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J&K - SEMINAR REPORT

 
#89, 5 September 2003

Kashmir: The Current Situation

Report of the IPCS seminar held on 6 August 2003
Aisha Sultanat, Research Officer, IPCS

Speaker:Gen VG Patankar, UYSM, VSM
Corps Commander-Jammu and Kashmir, Indian Army

Chair:PR Chari,
Director, IPCS

Gen Patankar’s opening remarks were, “Kashmir is at a ‘historic threshold’. The agents of change have been the people. Everyone else is a catalyst. Now it is up to us as a nation and a people to take it to a point where peace can truly dawn upon the region”. While providing a lucid exposition of the situation in the Valley, he said that contrary to belief, nothing seems to have changed along the LOC. Pakistan army is continuing to aid and abet infiltration despite repeated assurances of curbing it. The level of action in the form of exchange of fire along the LOC has undergone a palpable decrease; this, however, is very dynamic and could change rapidly.

Gen Patankar singled out infiltration as the root cause of troubles in the region. He said that if infiltration reduces, things will improve considerably. He stated that terrorist activities continue in the interior, albeit at a low scale. While enumerating the kinds of activities undertaken by terrorists, he mentioned the two kinds of targets that terrorists now seek: 1) Soft targets, which consist of civilians and unsuspecting targets and 2) Systemic targets, aimed at surrendered terrorists or suspected informers. Such activities are carried out in areas where the security forces have been successful in restoring law and order. The aim of these attacks is two pronged. On the one hand it seeks to ‘blind’ the forces’ and, on the other, is a means of intimidating the population in general and a surrendered terrorist or supporter of the terrorists’ in particular from becoming a potential informer. The mode of execution in such attacks is often brutal like wiping out the entire family including womenfolk and children, but this has become a cause for alienation of the militants. It also shows the degree of desperation of the terrorists. Speaking of the number of terrorist attacks, the General stated that though the number of incidents has come down, the degree of violence has not. Civilian population continues to be the main victims of terrorist attacks. Drawing a distinction between the various kinds of terrorists operating in the Valley, the General blamed foreign terrorists as being the main troublemakers in the Valley, as evident from cases such as the Nadimarg Massacre. They have a distinctly different modus operandi from their local counterparts. They pay scant respect to Sufism and Kashmiriyat, which are the hallmarks of the society. Foreign terrorists are more brutal in their methods of operation and shrewd enough to avoid direct contact/confrontation with the security forces. The chances of a local terrorist surrendering are higher for reasons like family pressure, disenchantment with the cause; whereas foreign terrorists are more resolute and hence hard to tackle, making them all the more dangerous.

Speaking on the current situation, the General said that the situation was favourable to the Security Forces. However, the Police and the CPO (Central Police Organisation) and Para-military Forces like the Border Security Force continue to suffer more casualties than the Army. Despite this, positive signals are emanating from the public, which is getting disillusioned with the so-called jihad with each passing day. As a result recruitment has dropped considerably, though it has not completely stopped. This is indicative of the waning support to militancy. There is a ‘feel good’ factor that is pervading across the entire Valley. This is largely a consequence of the economic revival that the Valley is experiencing as a result of the return of the tourists, and normalization of life with the smooth functioning of schools, colleges, hospitals, business establishments, development of infrastructure like railway and improved power situation. On the cultural side there has been a marked improvement with the Valley rediscovering its composite culture through festivals like functions at Tsrar-e-Sharief, Amarnath Yatra and Kheer Bhavani, which is again being celebrated cutting across communal lines.  

Gen Patankar had many positive things to say about people’s perception of the present government. He attributed the reason for the current improved situation in the Valley to the kind of political dispensation currently in place. He said that the government is responding to the people and the people in turn to the government. The present Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s, ‘Healing Touch’ policy is working, despite its criticism of being soft. The improvement in the power /electricity situation, in the Valley has had a salutary effect on the people. Demolition of encroachments with peoples support was another exercise that increased the visibility of the government and its activities. On the whole, the new government is popular with the people. Central government support and initiatives are also appreciated like providing infrastructural funds, generating job opportunities, initiating peace dialogue by sending emissary N N Vohra. The APHC (All Party Hurriyat Conference) is now in complete disarray. They have not been definitive on any issue, have no voice of their own, and are full of internal contradictions and fissures. It was the People’s Conference leader Abdul Gani Lone’s assassination that brought about the first major vertical split in APHC. This was accentuated by his sons, Sajjad and Bilal Lone’s, initial inclination to participate in the elections and enter into a dialogue with the Central government over a solution to the problems in the Valley. The release of Mr. Geelani, a known hawk and pro-Pakistani element in APHC added to the existing divisions. The selection of Abbas Ansari, a Shia, as the leader of APHC could precipitate the problem further. If Mr. Geelani starts his own party, APHC as a political entity will receive a death blow; APHC is presently a fragmented political entity, which lacks a joint voice.

Discussions


During the discussions Gen Patankar responded to a number questions/comments. Here are some of them:

National dailies are more vocal than local dailies about the split in the APHC:

  • Accepting this fact, the General blamed this trend on reasons of survival by media elements than any bias. Local dailies have to survive and hence take a more benign stand towards the APHC, who they confront on a daily basis.
  • Prospects of making LOC impenetrable by use of high-tech sensors:
  • While acknowledging the positive effects of technology in Cross Border Terrorism (CBT) in J&K, the General drew attention to technical failures arising out of climatic conditions and high altitude terrains. He said that false alarms, which occur on account of terrain condition and sensitivity of the sensors, are a major consideration for the Army, while deploying sensors and other high-tech gadgets. Moreover these gadgets are expensive to procure and maintain and require time for production. Though the use of technology has helped to bring down infiltration considerably, they are not foolproof and cannot be the only means of detection. Apart from their inherent technical flaws, sensors are no substitute for human intelligence.

Role of Human Intelligence:

  • In view of climatic and geographic reasons and determination of the terrorists the LOC cannot be made completely impregnable, Gen Patankar stressed on the role and importance of human intelligence in combating CBT. Stating that knowledge of the pattern of infiltration gives the security forces an advantage, he emphasized the importance of ‘actionable info’. Otherwise fatigue sets in as the militants choose a particular time and place to violate the border whereas the security forces have to be on the alert throughout. An expanding human intelligence base will benefit the forces as it will add to the availability of actionable information. In this regard, the General mentioned that drying up of local support for militancy increases the prospects of human intelligence for the security forces

What is the life expectancy of a militant?

  • According to Gen Patankar, six months, on an average, is the life expectancy of a militant, especially one belonging to the rank and file. The top leaders have a higher rate of survivability as they are provided additional security and do not face combat situations on a daily basis. Gen Patankar said that the Army plays on this factor (low life expectancy) as a means of weaning away misguided youths from a life of militancy and violence.
  • Do foreign militants have their own command structure or are they under the unified command of the ISI?
  • Foreign militant outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba or the Jaish-e-Mohammed generally have an elaborate command structure of their own. However, they receive their overall directives from the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence)

Impact of Musharraf’s policies and developments in POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) on the course of militancy in the Valley:

  • Musharraf’s contradictory policies of supporting the United States in its fight against terrorism on the one hand, while simultaneously supporting the jehadi cause in Kashmir, has created confusion and disillusionment especially in the minds of the militant rank and file, who draw their directions from Pakistan. Islamabad’s war cry of ‘Islam in danger in India’ has suffered a setback as a result of its own internal contradictions. The installation of an all-powerful President, an Islamabad appointee, in POK, dispels all hopes of democratic governance in the region.

How strong is the ‘feel good’ factor?

  • The ‘feel good’ factor has percolated far and wide. This is the result of the continuous and complimentary efforts of the Central and State government in their respective spheres of influence. The Central government has worked on two axes: Indo-Pak and New Delhi-Srinagar. It supported the State government in improving the situation in the State while trying to improve relations with Pakistan to end to CBT and find a permanent solution to the Kashmir problem. The support for a dialogue process continues, despite several setbacks, reflecting the resolve of the government to bring peace and prosperity to the Valley. The State government on it part, has kept up the good work despite all odds and won the people’s confidence. The Army has done its bit by stemming the level of infiltration and introducing aid to civil development programs like SADBHAVANA and UJALA in the region.
  • Gen Patankar ended on an optimistic note by stating that the worst is over for the Valley. If things proceed in this manner J&K will see a complete turnaround in a year’s time.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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