Friday, July 19, 2019

Kashmir: Towards ‘Elusive’ Peace

(An edited version of a write-up published in July 2019 issue of "Asian Affairs - In Focus"   ) 

 Indian focus in Kashmir needs to go beyond terror infrastructure in Pakistan and installation of credible and efficient administration in the valley. It is important to decimate subversive networks feeding this all-out covert war through logistics, resources and propaganda. Stronger governance capacity at home and diplomatic prowess abroad  are part of  the measures to eradicate and deter such wars on our territory

In May  2019, a drive along the National Highway 44 from Udhampur to Srinagar via Ramban, Banihal, Verinag, Janglat Mandi and Anantnag, does not suggest, except for multiple security check-posts en-route,  that the state has weathered three decades of violent militancy. Uniformed men at the check-posts are courteous compared to what one may have encountered in the mainland or even during a trip on the same route nearly a decade back.

The entire landscape, both on the Highway and beyond, has changed over a decade. The process started when militancy acquired a downward slope sometime around 2005-06, the year since when the trend of decline in violence has sustained. Today roads are wider and well maintained. Traffic is smoother and construction work is visible all around. A variety of motels and eateries from Café Coffee Day to Pizza Hut to Rajasthani and Punjabi restaurants have sprung up on the route.

Shopping arcades and glitzy showrooms, including a few selling the latest automobile brands, were visible both on the outskirts as well as in cities and small towns. Janglat Mandi of Anantnag, whose only claim to fame used to be a modest civil hospital a decade back, is a vibrant town today with bustling markets. Its streets are lined with banks, ATMS and busy shops like any of the better small towns in Maharashtra and Gujrat. The civil hospital has a brand-new building with state-of-the-art infrastructure and well-trained staff. It boasts of an ambience that could be better than most of its counterparts in Delhi and Mumbai.

Not yet Close to Normalcy

However, an endurable peace and sustained tranquillity still appear far away from the horizon of the Valley. A mild upsurge in terror violence since 2016 has continued. Intermittent low-key infiltration and encounters are a reality even after conscience shaking Pulwama terror attack and subsequent aerial bombing of Jaish camps by Indian Air Force deep inside Pakistani territory.

Indian army has taken every possible care to avoid collateral damage for local population in all its recent counter-terror (CT) operations. These include the post-Pulwama ones in Kulgam, Achabal and Bijbehera etc where it lost its own officers and men. Army has also appeared to have refined its coordination with para-military forces and J&K Police, which has emerged strong local face, in both CT operations as well as in providing security to people and key installations.

Relatively low-key and incident free funeral of Zakir Musa of Ghazwat Ul Hind, who was killed in a  CT operation by security forces in May 2019, is a testimony of the resolve of the security forces to deny space to militants to orchestrate emotive propaganda.  Valley based groups have traditionally used such incidents to mobilise local sympathy and support to bolster their local recruitment. As part of its CBMs with local population, Indian Army has also accelerated its programme of sponsoring Kashmiri students to travel to different parts of the country.  Interestingly, recent years have witnessed a steep rise in number of Kashmiri youth joining the Indian army or security forces or even taking up employment in rest of the country.

Notwithstanding these, the component of local elements in the valley based terror groups has also seen a steady rise. Some national dailies assessed that the percentage had increased up to 80%  from an estimated figure of 60% in 2010. According to a credible Delhi based website, the total casualties in terror violence in first six months of 2019 stood at 218, including 72 from security forces and 22 civilians with the rest being terrorists. Kashmir has seen over 45,000 deaths over the past three decades including nearly 15000 civilians and over 6500 security personnel with the rest being identified terrorists, including over 3000 Pakistanis.

Anti-India graffiti are prominently visible at market places in most valley towns. Frequent suspension of internet services, necessitated as security countermeasure against terror communication, ends up inconveniencing locals. Many of them confirmed that incidents of stone pelting and provocative sloganeering against security forces had dwindled but these were still recurrent, especially on Fridays. The area around Hazrat Bal mosque is particularly known for this. Mosque functionaries consciously point out that they have nothing to do with stone-pelters and it were a few among shopkeepers in the adjoining area, who had lost their loved ones to militancy, could be sponsoring these. Even in other parts of the valley, stone-pelting appeared a well organised activity, that seemed clearly abetted, instigated and funded by some quarter.  

Hazrat-Bal appeared welcoming to all tourists, including non-Muslims and even security personnel. Mosque functionaries warmly show around the holy shrine to all, without any discrimination. During a detailed chat, some of them also expressed concern over rising number of Deoband trained Maulvis in the valley, including several from UP and Bihar, preaching a Wahabi - Deobandi version of Islam to supplant the local “Sufi” and “Pir” traditions.  

An interaction with groups of people both in Srinagar and Badgam suggested that many of the affected Kashmiri families, who had lost their loved ones to militancy, had moved on.  However, several among them are still struggling to reconcile to their loss. These only suggest that a lot of distance has to be covered to heal such wounds, which are inevitable whenever and wherever a diffused or covert war prolongs.

Unique Covert War

The Union government and defence experts have consistently maintained that what India has been facing in Kashmir valley is a complex covert war, through almost every possible means. It has an overlapping combination of terror, subversion, deception,  propaganda and radicalisation. Pakistani military establishment’s involvement in fuelling radical terrorism in the valley, or even beyond, has been well known. Of late, several impartial international entities including geopolitical analysts have emphatically acknowledged it.

While a large majority of Kashmiris have remained immune to radicalisation, even a small armed and organised gang is good enough to intimidate the rest into submission or passive collaboration. They automatically vitiate the security environment. It was under these circumstances that local security and administrative establishments had failed to prevent exodus of Kashmiri Hindus in late 1980s and early 1990s. Probably they are still not in a position to rehabilitate this community and provide them reliable security. Ethnic cleansing of the valley and subsequent radicalisation efforts  were steps towards to giving the identity colour to the covert war.

 History suggests that identity driven irregular wars have been the toughest to handle. These can potentially shore mass emotions to an extent that can destroy space for rationality and reasonableness in actions and thoughts of people in the theatre of conflict. Pakistani military establishment, having obstructed prosperity and dignity of its own people, may be least bothered about the actual plight of Kashmiris, whom it has treated nothing more than a tool to pursue its own larger agenda.

Indian state has been fighting this war from a position of disadvantage. All plural and liberal states have struggled to differentiate between religious freedom and radical propaganda. Probably none have the appropriate technical capacity to efficiently curb the latter. Such propaganda is the most dangerous fodder for externally sponsored diffused proxy war in the name of identity. 

      It is well known that security counter measures inevitably curtail civil liberties, making alienation of local population a natural outcome. The challenge becomes serious as the war prolongs. Possibility of alienation of local population increases further, when the state forces on the front-line of such war are not entirely local. In this context, Indian army has done a better job than probably all its compatriots, almost anywhere in the world. Providing a comprehensive security cover in such theatres of conflict, as well as retaining or regaining trust of the local population, probably requires such herculean efforts that exceeds capacity of most forces, especially if the local context is too adverse.

 United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) report in 2017 had highlighted that how all shades of organised crime varying from drug-trade to money laundering were used to fund insurgencies and terrorism all over the world. India itself has been a big market for such illicit activities. At a strategic level, the country shall have to push for greater efficiency and integrity of governance structures at a larger scale, beyond the theatre of covert war. At least those regions and  sectors, both within the country and internationally, that are being used to fund covert war in our territory need to be specifically targeted. 

Challenges of Managing  International Perceptions

Of late, a large number of Western countries have shown a better understanding of the Indian position in the valley. Nevertheless, intermittent criticism of Indian state by several international entities has been a reality. A relentless motivated propaganda often succeeds both due to: a) limited understanding of the finer nuances of the covert war even among the best statesmen; and b) inadequate international appreciation of the finer basic differences between the nature of Indian and Pakistani states. 

     Much of the West or even the West Asia continues to treat covert war in Kashmir as a territorial dispute between a Hindu majority India and a Muslim Pakistan. Hence, the moment Pakistan expresses concern at the plight of Muslims in the valley, it has an anchoring impact notwithstanding the fact that the same country has denied dignity, liberty and even security to vast majority of its own people. As late as on May 10, 2019, Washington Post carried an article on India and Pakistan, which states:  partition of British India in 1947, …was largely driven by religion: Pakistan became primarily Muslim while India remained mostly Hindu”. This is outrageous not only to secular credentials of India but hints at so-called in-congruence of Muslim majority areas being part of India.

India needs to be more forthright in asserting that the founding fathers of the country had categorically rejected the “Two Nation” theory of Jinnah. During preparatory consultations with Mountbatten, for Independence of India Act,  they made it clear that they were acquiescing to the idea of partition only in deference to the right of self-determination of those who had voted for Muslim League in 1946 elections for the Constituent Assembly. Indian leaders had insisted that a secular India would remain home to all communities including those Muslims who chose to do so. 

Pakistan is suspected to have created a massive world-wide crime infrastructure for its all-out covert war against India in the valley and beyond. Media had publicised arrest of Ghulam Nabi Fai of Kashmir American Council in 2011 for bribing and attempting  to influence US policy makers through funds, amounting to millions of dollars, illegally pumped in by Pakistani ISI. Such episodes could be tip of  a much larger iceberg. Recent charge-sheet against Zahoor Ahmed Shah Watali in the Indian Supreme Court, for acting as conduit in funding militancy in the valley, or disclosure of illicit funding by Pakistani state to separatist Hurriyat leaders, only corroborate such apprehensions.

Pak Military Establishment Unlikely to Relent

Noted American Political thinker Larry Diamond, in a recent write-up in Foreign Affairs, has reiterated what the world has known all these years. He has claimed that the army continues to wield all de facto powers in Pakistan even now. Military establishment is unlikely to relax its grip on Pakistani state, even though such phenomenon has pushed Pakistan to the bottom (150) of the list of developing nations on all parameters of governance, varying from Human Development Index to per-capita GDP. It used to be nearly at the top in 1950s in the same list that included ASEAN nations too, besides India and China.

It has been repeatedly assessed that Pak military establishment shall continue to foment trouble in Kashmir to retain its own control over levers of state power in that country. Facade of civilian government is there probably more to fool its own people than the international community. If we go by the conclusions of UNODC, they may also be involved in a lucrative global clandestine crime empire.  Otherwise, it is impossible to fund an expensive proxy war in Kashmir that has multiple propaganda centres and projects all over the world with massive infrastructure and logistics.

Road to Future

Despite a spurt in violence in recent months, Kashmir appears closer to peace than at any other point of time in the last three decades. People in general appear tired of militancy. An overwhelming majority express a yearning for peace and normalcy. Economic reconstruction has generated  its own momentum that needs to be sustained. However, the government has to guard against both alienation of local population and subversive propaganda in the valley and beyond. These have the potential to push the current covert war to a different trajectory, where violence and militancy may  lose  importance.  

Indian security forces have a tough task at hand. It is difficult to provide security to people in the valley and guard them from subversive propaganda. Nevertheless, it is indispensable for projecting Indian state as a stronger entity and reliable protector of local population. Simultaneously, India has to have a low-cost and yet an effective strategy to decimate, or at least immobilise, the entire infrastructure that  is being used to  wage this covert war. These may include the global crime empires that Pakistani military or security establishment may be running. In a globalised world, terror and subversive camps can be relocated even in third countries, if the adversary is determined and has the capacity to do so. 

Indian focus in Kashmir needs to go beyond containment of violence. Indian state has to bolster its overall governance capacity, both within the valley and beyond.  This will be crucial for not only eradicating and deterring covert wars but also denying space for such causative and ingredients that fuel and sustain these wars. These include subversion, propaganda, recruitment, funding, logistics, as well as  vehicles or avenues or tools that facilitate, support or encourage these.  Of course, security or governance measures must not lead to blanket suppression of civil rights or commercial initiatives but a much finer balance appears a necessity. 

Diplomatic offensives abroad without serious governance reforms at home shall be inadequate for this purpose. Watali case confirms that if money laundering and crime networks are allowed to flourish even in the mainland India, there will be no shortage of funds and logistics for the proxy war in the valley or for that matter anywhere else in the country.


The road towards normalcy in the valley is going to be tough and arduous one. There can be no substitute to, at least relatively, higher level of transparency and credibility in the governance process. A stronger bridge between the local population and the government shall be critical for this purpose. Like higher vulnerability of even a marginally infirm man to fatal diseases or epidemics, the Kashmir valley is also more vulnerable to Pakistani covert war in the prevailing dynamics within that country, especially given the higher space for covert war offered by present globalised world.  

Hence, there is need to go beyond stereotypes of cosmetic Western strategies like “hearts and minds” to institute a sturdier people-centric credible governance, with near zero space for subversion. Probably this is a necessity and not a prerogative if we aspire a decisive and permanent victory in a war that has prolonged far too much, draining our resources and destroying precious lives of our soldiers and citizens. The process may take more than a decade even if efforts are sustained and strategy is strong. Patience, determination, flexibility, and - most importantly – overall ‘integrity of approach’ shall be critical for this purpose.

 (With V S Deshmukh, Defence and Strategic Expert and a Corporate Security Analyst, who extensively travelled in the valley and interacted with cross-sections of people.)

For better appreciation of the subject, researchers and security practitioners may access author's concept paper on Effective Counter-Insurgency Strategy on website:


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