Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd)
Two months after the killing of Burhan Wani on July 8, the Army has returned in strength to South Kashmir, the core centre of the recent street turbulence, and has been tasked to restore the situation. What needs to be understood here is that the Army is not restoring law and order but a virtual public order situation which has seen complete paralysis and inability of the police forces to handle. This is the classic situation in which the Army steps in to execute its responsibilities in the realm of operations other than war, hybrid in nature.
What the Army will be dealing with is an intractable segment of population with a diffused and invisible leadership, backed by financial, ideological, psychological and planning support from across the LoC. It’s a situation akin to 1989-90, made worse by emotions. However, the presence of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) today is a force multiplier and enabler unavailable then. Yet, there is a population, perhaps not as large as contemplated by the Chief Minister, which is pining for peace and is held hostage by the lumpen youth. It is this population whose conscience and courage has to be given a boost by the Army’s unconventional operations.
The Army’s forced vacation and reduction of strength over the past few years was due to the intense pressure that the local politicians imposed on the Government of India. A task in counter-insurgency/terror situations is never considered complete until the political legitimacy and authority is fully established. The clamour for withdrawal of the Army under the rabble rousing of the Deep State and separatists, on grounds of the presence of a trumped up figure of 7 lakh security personnel, led to incorrect decisions. Hopefully the lessons have been learnt.
The Army is currently tasked for restoration of the situation in South Kashmir but is deployed in good measure in North Kashmir too where its task towards restoration should also be mandated, lest there be doubts. It works on a principle of concepts which are based on the task, giving its commanders the required flexibility to function as per local conditions. The first point in the concept should clearly be the need for preventing any further alienation with all segments of society. That sets the tone for the degree of robustness in operations. It’s not a carte blanche for use of armed force and no one understands this better than the Army itself.
The fact that there are no black and white situations here is an element for use of manoeuvre philosophy, something a modern army should invariably be executing, especially in irregular conflict situations. It is not flag marches but the show of force through domination of both physical and moral kind. The moral domination of the Army has always been its chief weapon and its commanders at all levels have been immensely proud of that fact; it sets them apart and creates an aura which must never be lost. In all other parts of the country the arrival of the Army to handle law and order is accompanied by a silent sigh of relief. People trust it to do the right thing, the fair thing, and its officers always have that capability to reach out to the people. It is a delight sometimes to see a young Army officer presiding over a meeting of elderly citizens, giving them all the respect due.
So there is no reason why the Army won’t achieve the same thing in a public order distressed situation. In the domain of physical domination the move into the areas of South Kashmir is to occupy the physical space and reduce the burden of size of individual responsibility of sub-units of the RR and the CRPF. Simultaneously, if it is true that there has been a marginal surge in infiltration, the CI/CT operations must be conducted energetically and intelligently. These must be intelligence based and surgical. For that the assistance of the JK Police is mandatory. The intelligence grid has taken a beating but not to the extent it cannot be revived.
Conceptually, the most important task for the Army is not to go on an offensive mode; that’s the most ham-handed way of doing things. The need is to bolster the morale and capability of the JK Police, which remains as good a force as ever. It only needs a boost and a bit of correction in terms of personnel drawn from the same area serving locally. The JK Police must be able to hold its police stations and ensure that all weapons, records and legal documents are immediately secured. A similar thing in restoration of order is to ensure that government employees can return to work unimpeded and the secretariats everywhere must get to function. These places must be secured with the help of the CRPF. No one really knows how much digitisation has been completed in land records as it only began less than a year ago; the state government can ill afford to have tehsil and district offices as the next targets to create mayhem in land records, which will add to the turbulence.
I would be naïve if I did not appreciate that this time the degree of antipathy and alienation among the rural folk is manifold higher. The Army cannot expect a cakewalk in engagement through conventional methods but it also knows the pulse of the population and its basic needs. A combination of material and psychological engagement will help. I am aware that the inducted formations and units have trained themselves in their force ethos, an essential pre-requisite. You cannot have a bunch of non-professionals in the field with their understanding limited to inputs from social media.
The Army can do nothing on its own. It has to be a whole of government approach as anywhere in hybrid operations. It can and will lead by its professional and cooperative approach. The diffused leadership will need to be identified, engaged or weeded out. It must be replaced with the presence of elected political leaders whose movement and engagement with the people must be jointly facilitated by all security forces. The writ of the state has to return.
Lastly, the Army’s RR formations and units remain the mainstay. Their resilience and knowledge of the physical and cultural terrain is the plus which should not be lost sight of. All operations of any variety must be under the control of the RR commanders with no ego and such like notions becoming obstacles. It will need immense energy and understanding, something Army personnel are known for. We should expect no miracles. Healing processes are slow but remaining loyal to the concept of operations is the winning factor.
The writer, a former GOC of the Srinagar-based Chinar Corps, is now associated with the Vivekananda International Foundation and Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.
This Article was first featured in the Tribune