Kashmir strategy

Floundering tactics

Print edition : May 26, 2017

PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti with BJP leaders Amit Shah and Ram Madhav at the press conference where a coalition of the two parties in Jammu and Kashmir was announced, in New Delhi on February 24, 2015. Ram Madhav was made the BJP's point person in Jammu and Kashmir to ensure the effective pursuit of the Doval doctrine. Photo: Prashant Nakwe

A.S. Dulat, Adviser on Kashmir to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He has been warning the Modi government against its waywardness in handling Kashmir. Photo: Nagara Gopal

Ajit Doval, National Security Adviser. The military and political line followed in Kashmir revolves around the tenets of what is called the Doval doctrine. Photo: V. Sudershan

The military and political line advanced in Kashmir by the Modi government has had catastrophic social, political and security consequences. But the government is not willing to change its tactic for reasons of expediency.

“For over two years, the veteran was repeatedly flagging the pitfalls in Kashmir. Now the whole system is bearing the brunt of being indifferent to his views, or responding almost flippantly.” This statement is from an informal interaction between two relatively young civil servants in the Union Home Ministry on May 3, the day on which the Ministry of External Affairs summoned Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit to record its outrage over the killing and mutilation of the bodies of two Indian soldiers in the Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch in Kashmir. These civil servants’ responsibilities in the Home Ministry include monitoring and facilitating certain areas of the functioning of a couple of Indian paramilitary forces that are operational in Kashmir. The veteran they were referring to was Amarjit Singh Dulat, the security affairs specialist, whose long innings in the Indian security establishment in various capacities included one as Adviser on Kashmir to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2001-04. Dulat’s stints in the security establishment, as chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and as Special Director, Intelligence Bureau, were marked by years of sustained information gathering and assessment in Kashmir. Not surprisingly, he is widely regarded as one of the most authentic and respected observers of Kashmir and related issues.

Over the past two and a half years, Dulat has been regularly pointing out the gross lack of application of mind by the Narendra Modi government in Kashmir and its catastrophic social, political and security consequences. The Home Ministry officials were referring to how the ministry and other institutions of the government and the security establishment had systematically brushed the warnings of the veteran aside, leading to the current state of affairs, which is widely regarded as similar to or even worse than the situation that existed in 1990-91, the peak of militancy in Kashmir.

Signals emanating from other sections of the Union Home Department and significant segments of the national security establishment, including paramilitary forces such as the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), make it abundantly clear that these two officers are not the only people making a reference to Dulat and his advice on Kashmir in the last two years. The general mood across the Ministry and the security establishment is one that underscores a conspicuous lack of direction of the Central government in Kashmir.

A retired brigadier of the Indian Army who served in Kashmir for more than half a decade pointed out to Frontline that although several other security specialists, including some former generals of the Army, had commented on the Modi government’s lack of direction in handling the Kashmir situation, Dulat’s pointers were perceived to be of added value within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) essentially because he was considered close to the top leadership of the BJP and the NDA, especially to Vajpayee. Still, no concrete action resulted from this so-called better listening since the advent of the Modi government.

Dulat’s warnings

The warnings from Dulat about the Modi government’s waywardness in Kashmir have become sharper since mid 2015, when his much discussed book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years , was published. In August 2015, about a month after the release of the book, Dulat stated at a function in Delhi that troubling signs were palpable in the Kashmir Valley, including in the number of disappearances and in the radicalisation of certain sections of the youth and the training they were obtaining from militant outfits. Fifteen months later, in November 2016, Dulat presented a paper titled “Kashmir: Reasons for Unrest, Pathways to Peace” at a gathering in Mumbai. He argued at this meeting that the preceding four months in the Kashmir Valley had been terrible and that things had never looked that bleak. He warned then that things could well go out of control. This warning was given barely two weeks after the then Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, claimed that the demonetisation drive initiated by Prime Minister Modi had broken the back of terrorists and that stone-pelting had ceased to be a widespread phenomenon in the Valley.

Dulat characterised Parrikar’s claims as unfounded. “Stone-pelting stopped before demonetisation, mainly because of the acute winter. There is a connect between terror and counterfeit currency, but it’s exaggerated. Stopping the growth of indigenous militants is more important than the counterfeit currency issue,” he said. Dulat specifically referred to the “surgical strike” of September 2016, which was then being bandied about by the BJP as a sort of forceful solution to end Pakistan’s support to militants, and stated that media hype on this would lead to an increase in border tensions and result in higher civilian casualties.

Talking to Frontline in the present context, Dulat said categorically that the “Kashmir situation has never been so bad and this is directly linked to the Narendra Modi-led government’s squandering of the opportunities it had to find a solution”. He said the question whether the situation was worse than what existed in 1990 was at the same time rhetorical and nuanced. “The need is not to make this comparison and estimate what is worse. The important thing is to understand the situation realistically for what it is. When you do that you realise that, the alienation and anger of young Kashmiris is at its peak. It is driven primarily by a sense of hopelessness. They aren’t afraid to die. People from across society, from villagers to students and even girls, are coming out on the streets. This has never happened in the past. There may have been more guns with militants in 1990, but today the situation is scarier because the resentment and anger against the Centre has become so rampant that even girls are not hiding and are engaged in stone pelting. It is time to take urgent and resolute steps to redraw this messed-up picture,” Dulat told Frontline.

While some sections of the security machinery or related segments of the administration will not admit to sharing this understanding openly, there is little doubt that this is indeed the sense that permeates the Union Home Ministry. According to some senior officials, this perception expressed openly by Dulat has palpable resonance even within the political leadership of the Union Home Ministry. “But as of now, no course correction can be expected. Primarily because the larger political leadership of the ruling dispensation, the BJP, is facing a major deficiency of the instruments required for course correction,” a senior member of the security machinery told Frontline. In his view, this deficiency is multidimensional, ranging from the military to the diplomatic to the political.

Since 2015, Dulat has maintained that the primary instrument to seek a solution in Kashmir is talks between the government and the various non-governmental players in the region. “There is only one way to move forward in Kashmir: Talk, talk and keep talking,” Dulat had repeated several times over the past two and a half years. However, sources in the Home Ministry say that exactly during this period the mechanisms for keeping a track of dialogue open were practically destroyed by the Central government.

Realpolitik concerns

The reasons for such wrecking were essentially related to realpolitik concerns. “Right from the beginning of the Modi government it was driven by the urge to highlight the superiority of the BJP and its government’s commitment to nationalism as compared to other parties. As part of this effort, the military and political line advanced in Kashmir essentially revolved broadly around the tenets of what is called the Doval doctrine. This postulate, apparently formulated approximately a decade ago by Ajit Doval, the National Security Adviser to the Modi government, argued that the antidote to Kashmir’s militancy and Pakistan’s misadventures using and supporting the militants was to forcefully exercise military power in such dimensions that the existing balance of power was upset.

“In the game of power the ultimate justice lies with the one who is strong,” the Doval doctrine argues. To appropriate this “justice through power”, the postulate wanted to change the perception that “India is a weak nation”, “of Brahmins and Banias”, and expose Kashmiri separatists’ assumption that international opinion is in their favour. In practical terms, it went on to suggest a policy of not giving in before militant struggles or their uprising and of not succumbing to appeasement measures. It also expressed the firm belief that any military or security crisis would pass off although it might look big in the midst of it.

It also argued that militant outfits could not sustain any uprising beyond a point and even if they did there was a heavy price they would have to pay for it and this would tire them out. Reportedly, this line was wholeheartedly accepted by Modi himself, and BJP insiders say that one of the briefs given to Ram Madhav, when he was taken off as spokesperson for the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and made the party’s point person in Jammu and Kashmir, was to ensure the effective pursuit of the Doval doctrine. This line was advanced even after the BJP formed a government in alliance with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the regional party that champions its Kashmiri Muslim identity aggressively. After the electoral reverses in Bihar and Delhi in 2015, this one-upmanship was kept at the core of the BJP’s realpolitik games, and this took many forms. Surgical strike is one of them.

Intelligence tactics

But there were other moves, too, such as upsetting certain conventional but unique mechanisms employed by intelligence agencies. Intelligence agencies the world over use these mechanisms in order to keep a track of dialogue open with militant adversaries of existing governments. Most of the time it is in the form of benefits or perks ranging from providing easier access to some governmental help to plain monetary transactions. As is well known and as has been stated by many observers in the past, several of the anti-government, militant players in Kashmir were also beneficiaries of this tactic in varying degrees. “One of the things it facilitated was that it kept the doors of dialogue open. But the Modi government rendered this regime completely ineffectual in the 2015-16 period. The rationale for this was also based on perceived realpolitik gains. Realising this, Pakistan enhanced and appended its benefit or perks-disbursal regime. So much so that all the militant players in Kashmir are now playing into the hands of Pakistan,” the senior functionary in the security machinery told Frontline.

While this indeed marks a key diplomatic deficiency, the military deficiencies are highlighted by the ground situation in Kashmir, especially in south Kashmir, as also along the India-Pakistan border and the Line of Control. The hype generated by the September 2016 surgical strike was so much that the government, particularly the Defence Ministry, and BJP-Sangh Parivar spokespersons are not able to explain or cover up the lack of military action with aggressive rhetoric.

Responding to the media when asked about the possibility of a “surgical strike” type of response to the killing and mutilation of the jawans’ bodies by Pakistan, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley’s only plea was to “have faith in our Army”. He also added that the details of the Cabinet Committee on Security Affairs could not be discussed with the media.

No concrete response

In the meantime, the government has gone through the motions of directly accusing Pakistan, for the first time in the past six months, for killing and mutilating the bodies of Indian soldiers. The Pakistan High Commissioner was shown evidence, including visual evidence, as to how the “killers returned across the Line of Control”. The question whether all this is of any help in concretely addressing the current Kashmir situation evokes no concrete response from the Ministries concerned. Overall, what this situation, including the lack of response and the sustained strengthening of the militant activities in Kashmir, signifies is the reverses suffered by the practice of the Doval doctrine. As things stand now, the alienated and angry young men and women of Kashmir are showing no signs of tiring out.

A senior Home Ministry official was of the view that the situation as it has unfolded over the past two months has bewildered almost all sections of the government involved in Kashmir. There have been voices from even within the Army suggesting initiation of talks with militant groups leading to a reduction of the presence of forces, including the Army and paramilitary forces. Some of these suggestions have also argued for a phased withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the medium to long term. Central to all this is the readiness to initiate talks and the identification of the right mechanism to do it. In its absence, of course, people and organisations resort to bravado. This is exactly what is happening in large sections of the BJP.

Speaking to Frontline, a senior south Indian leader stated that all those advocating talks have had their chance in the past and they could make nothing out of it. “The situation is indeed bad now, our line has suffered reverses, but that does not mean we are going back to old manoeuvres that are proven failures. In any case, the line is being wholeheartedly accepted and hailed by our core Hindutva constituency in the rest of India,” he said. That statement is, by all indication, the key element in the Modi government’s policy and the BJP’s strategy.

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