|Counter insurgency learning from Kashmir
|Counter insurgency learning from Kashmir|
The Indian Army has completed two decades of deployment in Kashmir. Its deployment dates to a few columns deployed in Aid to Civil Authority during the Rubaiya Sayeed episode at the turn of the nineties. However, in the period 19-21 January, 1990 the situation took a turn for the worse, resulting in the newly appointed Governor, Mr. Jagmohan, requiring the Army to restore order. The situation deteriorated rapidly, with an expanding insurgency, brought about by 10,000 youth returning, over time, after training in POK. This led eventually to the AFSPA being imposed by mid-1990. The Army having faced up to a major challenge ever since, currently stands within military success in its grasp. It is therefore an appropriate juncture for stock taking. What are the lessons from Kashmir for India’s counter insurgency repertoire?
First, to set the stage, is a brief recap of the developments over the past decade.
The two narratives – insurgency and counter insurgency – are interwoven. The Afghan conflict winding down, Pakistan diverted the resources into expanding the proxy war from Punjab to J&K. The internal political predicament in Kashmir dating to the mid eighties emboldened them. Beset with increased deployment over the eighties in internal security and strained by its IPKF sojourn in Sri Lanka, the Army prioritised Punjab for tackling insurgency. Yet, 15 Corps by the mid-nineties had decimated the JKLF and had its counter infiltration posture firmed in. In the later part of the nineties, additional raisings of the Rashtriya Rifles enabled the Army to increase its footprint in areas to which terrorism had spread south of the Pir Panjal. AFSPA was extended to these areas in 2001. Heightened action on the Line of Control culminated in Pakistan venturing into Kargil later in the decade. The resulting war disrupted the counter insurgency grid, enabling Pakistan to move the proxy war into higher gear with ‘fidayeen’ attacks. Thickened by additional forces in ‘Operation Parakram’, Northern Army reclaimed dominance by 2003.
The turn of the tide can be dated to the Islamabad joint declaration in which Musharraf, suitably chastened by ‘Operation Parakram’ and beset by the GWOT, agreed to wind down terror. The November 2003 ceasefire enabled completion of the fence along the Line of Control, its manning, establishment of a twin tier counter infiltration network and the drastic limiting of infiltration. Political developments in terms of onset of the policy of ‘human touch’ internally and progress on the ‘back channel’ with Pakistan brought about a marked change for the better over the decade. This period enabled the Army to consolidate militarily and reflect on its counter insurgency practices. By mid-decade the Doctrine of Sub Conventional Operations (DSCO), dubbed ‘iron fist in velvet glove’, was available as guide. The two elections that returned coalition governments to power in Srinagar were conducted on Army watch. The current juncture finds the situation so much improved that the government has indicated that it would withdraw 25 per cent of the deployed para-military as a confidence building measure to bolster the search for peace by the three interlocutors appointed for the purpose.
What are the ‘lessons learnt’?
Firstly, the military and political prongs of strategy were often not in sync. Thus, at several junctures, when the militancy per se was under control, political initiatives could not take advantage in bringing the disturbed situation to a closure. The lesson the Army has repeated voiced is that there is no ‘military solution’. The latest lost opportunity was the honeymoon period of the current government. As a result continuing disturbances in summer over three years make the desired military disengagement an exercise fraught with uncertainty.
Secondly, the problem of coping with the heightened insurgency, that in the early stages admittedly had some popular support, required building institutional capacities in face of the problem. This was at considerable strategic cost in terms of winning hearts and minds, since the Rashtriya Rifles concept evolved under fire. It could have been thought through in the framework of military sociology at the very outset, to arrive at its current institutional configuration in terms of affiliation helping primary group cohesion. Likewise, anticipating the next moves in Jammu & Kashmir may require that the retrenchment or redeployment of this force needs thinking through now, since its presence is a self-annihilating requirement.
Thirdly, the AFSPA has come in for attention in civil society. The recommendation of various committees has been its repeal. The Army’s position is that it enables deployment, provides legal cover and the powers necessary to cope with higher order insurgency. Since it is likely that the military position will carry the day, the riders in the Supreme Court judgment, such as treating violations of the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ as punishable under the Army Act can be incorporated into law by insertion of the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ into the Army Act or as Notes thereto. The Army must also approach considerations on progressive reduction of areas declared ‘disturbed’ under Section 3 positively.
Fourthly, the Army must continue to sensitise its command echelon on human rights to levels of internalisation in which they are persuaded by the norms rather than treat the issue with reservations. Since the human rights issue will have increased strategic consequence in future due to growing awareness, the Army must follow the DSCO doctrine in letter and spirit. A measure to this end is to going beyond restricting Law of Armed Conflict pedagogy to the Geneva Conventions to progressive inclusion of Law of Armed Conflict. The customary law and Additional Protocols, though not binding, may figure in curriculum down to Young Officer and Junior Command level.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, is learning regards civil-military relations. The GOM on Internal Security of 2001 was the last effort in this direction. A decade on, this issue needs a revisit, since the government is perhaps contemplating deployment in multiple states in Central India. Inter-linkages of the para-military and MHA with the military and the MoD and the Center and the states need to be worked out in detail, with joint headquarters predefined in case of such deployment.
The brutal manner of other armies countering insurgency, including the US, have no lessons for India. Having discovered the Indian way at some cost and long last, lessons should not have to be relearned next time.
Ali Ahmed is Research Fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA)