Javaid Trali

Moving beyond assumptions and towards ending militancy through political processes

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New Delhi’s ‘anti-militancy policy’ with regard to Jammu and Kashmir is based on the hypothesis that ‘persistent militarized intervention’ is the only means of defeating what it calls ‘Pakistan-sponsored’ or ‘cross-border terrorism’. This policy commands that anyone holding a gun in Kashmir is a ‘legitimate target’ for the counterinsurgency force, and therefore needs to be eliminated right away.

It has happened on several occasions during the last 3-4 years or so that a particular district in Jammu and Kashmir was declared militancy-free by the security agencies, and after a few days of this announcement, a militancy-related incident takes place in that particular district and the security agencies are back to square one. The reason for this is that militant recruitment has gone either up or down in Jammu and Kashmir but it has never really stopped. That brings me to the main point of this piece that several thousand militants, both foreign and local, have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir since militancy first broke out in the 1990s; however, security agencies haven’t made any headway in improving the overall security situation in the erstwhile state. Incidentally, as I write this piece, two militants have been killed in Kreeri area of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district.

“If you take the last four years, we were able to kill about 260 terrorists in 2018, about 160 last year and this year, so far, we have been able to kill 119 terrorists,” declared J&K police chief, Dilbag Singh, in the last week of June 2020. Analyzing the statement of DGP through a military prism, it is decidedly quite an achievement but is there anyone in the security or even the political establishment who could say with absolute certainty as to when all “terrorists” will be eliminated, and if the move would ensure sustainable peace in Jammu and Kashmir.

On August 20, 2020, the Police chief claimed that the infiltration of terrorists from across the Line of Control (LoC) has reduced to almost 50% this year because of the alertness and proper border management by the Army.  “The recruitment of local youth into terror ranks has reduced drastically,” Singh was quoted as saying by REPUBLICWORLD.COM. He added, “This year, security forces managed to get back some 16-local youth who earlier were part of terror outfits. All these 16 are now part of mainstream. To get them back, their families through social media played a bigger role.”

However, a report published by NDTV on August 21 titled “After J&K Bifurcation, More Locals Turning To Terror, Say Officials” challenge claims made by the Police chief. “The Centre’s move to bring development and healing touch to Jammu and Kashmir after bifurcating it into two Union Territories, has not improved the security situation in the Kashmir Valley,” the report reads. “Too many locals are still joining the ranks of terrorists despite the growing number of encounters, becoming a huge concern for security forces operating in Kashmir,” home ministry officials were quoted as saying by NDTV.

“A fact sheet from the ministry shows that in the first seven months of this year, 90 locals have joined various terror groups. Of them, 45 joined Hizbul Mujahideen, 20 Lashkar-e-Taiba, 14 Jaish-e Mohammad, seven Al Badr, two Ansar Ghazwat ul Hind and one joined ISJK, a terror group inspired by the Islamic State,” the report reads.

Military measures may apparently appear as an effective means of “countering terrorism” and “defeating terrorists”, but the studies conducted on the subject suggest otherwise. A 2008 RAND Corporation study showed that terrorist groups usually end through political processes and effective law enforcement, not through the use of military force. A study of 268 terrorist organizations that ended during a 40-year period, found that the primary factors accounting for their demise were participation in political processes (43 percent) and effective policing (40 percent). Military force brought about the end of terrorist groups in only 7 percent of the cases. It needs clarification that “effective policing” here does not mean dealing with militants militarily because on that count there is hardly a difference between the military and police – as both employ similar military means and armaments for the purpose.

More to the point: New Delhi’s “anti-militancy policy” with regard to Jammu and Kashmir is based on the hypothesis that “persistent militarized intervention” is the only means of defeating what it calls “Pakistan-sponsored” or “cross-border terrorism”. This policy commands that anyone holding a gun in Kashmir is a “legitimate target” for the counterinsurgency force, and therefore needs to be eliminated right away.

This policy is questionable –strategically and ethically– in light of the fact that the non-redressal of political grievances, one of the primary factors for factors contributing to insurgency in the region, motivates the youth to take up the arms against the state. Kashmiri youth do not necessarily have the same reason and motivation for taking up the arms as the ones who come here from Pakistan or some other country.

Unlike Al-Qaeda or ISIS, Kashmiri militants do not have a transnational agenda. This difference needs to be understood and appreciated by those sitting in the power corridors in the North and South Blocks as this alters the moral calculus and casts doubt on official justifications for the counter-militancy operations in Jammu and Kashmir.

Prospects for success in the current anti-militancy campaign are highly uncertain. After some 30 years of military operations in J&K, violent attacks carried out by the militants on both military and civilian targets have not ceased while the militant influence also keeps on ebbing and growing almost alternatively. Military measures alone will not help –they haven’t in the past– and may well spark greater public resentment and resistance. Even if security forces could prevail in their counterinsurgency operations, it is certain that the human and the financial cost, and more importantly the impact on the Kashmiri psyche, would not be proportional to its presumed benefit.

There is a need of rethinking the underlying assumptions pertaining to counter-insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir. Below are some recommendations in this regard.

  • The security agencies should target those who are having transnational Jihadi agendas while trying to bring back the local Kashmir youth into the political mainstream by offering them a dignified return and rehabilitation through a well-meaning DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration) policy.
  • Recalibrate military operations and ensure that the local militants are given a fair chance to surrender; and that there is no collateral damage to civilian life and properties.
  • Identify the remote forces, responsible for radicalizing the Kashmiri youth, and dismantle their financial network, and also cyber-enabled campaigns.
  • Initiate political reconciliation processes with the members of separatists and militants, who are willing to cooperate and compromise.
  • Seek feedback from the people on how to ensure people-centric and public friendly military and policing policies.
  • Engaging people in restoring and strengthening the foundations of governance, including increasing support for efforts to fight corruption and to foster sustainable development and human rights.
  • Build civilian capacity for peace-building in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Engage with the neighboring country, Pakistan, in order to make it realize the futility of its politics concerning Kashmir, and bring it onboard for ensuring a stable South Asian region.

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