Divide and kill
In the last quarter, 78 militants have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir, with 90 per cent of these being local recruits. This is the culmination of the summer campaign, a befitting cap to Operation All Out. The army is presumably battening down for keeping out the 300 odd militants awaiting induction into the Valley from across the Line of Control. The other 300 odd militants in the Valley, largely operating in south Kashmir, are in the army's sights over the winter. Hopefully, by the time the nation goes to polls, the victory bugle will sound in Kashmir, enhancing the poll prospects of the Modi-Shah combine.
The script can be directly attributed to Mr. Doval, the national security advisor, since it is of a piece with the strategy unleashed in the mid-nineties. Back then, the turn-coat militants were deployed to turn the tables on the insurgency. Once their utility was exhausted in the fraternal bloodbath in Kashmir, they were dignified by a police job - some in its sword arm, the Special Operations Group (SOG).
The move to rely on the Ikhwan to divide Kashmiris and best those with a Pakistani affiliation is variously attributed, with at least one bio-sketch crediting Ajit Doval. The strategy continues, with intelligence-led operations relying on information from the community. Credit for the intelligence inflow is generously given to the Kashmir police by the military and former military men, the latter on social media.
This explains the unfortunate targeting of Special Police Officers (SPO), and the police, by militants, who no doubt wish to stanch such inflow. The fratricide for a period mid this year included tit-for-tat atrocities, including kidnaps and killings of off-duty uniformed members of the community and some innocent relatives of members of both sides.
The strategy is a variant of the well-known one employed by outside powers: 'divide and rule'. It has intelligence provenance going back to the several groups India's intelligence agency spawned to counter the Tamil Tigers in north and east Sri Lanka. There, Prabhakaran gave these groups short shrift and they departed Sri Lankan shores along with the Indian army. In Kashmir, the army can only remain. The host community can only suffer the strategy.
In its earlier avatar of the mid to late nineties, it was used to effect by a fledgling Rashtriya Rifles to compensate for its lack of cohesion as a fighting force. The hatchet job on the insurgency was Kashmiri led, with not a few military careers benefiting in the process. The relative peace of the early 2000s - brought on by factors other than military pressure - resulted in covering up of the tracks, with the Ikhwan jettisoned, but the strategy kept alive through the territorial army's 'home and hearth' battalions, SPOs and the SOG. The village defence committees (VDC) south of the Pirpanjal was the essential precursor to the communalization of the area today. It is as futile as the 'chicken or egg' conundrum to argue whether terrorism preceded the VDC or otherwise.
The strategy of proxy groups was exported to Assam, where the surrendered Assamese militants were put to pressure the Assamese insurgents. The fratricide there included killings by these proxy groups of relatives of their former comrades. Some 30 deaths were at their hands. The governor in Assam in the period was a former general with a known predilection for the right-wing party then in power in the center. He was duly rewarded with yet another gubernatorial assignment, this time in Kashmir by the pretender Loh Purush, LK Advani.
The general in charge of the operational group of Assam's unified command in the period at end last century had earned his spurs in the Valley, who in one bio at the end of one of his pieces of writing takes credit for the policy of surrenders in Kashmir. The period he commanded a tactical formation in Kashmir was when the Ikhwan was forged. That's perhaps where he arrived at his Islam-terrorism linkage: 'Unfortunately, terrorism has been linked to religion and this is very dangerous. Unfortunately, Islam has come under shadow of doubt and it is creating all the problems.' (His latest foray into the headlines has been in his Pune based think tank first making the link between 'urban naxals' and Bhima Koregaon, one lapped up by the police of the saffron party run state.)
The SPO template was then transferred to central India in the form of the Salwa Judum, where it - yet again - successfully divided the tribal community. Operation Green Hunt ongoing in the jungles out of sight of the media is on the backs of tribal fighters, with the central armed police forces and paramilitary deployed on hand to reap up any credit for outcome of operations. Notably, the strategy's transfer was in the mid 2000s when our very own James Bond, Ajit Doval, was heading the lead internal intelligence agency and the national security adviser was his former boss.
In central India, the strategy was frowned upon by the Supreme Court in a case brought to it and pursued by scholar activists. The militia was responsible for ethnic cleansing, which is what the corralling of tribal communities into detention camps essentially was. The spirit of the court judgment against use of the militia appears lost on the police, with the fighters morphing into irregulars, for instance, those depicted accompanying the armed police guarding the character, Newton, determined to bring electoral democracy to the interiors of Bastar in the eponymous hit film.
The tragic SPOs are as much the victim of the strategy as the targets. SPOs salary was doubled this year, after six years of bureaucratic deliberations, to Rs. 6000 per month, and after the counter insurgency of the last two years virtually riding on their backs. The recent abduction and killings of SPOs led to another hike by a third of the amount, to keep them to the till. This is a case of the state taking advantage less of commitment than of desperation. With no employment opportunities, the apologists for the hardline are plausible when they claim that stone pelters - who brave pellet guns - are on the payroll of the Hurriyet. To strategists who double as devotees, the ingenious scheme thought up by Messiah Modi - demonetization - ended stone throwing since it dried up these funds. Wonder what to them accounts for the stone that felled the unfortunate 22 year old trooper, Rajendra Singh, this week.
The fissures from desperation - rendered crevasses by conflict - are easy to manipulate by an imperial successor state, India. It is natural for the intelligence community denizens to think up such strategies, for they are predisposed to chicanery and deception as part of their trade. They are also not the ones implementing it intimately. That is the domain of the army in Kashmir (and the paramilitary in central India). The security forces should know better. Whereas this cannot be said of the khakis - not ever after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) saga dubbed CBI vs. CBI - this should be the case with the army.
It has an intellectual counter insurgency trove and a doctrine. It has a reputation to protect. It is aware of the political preceding the operational; of the national superseding its parochial interest. And yet, for it to profit from a strategy that is messing up society in the long run - an Indian community at that - is abdication of its agency. It is no longer a strategic actor, one that includes long term ends to offset short term ways and means. This lessens the distance between it and doormen sporting camouflage these days. Doormats are not strategic beings.