Handling the Kashmir insurgency

Wing Commander R V Parasnis (retd), August 2000

The starting line is for all of us, the people of India, and particularly our politicians and bureaucracy to get our convictions clear. Let us have no doubt in our mind that by strength of the instrument of accession signed by the then Maharaja of Kashmir, the state of J&K has joined the Indian Union, irrevocably.

There is no need to be apologetic about it.

 Kashmir may have a Muslim majority population, but we had never agreed to the division of our nation on the basis of religion. If it were so, we would have demanded that all Muslims should leave for Pakistan at the time of Partition. We only accepted the division under duress and with a tremendous sense of regret.

We have maintained our secular status and philosophy for 53 years and it has not changed in spite of the second tenure of the reign of the so-called radical Hindu party. Under the circumstances, the demand that Kashmir should be joined with Pakistan because of her Muslim majority is just not tenable.

It also necessarily follows that whatever be the conditions and clauses agreed at the time of the accession that no state of India can enjoy a privileged status for infinity. Sooner or later, if it be the wish of the people of India of which Kashmiris are a part, J&K will become an Indian state without any special status. As a strong federal Union, we must have the will to exercise our choice in the best national interests or else we will disintegrate. That apart, Article 370 itself talks of the erosion of the 'special status' with time. It is now 53 years from the time of accession.

What has China done with Tibet? A genuinely rich culture and an independent state at that, has been made a Chinese province by the use of force. I find no one teaching any sermons to China.

Pakistan has occupied parts of Kashmir, captured by the use of force, for over 52 years. On what grounds? The Maharaja of the state of J&K never signed any treaty with them; the state of J&K did not form a part of the demands of the Muslim League at the time of Partition. In fact Jinnah is on record to have written to Mahatma Gandhi that J&K did not form a part of the demand for the proposed Muslim State. There was no popular demand by the people of Kashmir to join Pakistan. Yet they attacked it, indulged in murder, rape, plunder and occupied it. They happily continue to do so even today. They don't find it necessary to justify their conduct. Why do we need to explain what is rightfully ours?

The next step is to develop the courage of conviction to stand for what we believe. Thereafter it naturally follows that we should be ready to make sacrifices for what we believe to the extent required and that requirement can go to any length depending on the circumstances.

Ground realities in Kashmir

1. The state of J&K is made of three main entirely different geographic districts inhabited by equally distinct ethnic groups namely Jammu area, Srinagar valley and Ladakh.

2. The people of the Srinagar valley reside on just about 6 per cent of the entire land of J&K but are taking away the lion's share of the central aid and also the resources of the other two districts.

3. The people in the valley are tired of the violence but it has been intensified by the incursion of foreign militants at the behest of Pakistan.

4. The number of groups we need to talk to is increasing with the passage of time. It is not the influence of a particular sect on the sizeable number of people that counts but just the ability to cause death and destruction in the most dramatic fashion.

5. The J&K assembly's 'autonomy' demand created a little furore but has provided food for thought and widened the choice of solutions to the problem.

6. The insurgency in Kashmir can easily be sustained because of the access Pakistan, a rogue state, enjoys with India in general and Kashmir in particular, on a wide frontage.

7. It is extremely difficult to seal the entire border in Kashmir.

8. The 'proactive strategy' we have been talking about, appears to have met the same fate as the famous 'hot pursuit' tactics. Unless these two become a reality, Kashmir insurgency cannot be annihilated.

The Autonomy controversy

The demand for autonomy is not all bad. We don't have to accept the model passed by the J&K assembly in toto. Apart from the fact that they themselves must have kept some clauses purely as bargaining points, we need consider only those, which suit the national interests best. There is certainly a need to restructure our federal system itself to make it fairer, more efficient, viable and secure. It will automatically reduce the aid-burden on the Centre and force the states to become more self reliant. It also brings us an opportunity to naturally split the state of J&K into three separate states, if that solution gets accepted by all the parties or is found to suit the national interests best. At this crucial juncture keeping all options open is the best policy.

The demand to return to the pre-1953 condition

Does the Kashmiri leadership know what they want? To what date would they like to regress? Pre-1947? If not, why not? Such a demand is bound to be met with counter demands making the whole proposal look ridiculous. Be as it may, Kashmir eventually will have to accept what the Indian Republic approves.

The peace talks

Given a choice, we would hate to talk to anyone who indulged in anti national activities, but no such choice exists. I fully sympathise with the demand of the Kashmiri Pandits that the government should not talk with the Hizb, an organisation that started the mass murders of the Kashmiri Pandits, but in the interest of over all good, such a sacrifice has got to be made. In fact it will be in our best interests to involve as many parties as possible in the peace process. As I hinted above, closing options could prove counter-productive.

The precondition that the hostilities must cease before 'peace talks' is of no consequence unless we have the ability and the will to punish the violators severely and not the other way round. As of now, peace talks are held at a ransom by Pakistan and its terrorist groups reducing the whole peace process to a mockery. The bomb blasts post the breakdown of talks amount to the Union of India being punished for not submitting to the will of Pakistan. No self respecting Indian should tolerate that.

The points I am trying to make are:

a. Strong-arm tactics are the only tactics that work against those who believe in violence. Unless you can break the back of insurgency with force, you can forget about the return to peace.

b. Our failure to call a spade a spade and punish the wrong-doers is the cause why liberties are taken with us again and again.

c. Spare the rod and spoil the child is a universal, all-time principle.

d. It is not possible to please everyone in a complex situation.

e. An honest solution prepared in all fairness will be eventually welcomed by all, even though it might not serve the best interests of all concerned.

f. Cross-border terrorism can't be solved with internal settlement. We must show the strength of our will and preparedness to undertake the required sacrifice to fight a war, if necessary, and teach our rogue neighbour a lesson.

It is time we retaliated strongly and inflicted unacceptable losses on all the adversaries.

Counter-insurgency operations


The first step is to develop a proper chain of sources well equipped with the latest communication equipment and obtain effective intelligence. This appears to be our greatest failure. We just don't get to know the time and place of the crossing of the bands of militants into our territory, the methods employed by them for border crossing and such other intelligence. We are also not getting the information about the hideouts of the terrorists and the storage places of their arms, ammunition, explosives and communication equipment. With such poor state of intelligence, how can we get advance information about specific strike plans of the terrorists? It is time the intelligence agencies pulled up their socks.

Security surveillance

The war-like security surveillance is an expensive affair, but the need of the time is that it be done. Where required, aerial photography, especially infrared imaging, should be carried out. Helicopter surveillance will have to be undertaken as per the terrain and necessity. Use of high-tech devices will give us an edge in surveillance and detection operations.

Surveillance is not just required to keep a tab on border incursions but also on terrorists trying to get away after a strike mission or carrying hostages. For this purpose we have to develop 'real time action' capability. A command and control centre should be able to coordinate and get the right agency to survey the required spot fast enough, have the intelligence processed and supplied to the field unit requisitioning the information. Since we now claim international cooperation on anti terrorism operations, we should be able to get at least the US, UK and Russia to help us in this task.

Defence of military establishments

An attack on military or high security establishments is highly demoralising. Use of hi-tech devices alone can give us an edge in a situation where we ourselves are big and numerous targets. We will have to spend on passive as well as active defensive measures to give a sense of security to the tired security personnel some rest without too much tension. The hi-tech security fencings with sensors for pressure, vibration and magnetic anomaly, electromagnetic energy field, infra-red vision and CCTV cameras capable of seeing in the dark must be provided as per the security classification of the establishment.

The role of the media

The media just does not permit the government to act one way or the other. The government must be criticised for whatever they do, appears to be our motto. We need to learn a lesson or two from the American and the British press as to how to deal with issues of national interests. As M V Kamath often informs his students in journalism, 'The press in the US and UK is always automatically united and completely biased in favour of their respective government on matters of national interests.' We must support our government in the endeavour to annihilate the terrorists and bring Pakistan to her knees without finding faults with them all the time.

Hitting at the terrorists

This government needs to shrug off its tendency to consider all critics as its enemies. Criticism is often only issue-based. Capable men, even while being critical of the government policy, may prove to be loyal assets.

There is an urgent need to send K P S Gill to J&K as the head of security. He will probably need a few contingents of the crack units of the Punjab police with him. They should be spared and made available to him.

The human rights cells must be told to leave Kashmir for some time until we can restore humane conditions there. As of now, their presence in Kashmir is only promoting the beastly butchering of innocents at the hands of terrorists, mostly foreign mercenaries. Their method of operation clearly indicates that the human rights clause is applicable only to the security forces. That must no more be tolerated. Enough is enough!

Stringent action is required against the media who have been setting up fake situations of bandh/ambush/police brutality etc to publish sensational photographs, television shots and such other material. Above all, we must develop a thick skin until normalcy is restored. We should care a damn what anybody says or writes.

A lot of sacrifices have to be made for the general good. Our brave jawans and even the innocents have already sacrificed enough. It is time the bad and the suspected bad are made to pay for their sins.

A Rapid Action Force with force multipliers such as helicopter gunship are needed to tackle the situation in Kashmir. It must be made available to the security forces. Let us also prepare for an eventuality of a major war, if it is thrust on us. Whatever may be required of us to safeguard our borders and ensure peace within, we must not be found wanting. This seemingly impossible situation in Kashmir will then magically come fully under our control.