Kashmir in a frozen Turbulence

Isolating and monitoring the activities of the separatists is easy but locating militants is tough without the use of CASO

The sharp divide that has emerged between the Hurriyat and the Pakistan backed Stone Pelters and the Hizbul Mujaheddin leave India with only one option to come up with a plan of action in Kashmir which targets Pakistan as well, writes Resident Editor Daily World Ajit Chak

What colour is the bird? Dronacharya asked his ace pupil Arjuna. ÔÇ£I do not know,ÔÇØ replied the archer, ÔÇ£I can only see the eye of the bird.ÔÇØ Since Pakistan is the main supporter of terror in Kashmir any plan of action that fails to take action against Pakistan will not succeed. It shall miss the eye of the bird.

There are many players in Kashmir today and they are all pulling in different directions but where does this leave the Indian Army and the local population and how can they combine to restore law and order in Kashmir?

While most learned scribes prefer to toe the line of human rights and human rights abuses as it is fashionable to use that term with Kashmir, the truth of the matter lies elsewhere. For dozens of years the Central government has given special facilities to the separatists and political entities in the state and in the process they have even cut down on their information network and CASO.

CASO literally means Search and Cordon Operation and this is the only means to counter the terrorists and the militants in Kashmir say army officials. They heave a sigh of relief that the army has been allowed to revive CASO after 15 years.

The government discontinued CASO even though it had achieved great success in curbing militancy and taking the help of the local population in doing so in the state.

In the absence of CASO had been left with little options and with the media yelling human rights every time the army takes a step to minimise use of force and minimising casualties, the army was always on the back foot and the jawan demoralised.

The most recent case in which the media carried pictures of a stone pelter tied to a jeep as a human shield shows the difficult nature of the operation and the choices the army has to undertake in such situations. While the media will look at it only from one angle the humiliation the stone pelter is being put to, no one will bother to analyse that this action may have saved several Kashmiri lives and prevented use of excessive force for a simple operation. But the situation has reached such a point because in the last fifteen years in the absence of CASO the army has lost both its intelligence network and its linkage with the local population. The locals are on the other hand averse to both separatism, and do not want anything to do with the so-called independence movement and or Pakistan.

There are therefore three key players in Kashmir today.

The local population that would prefer not to get involved and will sit on the fence is the first player in the state. Even the killing of the young Rajputana Rifles officer will not spur them to act against the militants because they fear the militants. They have no interface with the local army units and do not known how to communicate with them to counter the militants.

The Separatists are there and have been there for scores of years but of late Yassin Mallik and his JKLF have been losing ground for two reasons. One they are short of the funding that used to come to them earlier and secondly they are vehemently opposed by the Hizbul Mujahidden.

Finally there is the most active player the militant backed by Pakistan and known to all others as the HM or Hizbul Mujaheddin run by Salahuddin Shiekh from Pakistan itself. Only this faction seeks alliance with Pakistan and has the money to promote both stone pelting and militancy and Wahabi culture in the state.

The Army may have been given the go ahead for Cordon and Search Operations in the state, says Colonel Bipin Pathak who has spent considerable time in Kashmir and is a retired Military Intelligence officer, ÔÇ£but it has an uphill task in reviving its intelligence and information network.ÔÇØ

Isolating and monitoring the activities of the separatists is easy but locating militants is tough without the use of CASO he says.

Militants may post pictures of themselves in the jungles wearing commando dungarees and wearing jungle warfare gear but they only spend the day time in the forest, say army sources. Most of the militants get back to residential areas and villages in the night where the locals are too terrified to spill the beans to the authorities. They leave early morning before the Namaaz for the wooded areas again.

It is here that a cordon and search operation becomes effective in putting pressure on the militants, say military experts.

An operation normally begins at 3.00 am and once the village is cordoned off the census data is used to ascertain who is staying in which house. The moment there is a discrepancy in the number of individuals residing in one house the army has a suspect. Moreover if a militant tries to hide in a building he is compromised.

CASO has another advantage and this is that it allows the local people access to the army commanders in the area. A bonhomie and friendship develops between the two and they soon begin giving information to the army men. This helps revive the local intelligence networks.

Militant groups have become more or less invisible in the past because they have discovered ways and means to use communications in a scrambled manner so that it cannot be intercepted. If a communication is made through a satellite phone or an email it cannot be intercepted, says Col Pathak. Satellite phones have a scrambler and emails can only be accessed by the person to whose account they have been sent.

To avoid electronic surveillance militants have been using runners and couriers to carry messages rather than any electronic platform. The local terrain, the thick vegetation make it impossible for satellite technology to be used in the area either.

If we use drones or satellites all we will get to see are thick tree tops and not the ground below, and as for thermal images they can only be recorded once we are also in the forest says a army officer. There are several limitations to the use of technology here.

So where does the solution lie and what can the government do here?

Colonel Bipin Pathak firmly believes that the options in Kashmir are limited but need to be followed to the letter. He proposes that there should be limited escalation along the line of control with primary aim of capturing specific territorial targets. Since Pakistan is the main perpetrator Pakistan should be punished feel armymen and locals.

Pathak is not the only officer who feels this way. The reason why he is talking about this is because he feels that proportional retaliation has still not imposed any caution on the adversaries. It has become a joke now that every time Pakistan goes in for BAT action or shelling the Indian Army responds in kind. The method is simply not working and the Pakistanis seem prepared for the casualties coming their way.

So why is Pathak so keen on limited escalation?

By limited escalation we can prove to the Pakistan army that henceforth any trans-border transgression by them or the militants will be addressed by occupying specific targets across the line of control, he says. Since the Indian Army can do it the government needs to give them the go ahead rather than asking it to sit back every time Pakistan attacks.

There is logic in this military experts say, as limited escalation will impose a high cost on the Pakistan Army and if pursued as a policy shall deter misadventures to bleed India.

Both diplomacy and back channel talks have proved futile as Pakistan continues unabated with its state policy of encouraging terrorism.

India should not fear the consequences as Pakistan will exercise the restraint it did in the Kargil war.

Since Pakistan is the main player in KashmirÔÇÖs unrest today the target should be Pakistan also, but there are other issues to address in the state.

The Separatists who used to get a lot of funding from Pakistan no longer get any as they have become irrelevant for Pakistan since they only talk about Independence for Kashmir and not becoming a part of Pakistan.

In response Pakistan has created the HM and is using HM to further its agenda through the militants and the stone pelters.

The HM too has changed its agenda of late and warned the Hurriyat to step out of the way or face the consequences. The real face of HM is now coming out. Their agenda for Kashmir is simple they want Kashmir to be an Islamic Wahabi state. It may be recalled that it had begun in 1990 when teachers in girlsÔÇÖ schools had suddenly seen girls wearing hijaab, which was never a part of Kashmiri Muslim culture and rather an import from Benazir BhuttoÔÇÖs Pakistan, which was bent on destroying the tolerant Sufi culture of Kashmir and replacing it with rampant Wahabism. The Kashmiri Pandits paid the price for this rampant spurt in Wahabi politics in Kashmir then. Today a young Kashmiri Muslim army officer in the Raj Rif has paid with his life and the local people live in terror of the militant.

For any operation to succeed the government has to fully understand that it has to be a joint and statewide crackdown not a sporadic effort.

The situation may deteriorate further in certain districts of Kashmir if left unaddressed, says Bipin Pathak.

The present situation demands practical higher directions which may be considered harsh by the neo liberals. Unconventional operations have to be launched against not only the militants but also their financiers, over ground workers, couriers, opinion makers and last but not the least some of the local politicians have to be watched as well. Juxtaposed with these measures, efforts to revive the Sufi ideology of the state should be undertaken to neutralize the onslaught of the increasing inclination towards Wahabi ideology.

Only then will a package in the field of education and development including health, employment, infrastructural development and poverty eradication succeed. A combination of both harsh and soft measures may take time to materialise, however they may weaken the present actors of the terror narrative such as the Hurriyat, assorted militant outfits, the stone pelters, the influence ISIS, the paid media and the ISI.

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