Friday, 7 June 2019

Reframe the Kashmir conflict from terrorism to insurgency

The latest set of the periodically released statistics from Kashmir indicate that some 75 per cent of those killed in military operations there are locals. Last year, the figure for Kashmiris killed of those killed in operations was 62 per cent. This figure compels a rethink on how India approaches the problem in Kashmir.
Currently, the understanding that India is contending with terrorism in Kashmir is based on the presence of Pakistani proxy fighters and the understanding that the local fighters are doing Pakistan’s behest.
However, the numbers of locals among those killed in military operations indicates that there is a considerable indigenisation of the conflict. Is it time, therefore, to rethink the tag of ‘terrorism’ that continues to be applied?
There is no doubt that terrorism has been incident in Kashmir, seen in the killings of unarmed soldiers while on leave and relatives of policemenpolitical workers and civilians who are ‘informers’.
Even so, most encounters are a result of proactive operations by security forces, with militants cornered fighting in self-defence. A disaggregation of the military engagements in Kashmir would indicate that incidents that can be subsumed under the definition of terrorism are considerably less than those more appropriately covered by the term insurgency.
This indicates that the broad-brush appraisal of the conflict as terrorism does not best capture its reality. Insurgency may instead be the appropriate frame to view the conflict.
This trend in the military sphere of the conflict is reinforced by the developments on its political strand. The separatists have taken pains to point to indigenous roots and interests of their political struggle.
Zakir Musa, the recently killed head of an Al-Qaeda affiliated group, was upbraided by the separatist leadership for his advocacy of Islamism. Likewise, late last year, the separatists were quick to condemn a mob’s agitation in favour of the Islamic State in the premises of Jamia Masjid in Srinagar.
Their most recent statement lends support to any political talks contemplated by the newly re-elected central government in relation to Pakistan’s reaching out for talks going back to its elections last year.
The political context to the conflict finds resonance in the positions of the mainstream political parties in the Valley on issues such as sanctity of Articles 35A and 370, application of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the relevance of Pakistan as a stakeholder in the conflict.
The military and political dimensions of the conflict in Kashmir taken together dilute the reading of the conflict solely as terrorism in favour of militancy or, more accurately, an insurgency. Where it is not a defining feature of a conflict, terrorism can be subsumed as part of an insurgency.
It is arguable that proxy war has been a dwindling feature of the conflict in Kashmir in its phase after the killing of Burhan Wani. In its definition of insurgency, the army’s subconventional operations doctrine notesthat insurgencies often rely on external support (p. 64). It also notes that terrorism is in evidence within subconventional conflicts.
Such a reframing of the conflict in Kashmir is useful. It provides scope for a peace process kicking off. While there is little appetite in governments to engage with ending terrorism politically, it is widely regarded that ending insurgency is only possible through political means.
Thus far, treating the conflict in Kashmir as a proxy war by Pakistan and a war of terror against India, New Delhi has refrained from a peace process both internal and external. However, if a reframing of the conflict is done as to have it re-interpreted as an insurgency rather than terrorism, then a peace track to India’s strategy both towards Pakistan and within Kashmir is possible to envisage.
The timeliness of such reframing also owes to the government beginning its second innings. As its new Union home minister, Amit Shah, takes stance and surveys the field, he could consider if the statistics from Kashmir bespeak of changes on ground permitting a policy gearshift.
If this is deemed premature for now — reports from the Line of Control have it that infiltrators are in 16 camps across it — Shah could well hold course till a trend manifests over time.
Shah should not hold on to election-time rhetoric. He could instead use the summer to test the thesis that the conflict in Kashmir qualifies as insurgency. The security situation over the Amarnath Yatra and the upcoming elections in autumn will provide ample evidence either way.
In the interim, his newly-sworn in counterpart, external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, while reiterating the traditional India position, could signal that India could shift gears since it now has activated surgical strikes as an option to tackle terrorism. Pakistan had earlier indicated its preference among the political parties during elections, believing a Right-wing victory can help deliver on talks better.
A reframing of the conflict provides the government an opportunity to open a line internally, to begin with. This would be a doctrinally compliant political track to complement the military prong of strategy in countering insurgency.