, along with that of the Election Commission. Parliament's powers to legislate for Jammu and Kashmir would be restricted to the subjects of defence, external affairs and communications. Additional subjects of legislation added after 1950 would lapse.

It seems implausible that Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah would have pushed ahead with his autonomy plans without some form of sanction from New Delhi. Abdullah's regular promises of securing autonomy no longer have great credibility in the State, so the decision to push for the implementation of the report is unlikely to have been driven by electoral concerns. It appears designed, rather, to aid the process of an eventual U.S.- authored solution. It is far from clear whether such a deal could be sold by the pro-U.S. factions within the BJP, but it seems probable that some effort to prepare the ground for such a deal is under way. This hijacking of the autonomy platform, originally conceived of as part of a broader process of democratisation, has not be en preceded by any process of broad-based consultation as promised two years ago.

Meanwhile, the business of managing violence in Jammu and Kashmir is being ignored. The real steps to contain terrorism lie not in troop redeployments or gross strengths, but in a candid reassessment of India's post-1996 counter-insurgency doctrines and tactics. Using massive Army and paramilitary deployments will help hold ground, but not the elimination of small groups of terrorists. In the process, the Army is being slowly bled. That fighting a covert war with overt means is an exercise in futility h as for long been understood. But plans to revitalise the State police force, and to improve the State's covert resources have been stonewalled by the political establishment, with calamitous results.

Sadly, even the more successful unorthodox enterprises of the mid-1990s have been allowed to collapse. Pro-India militia groups, made up of terrorists opposed to the ascendancy of the Jamaat-e-Islami and Hizbul Mujahideen, have degenerated into political enterprises, used mainly for ballot-box stuffing during elections. Reports of defections from major militias are frequent, and few groups are actually of any operational use. The Special Operations Group of the State police, set up to carry out targeted operations against the top leadership of terrorist groups, has been facing sustained attack from the ruling National Conference. What remains are political broadcasts masquerading as new policies, devoid of any ground-level meaning or purpose.

PAKISTAN'S war is certain to escalate this spring, as South Asia gears up for Clinton's visit. One probable course of action is for it to escalate violence along the Line of Control, this time not in Kargil but in Kashmir itself. Small groups of insurgen ts, which Indian intelligence officials describe as border action teams, have attacked Indian forward posts from Pakistan Army positions on several occasions. There have been at least six significant skirmishes along the LoC since last summer. Indian tro ops have responded twice, eliminating hostile positions in Gulmarg last September and at Akhnoor on January 22. Artillery exchanges have routinely followed such skirmishes. Pakistan's interests obviously lie in ensuring that these exchanges snowball into a full-blown confrontation.

Prime Minister Vajpayee, playing Dara Shikoh to the Home Minister's Aurangzeb, clearly has no answers. Both he and Advani see Jammu and Kashmir principally as a source of inner-party ideological legitimacy and mass support. The long journey that began wi th the Pokhran-II nuclear blasts in May 1998, and then travelled through Kargil to Kandahar, is still far from over.

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