By Mohit Sharma,
Amidst the reports that weapon systems used in other parts of the world have found their way into the Valley, a cacophony of Kashmir as a theatre of global jihad has been rising. But then, the signatures that have been recovered after the encounters expose more on the claims of indigenization of the insurgency, rather than a Caliphatic explanation of Jihad in Kashmir. With the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the spectre of Transnational Jihad in the Valley is feared by many. To add to it, Islamic State in Khorasan has been vocal about the happenings in Kashmir. Should India be apprehensive about the threat of transnational warfare in Kashmir? India has a lot at its table, and the challenges have risen after the abrogation of Article 370. There are challenges in the counterinsurgency operations in the Valley but for now they do not stem from the events of Global Jihad.
Taliban do not have any short- or long-term goal as far as Kashmir is concerned. Firstly, they are already facing challenges at all fronts, and hence it is just not possible for them to focalize Kashmir. Second and more importantly, Kashmir was never in their vision of establishing their Emirate. Before coming to power, the Taliban have repeatedly stated that Kashmir is an integral matter of India via their official website whenever the rumors of Taliban influence in Kashmir were spread. After establishing their government, they did portray concern about Kashmiris, but have always distanced themselves from Pakistan whenever the issue came up. Taliban, the Pashtun fundamentalists, drove a successful insurgency but never had global ambitions. They are not al-Qaeda or Daesh and had always wanted to establish influence within the confines of national borders, the only exception being some regions across the Durand Line in the Pakistani territory. As far as Islamic State is concerned, they often reiterate talks about Kashmir in their published literature. Still, their Khorasan branch has done nothing much to fuel insurgency in the Valley. It is still India’s immediate neighbour, and their sponsored tanzeems, responsible for all major activities here. Though Lashkar-e-Taiba’s former commanders had been appointed as governors of Wilayat Khorasan, those have not been without internal opposition. IS-K sees LeT as a private group of the I.S.I and have even censured Hafiz Saeed, co-founder of LeT, to the extent of calling him a ‘Murtadd’- an apostate from Islam (Dabiq, Issue 13).Connecting the dots, it is safe to assume that IS-K is no friend of LeT and has always stated the government of Pakistan as their enemy. The Indian army has been relatively victorious against Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), but Lashkar had been providing the Indian security establishment with newer forms of challenges, the latest being their offshoot ‘The Resistance Front’ (TRF).The major task at the Indian authorities’ hand is to counter Pakistan’s Information Warfare which has been quite adroit at projecting the upheaval in Kashmir as an indigenous effort. The only significant import from the Global Jihad scene in Kashmir is the adept use of the narrative building. The Pakistani sponsored tanzeems are now projecting themselves as a socialist force rather than mere religious in their recent change in the narrative at an operational level.
Lessons from Western Failure in Afghanistan:
There are five major stakeholders in any insurgency movement – the core group, the active supporters, the inactive supporters, people who approve of insurgents’ goals but not their tactics, and non-supporters (Following DG Pruitt, an eminent Professor at Dept of Psychology in the United States, and his five-layer onion model). The layers of inactive supporters and those who sympathize with their goals need to be tackled to make COIN operations successful. Coalition forces in Afghanistan made more efforts to strengthen those who already were non-supporters, apart from their focus on fighting the core group. If we apply the model to the Valley, the COIN efforts would be much more substantial if directed at diminishing the layers of inactive supporters and those elite, well-educated sections of people who do not endorse the violence but support the end goals. Once these layers are subsumed into non-supporters, there is no fuel left for the core group and active supporters, and they will eventually get obliterated. But the only way to fructify this as a reality is via non-kinetic measures where genuine efforts should not only be done but also be seen to be done. Where the only option is kinetic, the security establishment needs to ensure that the action gets as clinical as possible with a little vestige of any collateral.
The new normal in Kashmir:
After the abrogation of Article 370, the talks of the new normal in Kashmir have been echoing. Indian army has considerably improved at a symbolic level. The check posts have seen a reduction in numbers, and the ‘Thank you’ signboards at all places of checking are a measure in a good direction as far as the army’s perception in the Valley is concerned. Infiltration attempts have come down, along with a decrease in stone-pelting activities. Post-August 2019, the synergy between the army, JK Police and CRPF has increased, and they are working in tandem to deal with all threats. There is more of Army-Public interaction at the societal level to win hearts and minds. It is undeniable that Valley is witnessing a relative quiet, butthis, however, is no reason for complacency. Though the above-stated reasons for the current quiet are credible, it would be asinine to undermine the other possible cause- which is mental and psychogenic. People in the Valley are exhausted and have lost the strength to be on the street. This definitely does not hint at any permanence of the current arrangement. Any Burhan Wani like incident has the potential to unleash a renewed visceral vigour in the insurgency panorama. This relative lull should be seen as a limited window of opportunity where kinetic actions of the Indian administration will have to be supplemented with non-kinetic human approach. The people of Kashmir have almost similar grievances to natives of any other state in India, but the Valley has specific triggers that aren’t found in the rest of the country. Addressing those triggers gets equally primal along with the ongoing efforts being put by the security establishment.
The latest J&K Delimitation panel report’s suggestion to increase 6 Assembly seats to Jammu and one addition to Kashmir could be seen as a tactful measure which serves good electoral benefits. Whether this turns out to help restore peace in the Valley is for time to tell, but if we were to follow the earlier stated COIN strategies, this strengthens the Jammu region, which already is non-supportive of insurgency to a fair extent. If the key is to win hearts and minds in the Valley, it is unsure whether this step is in the same direction.
The way ahead:
There is a significant section of people whose support for the insurgency stems from their local grievances, and hence there is an alpha need to undo those. The local peoples’ grievances from civil administration and the state police are far from being addressed adequately. There is an apparent North-South Divide in the Valley where South Kashmir has been an insurgency crucible. To prevent Northern districts, which for long have been quiet, to fall back into the unrest, it is strategic to reward them by addressing their institutional problems, be it educational or employment wise. There is also a need to distinguish northern districts in the Valley from the border region beyond the Shamsabari range, which runs parallel to the Line of Control. By this distinction, the administration can carry out more development activities under the Border Areas Development program, which has been restricted to the Valley. With the decrease in infiltration from the LoC, successful attempts are being made from the South of Pir Panjal Range along the International Border (IB). Thus, the need for robust border surveillance along the IB should be prioritized. Currently, the biggest problem for the security architecture in Kashmir is Hybrid militancy which has been responsible for all recently targeted assassinations. This form of militancy is difficult to crack down due to the perpetrators’ ‘under the radar’ character and a clandestine Over Ground Worker (OGW)- Terrorist nexus. If the idea is the psychological integration of Kashmir with the rest of India, the actions will have to be penetrative and distant from demagoguery.
(Author is Research Associate, Centre for Air Power Studies. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).