18 May 2024 09:11 AM



PSYWAR? Govt Orders Place Kashmir On Edge For Over 24 Hours, Panic Buttons Hit

Rumours fly

NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: ”Psychological warfare (PSYWAR), or the basic aspects of modern psychological operations (PSYOP), have been known by many other names or terms, including MISO, Psy Ops, political warfare, "Hearts and Minds", and propaganda. The term is used "to denote any action which is practiced mainly by psychological methods with the aim of evoking a planned psychological reaction in other people". Various techniques are used, and are aimed at influencing a target audience's value system, belief system, emotions, motives, reasoning, or behavior. It is used to induce confessions or reinforce attitudes and behaviors favorable to the originator's objectives, and are sometimes combined with black operations or false flag tactics. Target audiences can be governments, organizations, groups, and individuals, and is not just limited to soldiers. Civilians of foreign territories can also be targeted by technology and media so as to cause an effect in the government of their country” is how this warfare is described and defined.

And while it is difficult for a lay person to actually marry what happened in Kashmir Valley over the past 24 hours as PSYWAR, a senior retired military official had no hesitation in saying that the government orders restricting petrol, directing stock up of medicine, foodgrain along with wild rumours that spread through the Valley could well be within the parameters of psychological warfare that was withdrawn finally at night. The staccato orders issued one after the other followed the first move by the Union Home Ministry to send 100 companies of paramilitary forces to Jammu and Kashmir.

After that there was no end, and the Valley was gripped by rumours generating deep fear and distress. Parents telephoned their sons to come back to the Valley with one young man receiving a call from his mother saying, come back so that at least at the end we are together. Heartrending messages were exchanged as an entire region in a state of India faced deep uncertainty, and hence vulnerability. Former chief minister Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti recorded the panic in tweets. Former IAS officer Shah Faesal tweeted addressing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “we havent slept last night and we don’t know whether we are going to wake up tomorrow. People are avoiding movement and hoarding essential items. It is a doomsday feeling, Can someone tell us whats happening here?”

No one did for the entire night of Friday-Saturday, through Saturday with the social media registering deep desperation that everyone in government must have been aware of. But did not react to. Late in the evening some doors were opened finally signalling a let up of sorts. Governor Satyapal Malik reportedly assured a couple of persons then that all was well, and nothing unusual was going to happen.

There was no explanation of course for the series of “mysterious” orders by the Jammu and Kashmir government, with fighter jets and choppers of the Indian Air Force hovering over head. Kashmiris went into a buying frenzy, with fuel stations running dry---as Omar Abdullah himself recorded in a social post--- amid talks of “something big” happening in coming days.

After the Union Home Ministry ordered “urgent” deployment of 100 companies of BSF and paramilitary forces in J&K, the state government ignited a mass frenzy on Saturday by issuing orders to two key departments.

The health department cancelled the leaves of the doctors “without permission” yesterday while the administrators were ordered to “gear up their Rapid Response Teams so that any eventuality can be tackled.”

This was followed by the food department’s order for its distribution centres to extinguish their stock by Sunday, which is a holiday, adding to the mystery and confusion among the masses.

Later, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Baseer Khan’s directive for rationing of petrol and diesel sent the car and other vehicle owners into a mass, fuel buying frenzy even as residents across the Valley thronged markets to stock up essentials in case of any eventuality.

By the time the state administration stepped in to address the fears of commoners and the state’s Governor Satya Pal Malik appealed for calm after hours, the situation had already gotten out of control.

“There is no need to panic. Rumours are being floated to create panic. The deployment of forces is part of pre-election induction. The Election Commission of India team is visiting the state shortly," he finally said on television late in the evening.

However, few people were willing to buy the government’s assurances. With fighter jets and choppers hovering in the skies, rumours gained currency that the mobile phone networks may be suspended indefinitely.

“This is Kashmir. Anything can happen. So it is better to be prepared,” Bashir Lone, who was carrying bags filled with essentials said at Seven Eleven, a popular store in uptown Srinagar.

The rumours gained currency after Dr Bilquis Shah, the wife of incarcerated separatist leader Shabir Shah, told local media that “something bad” had taken place with her husband in Tihar Jail. That the hearing of Shah’s case on Saturday was deferred added fuel to the fire.

“I spoke with my lawyer and he said something bad has taken place. Since it was a Saturday, they (jail authorities) didn’t allow me to meet my husband. We will be going there on Sunday to find out the truth. I am concerned for my husband’s safety,” she said.

However, many netizens in Kashmir took to the social media, claiming that these ‘rumours’ were being fanned to “create confusion” among the people. Some said it was a move to “lessen the impact of crackdown” on Jamaat-e-Islami whose 150 leaders and activists were arrested in Friday night raids across the Valley.

“Could this psy-op be aimed at driving a frightened and anxious population into the lap of the so-called mainstream that would then repeat the farce,” Mir Hilal, a journalist, wrote on Facebook. Far fetched perhaps but an indication of complete distrust that does not do well for democracy.