25 September 2023 09:07 AM



Kashmir: More of the Hammer in 2019

Kashmir: More of the Hammer in 2019

The ruling party nemesis, Yashwant Sinha, informs that there is a ‘doctrine of state’ that is determining the government’s Kashmir strategy. According to his source in the government, presumably a former ruling party colleague of his, the doctrine of state is the “use of force to solve problems, not consensus, not democracy, not insaniyat, but sheer use of brutal force.”

The credibility of Sinha’s information is reinforced by the stark warning given by the army chief in November, “If you look at the government policy, we have got a very clear cut policy — that we will not allow terrorists to create violence in our society and therefore anybody who creates violence will be neutralized.”

While the warning covers militants, he had a word for people (read stone pelters) too, saying, “anybody disrupting operations of the security forces need to be dealt with sternly,” and, “If people do not behave and continue violence, the only element left is to neutralise them.”

Statistics bear out the strategy at play. The year-end count of militant dead is some 255. Though there is a representative of the Union government for conducting a sustained dialogue with all stakeholders, there is no hint of a peace initiative imminent to take advantage of the operational ‘success’ these figures are trotted out to underline.

In fact, the army chief ruled out any such initiative stating, “Sharma is moving around talking to people. He is saying that I am open to everybody and anybody who wants to speak to me can come to me (sic).” Rawat lamented the lack of progress on the talks front thus: “If separatists don’t want to approach the interlocutor, then I don’t know what further can be hoped.” With a finality that put paid to any thought of a peace initiative, he said, “But to say that the head of the state will come and talk to these terrorists, I don’t think that is going to happen.”

In short, India’s Kashmir strategy comprises a hammer alone; no carrots there. Even its thinking on a peace track is rather rudimentary. Speaking earlier, prior to the mid-year ceasefire initiative, Rawat had said that, while “there isn’t a military solution to this issue,” he expects “politicians, political representatives to go into villages especially in South Kashmir to talk to people.” On the army restoring calm, he expects politicians to fan out and convince people that any thought of Azadi is futile. Somewhat naïve to say the least!

Even its ongoing Operation All Out reportedly has as its limited aim the containing of the insurgency to levels permissive of elections to be held in Kashmir sometime early summer for both the state legislature and the parliament. The expectation is that restoring a democratically elected government to power in Srinagar is all that a political solution takes. This flawed understanding of political solution or conflict resolution is despite the four iterations of elections since 1996 after an extended spell of president’s rule from early 1990.

Listening to the loquacious army chief is important to piece together India’s Kashmir strategy. A commentator has it that the chief, having been picked for his expertise in counter insurgency, is allowed considerable liberty in speaking his mind (shooting his mouth off to some) as part of the psychological operations that form part of hybrid war.

India apparently sees its stand-off with Pakistan over Kashmir as an ongoing hybrid war, a perspective it shares with the Pakistan army. This keeps India from using meaningful talks as a means to address the political problem it has in Kashmir. Viewing Kashmir as a proxy war, rules out talks with Pakistan-controlled separatists and militants.

This is justified by the so-called doctrine of state in which force is the solution. Force is legitimized by resort to Chanakya’s thinking. However, this uni-dimensional view of Chanakya does not do justice to Chanakya, who had strategy based on four expedients (upay): dand (force), bhed (dissension), sama (talks), daam (buy off). His thinking was considerably less monochromatic than his adherents today swear by. To resort to Kautilya for doctrinal legitimacy is to do the thinker an injustice and hide strategic vacuity in a veneer of strategic doctrine.

Besides, India’s strategic minders appear not to be updated on the latest interpretation of Kautilya. A recent doctoral dissertation at the University of Hyderabad boldly reinterprets Kautilya and rescues him from the ideological clutches of sundry hyper-realists and cultural nationalists. The defence ministry affiliated think tank, Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis has done a yeoman’s service in this regard. Kautilyan thought anchored in welfare of people, with the chakravartin (benevolent ruler) provisioning the same through a combination of suitable strategies, including accommodationist ones.

In relation to Kashmir, dand and its twin, bhed (for intelligence driven operations), can only have a limited part to play. They are counter-productive in that force is addressing a symptom of the cause, which is the use of force itself.

Daam has been tried thrice-over, by the successive prime ministers, to little avail. While Vajpayee had some 60 projects involving Rs. 25000 crore, Manmohan Singh had a working group on economic regeneration. Modi talked of investing Rs. 80000 crore three years back.

The three expedients together have barely contained the problem. The current count of militants is some 300, with some 200 having joined this year. Even if the army kills 300 over the coming year, there would be those signing up through the year to be accounted for and those that Pakistan succeeds in infiltrating into Kashmir. The army acknowledges that even in multiple tiers there is no guarantee against infiltration.

With this year’s firing incidents on the Line of Control, despite an early year recommitment to a ceasefire, notching up the highest figure this decade, Pakistan can be expected to be proactive over the coming year. President Trump’s downsizing of forces in Afghanistan and US talks with the Taliban suggest Pakistan will have greater latitude to get back to its old game J&K. This year it was relatively restrained owing to US pressure on it and hoping to project the indigenous face of the insurgency.

India might be tempted to resort to up-gunned surgical strikes and its recently revised land warfare doctrine. How this could resolve matters either internally or externally is a well kept secret. The good part – which India’s strategic minders are otherwise wary of - is that it will help bring international attention to bear, putting paid to India’s mantra of bilateral problem solving.

What this analysis suggests for the coming year is that a strategy without the ingredient of saam in appropriate proportion cannot succeed. The so-called doctrine of state, at the fount of India’s Kashmir strategy, is evidently misplaced. In any case, doctrine is never to be inflexible or over-riding. It informs strategy, but does not dictate it. It is authoritative, but not domineering.

Keeping the representative of the Union government, Dineshwar Sharma, comatose into his second year in the appointment makes little strategic sense, especially as seen the army will be hard put to contain the likely escalation over the coming year. Bipin Rawat, who retires end-next year, needs to bring the sage counsel in the army’s subconventional operations doctrine to Ajit Doval’s attention.