The drift in the valley

H S Panag

Military strategy is contingent on political direction, which has been sorely missing in Kashmir.

There has been a volatile reaction within the strategic community both for and against Shekhar Gupta's views in his article 'Disarming Kashmir' (National Interest, IE, December 7). The article focuses on the need for change in political and military strategy to break the current impasse in Jammu and Kashmir; politically through proactive engagement, emotional healing and empowerment of the people, and militarily by the removal of the AFSPA and reduction of military presence in the hinterland. Interestingly, Gupta makes change in the political strategy and commencement of the political process contingent upon a change in military strategy. But the armed forces cannot be blamed for the failure of the political process and poor governance. It is to their credit that they have performed despite the government never having defined strategic political aims and contingent strategic military objectives, and in so doing may, by default, have partly assumed the role of the government, leading to fears of status quo ante in the event of a "pullout" or major redeployment.

In this context, Clausewitz's quote on the relationship between political aims and military means is pertinent: "War is simply the continuation of political intercourse with addition of other means. We deliberately use the phrase, 'with the addition of other means' because we also want to make it clear that war in itself does not suspend political intercourse or change it into something entirely different. In essentials that intercourse continues, irrespective of the means it employs. The main lines along which military events progress, and to which they are restricted, are political lines that continue throughout the war into the subsequent peace." Thus it is the government that must formulate the political strategy on which military strategy is contingent, and commit and de-commit its armed forces to war or counter-insurgency (CI).The absence of this process is the bane of strategic decision-making in India. The government never clearly defines its political objectives or approves contingent military objectives, leading to a situation of continuous strategic drift.

This is also true for J&K. Forget formal direction, there is not even a periodic dialogue between the armed forces and the prime minister, national security advisor, defence minister or home minister regarding the conduct of the CI campaign. The unified command at the state level has never functioned, except during president's rule. With the Central and state governments abdicating their strategic responsibility, the armed forces or the Northern Command are left to pursue the perceived military goals of eliminating terrorists, countering infiltration and creating conditions for the political process to take over. Four governments have functioned since 1996, and the number of active terrorists has been reduced to two figures. The violence is at its lowest. Yet the political goals have neither been formally defined nor achieved. People are sullen and alienated and little development is seen on the ground. By default, the military has also assumed the responsibility of winning hearts and minds and even, to some extent, development a mission for which it is ill-equipped. It is the politicians who have to get their act together and effect a radical change in political strategy. A change in military strategy will facilitate this process, but it is political strategy that must drive military strategy, not vice versa. The military's recommendation for status quo based on the perception that the insurgency may resume and its unfinished, assumed quasi-political role must not be used as a shield for strategic indecision. Far from exercising a "veto power", this is a desperate albeit ill-conceived attempt by the military to prevent a return to 1990. So, the media and the public must force the government to fulfil its strategic responsibility.

In the hinterland, the majority of Pakistan-based terrorists belonging to the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hizbul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammed have been eliminated. The number of residual active terrorists have been reduced to double digits, even though official figures put the number at 200-250. These terrorists are located in urban areas (where the army does not operate) and can only be eliminated through hard intelligence and urban operations. The Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP), which is the best CI force after the Indian army, is best suited to this purpose. The large presence of the Indian army in the hinterland is not only unwarranted militarily, it is leading to complacency and resultant casualties. Given the current situation, a change in military strategy with a focus on counter-infiltration, a reduced but adequate deployment grid to act as a reserve and imaginative, selective and gradual lifting of the AFSPA will not only facilitate political strategy but also make the CI campaign more efficient.

Before discussing specific changes in military strategy, it is pertinent to dispel the myth about the five to seven lakh boots in J&K. The Line of Control and Line of Actual Control are unsettled borders and are being manned by six divisions under three Corps Headquarters under the Northern Command. These formations do not conduct CI operations in the hinterland, but four of them constitute the counter-infiltration grid in a 10-km belt along the LoC. Only three to four Reserve Brigades of the three Corps have a CI role that is, a strength of 10,000-12,000 troops. The main CI force in the hinterland are the 62 Battalions of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR), operating under 15 Sector HQs with a total strength of 75,000. However, 40 per cent of the troops are away. The effective present strength of the RR is only 45,000. The reserve brigades of the three Corps contribute between five to seven thousand troops. Thus, the CI campaign has been fought by only 50,000 troops. The strength of the JKP is approximately 70,000, which is on par with the national policeman-to-population ratio. There are also 70-80 CRPF Battalions (with 70,000-80,000 personnel). For reasons best known to the J&K government and the home ministry, the CRPF operates under the DGP-JKP and is largely used for guarding and security duties, contributing little to active CI operations, which are its primary role.

The primary focus of the reviewed military strategy should be counter-infiltration. Fifty per cent of RR Battalions must be redeployed to strengthen the counter-infiltration grid. The remaining 50 per cent must be readjusted to be responsible for the forest zones, and also constitute the CI reserve in the hinterland to be called upon as and when required. Active CI operations, particularly in the cities and villages, must be taken over by the CRPF and the JKP. Both should be reoriented and trained at Indian army battle schools. This strategy will also adequately cater to the anticipated surge post the US pullout from Afghanistan.

The AFSPA was selectively and progressively applied in J&K with effect from 1990. With the changed strategic situation, it must be selectively and progressively removed. A 10-15 km belt along the LoC, which has the tiered counter-infiltration grid, must be covered by the AFSPA. Its application must be progressively removed, except from the forest zones, as the JKP and CRPF are covered by the Code of Criminal Procedure. The AFSPA must automatically be applied to a selected area when the RR Reserve is called upon to operate. Innovative modified application can also continue along convoy routes.

Let there be no doubt that the military's CI campaign in J&K has been a model campaign. But a change in political and military strategy is now imperative as there are no more military objectives to be achieved. The focus of the future CI campaign should be on counter-infiltration with adequate reserve and flexibility to deal with the unforeseen. There are no victories to be won against our own people, and the military is a political instrument of last resort which must be used in harmony with political objectives.

The writer, a retired Lt. General, was GOC-in-C of the Northern Command

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