Wed Dec 11 2013,
Syed Ata Hasnain
Syed Ata Hasnain
Define what it means before you decide what the army should do.
For the first time in years, a newspaper's leadership has thrown up a serious strategic issue for debate. Kashmir is far too complex for inexperienced minds to fully comprehend and there are so many stakeholders it confounds even those who have a semblance of an idea. In a recent article in this paper ('Disarming Kashmir', IE, December 7, goo.gl/SWPD7G), Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta talks about victory in the 24-year standoff and the necessity of an early withdrawal of the army from Kashmir's hinterland. We must first highlight what Gupta is seeking through this thought-provoking article. He says the army has become weary and therefore less professional, having lost soldiers in tactical operations this year. He wants the army to strengthen the LoC and de-escalate in the Valley, because Kashmiris, he says, must get a part of the "peace" dividend. He takes a dig, saying that some respected general with five tenures in the Valley had told him that, having defeated the Lashkar, the army has only been building golf courses and guest houses for the last five years. He adds that if any of these bad boys show their faces in Kashmir again, the army can come back to sort them out. He claims that the military objective in Kashmir (if any was spelt out) has been achieved and, that the UPA government has veritably introduced a new concept of governance — veto power (on strategic decisions) for the army. One of the most important points Gupta makes is, "you cannot find a Kashmir settlement with Pakistan before embracing your own Kashmiris and restoring trust with them first".
On the face of it, this article evokes negatives all the way but re-reads throw up issues which need serious pondering. Unfortunately, not many are aware of the degree of intellectual analysis that the army itself has done of its role in Kashmir. It recently organised a full deliberation on the concept of victory at the Army War College, Mhow.
The first question is: have we ever enunciated an aim in Kashmir? In all these years, there never has been a clearly stated political aim given to the security forces. The informally stated military aim was stabilisation by controlling infiltration and eliminating terrorists. No one realises that in such situations, political and military aims cannot be separated. In 2011, we enunciated our own joint politico-military aim for our commanders — "integrate Jammu and Kashmir with mainstream India, politically, economically, socially and psychologically". We were clear that eliminating terrorists was the easiest part of this war, that eliminating "terrorism" was the real challenge. I wish Gupta had faulted the army for not demanding the articulation of a politico-military aim as fighting without an aim is actually unfair. The lack of such an aim results in exactly what Gupta has done — declaring victory prematurely. Victory has to be measured against an aim, or else all kinds of versions are thrown around. We also have to measure victory against a realistic assessment of the future. Afghanistan 2014 with all its imponderables looms before us; any idea of victorious peace and subsequent actions has to be connected to it. Incidentally, I am speaking of victory as not against the people of Kashmir but for them, and against the intent of Pakistan, the separatists and terror groups.