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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 10 New Delhi February 23, 2019

Thinking beyond the Immediate

Sunday 24 February 2019, by S G Vombatkere

The February 14 Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM)-sponsored suicide car-bomb carnage on the CRPF convoy, with loss of over 40 lives and as many injured, is doubtless condemnable. But apart from the personal tragedies and confusion following the carnage, there are important matters to be addressed.

TRP versus Hard Facts

The electronic media broke the news with attempts to lay the blame on some slip-up at some level of some organisation. TV anchors interviewed “experts”—this writer was one such—whether the Pulwama carnage was due to “intelligence failure”, and whether the attack would have been possible if intelligence was timely and correct. One needs to know that even with timely intelligence reports, militant attacks can succeed, because of several factors on-the-ground. Security forces (state police, Central Armed Police Forces and Indian Army) routinely conduct inquiries to learn lessons, to refine their standard operating procedures (SOPs), and to assign blame where necessary.

When the militant chooses the target, time, place, method and intensity of attack, he has the double advantage of initiative and surprise. Thus, the security forces, even with rigorously practiced SOPs, are almost always reactive. Unless the intelligence was used to successfully prevent or pre-empt the attack, apart from strictly adhering to SOPs, the security forces cannot act until the militant launches the attack, and therefore often suffer casualties.

Further, especially in a suicide attack, the attacker has no care for his life, and thus multiplies the elements of initiative and surprise. The effectiveness of the militant attack, measured by the number of casualties “achieved” and the extent of damage, is the concern of his handlers. Thus, mediapersons engaging in the blame-game (“Is it an intelligence failure?”) does nothing to assuage the grief of the bereaved families or solve any problem. What it does, is to take the viewers’ mind off bigger failures at higher levels of governance.

Militant forces with inferior striking power always avoid direct armed confrontation with trained, superiorly-armed and equipped govern-ment security forces. Their strategy is to strike and vanish, to inflict small damages and weaken the state forces by keeping them on constant alert and “tying up” soldiers in defending themselves, their logistic lines and fixed assets. As individuals, militants are usually courageous, although their courage is for purposes unaccep-table to our society.

To put a finer point on it, the words “cowardly” or “dastardly”, routinely used in the midst of their verbiage by TV anchors, politicians and others, to describe the attacks or attackers, are incorrect. No attacker in his right mind (not even regular forces in combat, and least of all militants) would “bravely” announce his attack. The problem with using these pejoratives is that it distracts the public from the reality of the causes of militancy and failures of governments and governance over the decades. Worse, thinking of the enemy as “cowardly” will surely bring us into the very dangerous state of underestimating the enemy, leading to complacency or suffering more damage than we inflict on him in (unavoidable) armed conflicts.

Secrets of State

Every Indian acknowledges the hand of the Pakistani Government and the Pakistani Army in planning, facilitating and encouraging such attacks. While the involvement of JeM leader Masood Azhar in the present and earlier attacks is beyond question and bringing him to justice is necessary, this cannot be more than just a minor step in solving the decades-long, on-going problems in Kashmir. Clearly, more needs to be done than mouthing the demagogic rhetoric of threatening Pakistan with severe retribution.

Continuous deployment of security forces over decades, to the exclusion of good-governance imperatives has done little or nothing to solve the problem which is fundamentally socio-political in nature. The civil unrest and militancy is the result of decades of less-than-honest politics by successive govern-ments at the State and Centre, which have obdurately viewed it as a law and order problem to be handled by the security forces. The problem has grown over the decades and resulted in the formation and growth of multiple militant/ terrorist organisations.

The Pulwama suicide attacker is stated to be a teenager named Adil Ahmad Dar. Though this is only the most recent event, it indicates the increasing alienation, especially of the younger generation, among the people of Kashmir, from the Indian mainstream.

Without discounting the role of the security forces in Kashmir or discontinuing their deploy-ment, good-governance needs to be given the highest priority and importance, with the security forces used only as a subsidiary and not as the primary instrument, as has been the practice so far.

Following the Pulwama carnage, the media has reported that an emergency CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) meeting discussed the future course of action. This writer respectfully submits that the apex security body needs to focus on strategy and policy and political measures, and should leave action plans to the heads of the security forces.

The National Security Council (NSC), establis-hed in November 1998, has the Prime Minister and Union Ministers for Defence, Home, External Affairs and Finance, as its members. It is meant to advise the government on matters of national security and strategic interest. But even 20 years down the road, successive governments upto the present, have not publicly stated their strategic vision or framework policies to address the problems of security and in particular Kashmir’s civil unrest and militancy problem, or at least placed it before Parliament. Strategic vision and framework policies are not secrets of state and cannot be treated as such, being matters too serious to be left to a small coterie of politicians.

Strategic vision

The Government of India would do well to state its medium-term and long-term policies concerning national security in general and in the current context, Kashmir, as a part of its strategic vision, and make these available in the public domain. These should include:

 Leaving the discretion to the Indian Army for measures like “surgical strikes” as retaliation against cross-border attacks and militant/ terrorist infiltration, without politicising these measures,

 Measures to bring political, economic and diplomatic pressures on Pakistan and initiate bilateral talks at multiple levels,

 Initiating talks with people’s organisations, including militant organisations, in Kashmir, as a beginning for public-confidence-building measures,

 Reducing deployment of security forces in step with the growth of people’s confidence in the intentions, performance and results of good governance,

 Taking diplomatic initiatives with other neighbours, towards improving the internal security situation in Kashmir and the sub-continent, and

 Encouraging people-to-people contact between India and Pakistan in the larger interest of peace in the subcontinent.

The games of electoral politics must always remain subservient to the imperatives of the Constitution of India, especially in the Kashmir context.

S.G. Vombatkere was commissioned as an officer into the Corps of Engineers (Madras Sappers) in 1962. In 1993, the President of India awarded him the Visishta Seva Medal (VSM) for distinguished services rendered during military service in the cold, high altitude region of Ladakh. He retired from active service in 1996 in the rank of a Major General.

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