KASHMIR BY MY LIGHTS
Ali Ahmed, PhD (JNU), PhD (Cantab.),
is a former infantry officer and has been an academic and a UN official.
He blogs at www.ali-writings.blogspot.com and tweets at @aliahd66.
For Kashmiris, fellow citizens
I have compiled here my occasional long form writings on Kashmir since the high tide in the affairs of Kashmir in the early nineties.
To begin with the earliest, which is at the fourth and last in order in this compilation. It was written when on leave in Srinagar as a subaltern. During my stints in Punjab, where my infantry unit was deployed in an anti-infiltration role along the Pakistan border for some time and later in Sri Lanka with the Indian peacekeeping force there, I grew an interest in the contextual factors of insurgency. In the period, I spent my leaves in Srinagar where my parents were, my father posted at Badami Bagh first as chief of staff and later as the corps commander during the outbreak of troubles in Kashmir. This meant I was more or less in conflict zones, when with my battalion, that went on to Assam and participated in Operations Bajrang and Rhino there, and even when on holidays.
As all officers of my generation, I got adept at the tactical side by participation in three counter insurgencies – Punjab, Tamil in Sri Lanka and the Bodo and ULFA in Assam – and during leave I was exposed to the operational level of it, watching keenly from the sidelines. My interest at the operational levels was whetted by occasional visits to my uncle who was commanding general of the corps my battalion was part of in Assam.
Thus, I was somewhat uniquely positioned to have a view of the tactical and operational levels, while my reading habit enabled me to keep up with the political - contextual – factors through devouring strategic literature well beyond my rank. In effect, rather early on, I had a somewhat unique view of the tactical, operational and the political levels. Writing alongside honed this interest. The inclusion placed at the end here – ‘Kashmir: A Study in Insurgency and Counter Insurgency’ – is a product of that period.
The second, and first inclusion in this volume, is my MPhil chapter written at Cambridge University in the mid-nineties. By then I had like my fellow course mates seen enough of insurgency environments, but unlike most, had had a ringside view of events in Kashmir when on leave thorough the nineties. I also had, atypical for most young officers, an exposure at the national capital, at its very heart, living for two years in Rashtrapati Bhawan, as aide to Rashtrapati Shankar Dayal Sharma. My free time – and there was more of it than warranted – was spent in the libraries at the United Services Institution (USI) and the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), where I also spent my time occupying backbenches at seminars in the national capital, including at the India International Center. The time evidently not entirely wasted, enabled me a space in the master’s program at King’s College London, followed by MPhil at Cambridge, for which the army – uncharacteristically - afforded me sabbatical. I mention this since I used the effort put into my dissertation to try and understand my own experience better. Thus, my Cambridge dissertation had chapters on the Sri Lankan Tamil insurgency and on Kashmir. The Kashmir chapter – ‘Pakistan’s involvement in Indian Kashmir’ - is reproduced here.
The third entry is when I got back to the army. I still had a yen for study and writing. I could not sublimate it by taking up a doctoral seat in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) that I was selected for on my return since I had run out of sabbatical time. I then took up a non-resident fellowship at the USI holding the Ministry of External Affairs Chair for a year, extended by a year as Operation Vijay intervened, in which we were deployed in the desert sector in anticipation of and to deter horizontal escalation. The Kashmir insurgency, that I had followed closely through the nineties, was then at its height. I devoted a chapter of my fellowship paper to the insurgency, writing up while serving on staff on the Line of Control in Kashmir during the period. The study was not published since it would have required military intelligence clearance to do so and I suspect that would not have been possible since the study was critical of the Indian handling of the insurgency, besides, in another chapter, questioning India’s move to nuclear status that had just been attained then.
The last paper included here is a book chapter I did for a book on terrorism after retiring from the army. I had by then another stint in Kashmir, on the Pir Panjal ridgeline with the Rashtriya Rifles. Thus, a worm’s eye view of Kashmir supplemented the bird’s eye view I always had, and informed my thinking and writings, a rare advantage. Whether I used that advantage to good effect I leave it to readers to judge.
I was then with the IDSA as a research fellow, while also doing a doctorate with the JNU alongside. I got selected a second time round for the latter and was able to undertake the same finally since work with a Delhi based think tank alongside a doctoral position is permissible by the rules. In the period, there as respite in Kashmir, enabling revisiting the issue with little less urgency and allowing for a more reflective approach. The book chapter – ‘Countering insurgency in Kashmir: The debates in the Indian Army’ – captured the debates ongoing within the army between the two schools – hardline/kinetic and softline/WHAM. I was of the latter school and often sparred with those of the former on the pages of some in-service publications. Often my letters to the editor failed to make it to between covers of publications since they went against the dominant narrative. I have compiled these into a volume of ‘Unpublished Writings’ on my blog. I took the opportunity of a book chapter contribution to have the last word.
The four taken together cover the first two decades of the militancy in Kashmir. I actively covered the last decade in Kashmir writing extensively in online publications and in the Kashmir Times on how not handle Kashmir and how it should instead be managed. Some 100 op-eds in the latter comprise a complementary volume, Kashmir: Strategic Sense and Non-sense, also available at my blog and on academia.edu. I leveraged my developing interest in peace studies that covered peaceable approaches to violence, acquired in my academic avatar as a university teacher and later as a United Nations official. These commentaries and articles from my quarterly column in the second half of 2010s in the Economic and Political Weekly, are available at my blog, www.ali-writings.blogspot.com. I suspect the quality of these was such that my alma mater, Cambridge University, under its PhD by special regulations program considered by candidature favourably, awarding me my second doctorate.
Over the last three decades there have obviously been some very significant influences on my thinking. I wish to thank them but at the risk of being accused of name dropping. The ones not listed here are left solely on account of space. Even so, the usual caveats apply in that this is an unaided work, the sole responsibility for errors in facts, inference and reasoning being entirely mine and institutions the writings were submitted to have no responsibility for these.
Let me begin with my father, General MA Zaki, the ‘saviour’ of Kashmir for India in the nineties (an apt observation by Manoj Joshi), whose appending of comments on the first essay mentioned (visible in the pages at the end of this volume in his neat hand), constitutes fuel that keeps me going thirty years later; my uncle General Jameel Mahmood, who took time off to converse with me, a young officer, on affairs higher than my pay grade; Generals SC Sinha and Dipankar Banerjee, old boys from my school, mentors while I was in Delhi; the Rashtrapatiji Pandit Shankar Dayal Sharma, of the great generation of freedom fighters, for without his shadow over me I could never have acquired academic grounding; my first company commander Colonel CP Muthanna; my battalion commanders – Brig. ‘Jerry’ Gonsalves, Brig. SP Sharma, Brig. Ranjeet Misra, Col. SV Chaudhry, Col. Amit Sehgal, Col. Bhupinder Singh - who allowed me to moonlight from my duties; my subedars who kept a hawk eye on my company and battalion when I was physically present and mentally absent, including Hony Capt. Bharat Jadhav; Shri. NN Vohra for suggesting to the concerned bureaucrat not to sit on my study leave file in the ministry; Prof. Kanti Bajpai, who accepted me as a doctoral student only to see me falling out even before joining; General Satish Nambiar for taking me up for the MEA Chair and doyen of strategists, late Shri. K Subrahmanyam, for guiding that study; Prof. Rajesh Rajagopalan, India’s leading realist theoretician, who tolerated my ambling along on a liberal tangent; Prof. James Mayall who went through my life’s work, so to speak, including writings on Kashmir, to pronounce it, along with Dr. Vipin Narang, worthy of a Cambridge doctorate; General Prakash Menon, who allowed me access to his doctoral work my generous editors Anuradha Bhasin, Seema Mustafa and successive EPW teams; and my peers, General Hariharan Dharmarajan, who I mention hoping it won’t jeopardise his career, since his only fault was we were cadets together; General Virk, who as chief instructor at Staff College Wellington let me off the hook when some Hindutva inspired brigadier (my retrospective judgment) thought my unorthodox writings merited a march up; General SS Dhillon, a Rimco, for letting me off this time for interception by military intelligence of a letter home from the Line of Control, else it would nipped both my careers, as a military officer and writer; and finally, Polly, our pet parrot, that sitting on my shoulders did the spell check, fact check and grammar.
As is lot of partners of writers, Farah finds mention last. More so because there is no vocabulary my cadet school equipped me with nor do I know Urdu, the language in which what needs saying can perhaps be best expressed in. Maybe my next book will comprise letters to her from Kashmir on faded red service inland letters, preserved by her for no reason I can fathom.
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY – 1995-96
MPHIL DISSERTATION –
INTERVENTION IN INTERNAL AFFAIRS BY STATES IN SOUTH ASIA
CHAPTER III : CASE STUDY II
PAKISTAN’S INVOLVEMENT IN INDIAN KASHMIR
USI PROJECT: MEA CHAIR 2000-01
A STUDY OF INDIAN STRATEGIC CULTURE
CHAPTER III - CASE STUDY II
THE ARMY AND KASHMIR
COUNTERING INSURGENCY IN J&K:
DEBATES IN THE INDIAN ARMY
Maroof Raza (ed.): Confronting Terrorism,
New Delhi Penguin Viking India, 2009
KASHMIR: A STUDY IN INSURGENCY
AND COUNTER INSURGENCY
(unpublished essay, 1990)