AFSPA – The Larger Picture
The ongoing debate over Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) has reached the highest corridors of power and is still in the discussion stage. While the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah seems to have climbed down from the “No is not an option” position there is a lot more that needs to be understood. The fact that this debate must be conducted at the national level to fathom as to what we are up against – and this, rising above winning brownie points.
Whatever happens to the debate one thing stands strikingly clear – the armed forces are one of the best apolitical and professional guarantors of peace in the country. That they have taken a stance against intense political pressure in national interest needs to be seen from a larger perspective – that of keeping Kashmir together under extreme pressures to let go. This stand is borne out of the larger perspective that current run of peace is at best fragile and a lot more needs to be done to bring normalcy the way the nation requires.
This year’s hard fought peace has been brought about by a passionate and proactive approach by the army to prevent infiltration across the Line of Control, fighting intelligence based operations in the hinterland with no collateral damage and conducting people friendly activities across the state to win hearts and minds. The campaigns such as “heart is my weapon”, “Jee Janab” (cultural sensitivity), “Awam aur Jawan, Aman hai mukam”( the soldiers and populace want peace as their objective) and the Kashmir Premier League matches, among variety of other initiatives, to engage the youth have been hugely successful as harbingers of peace in the valley. It has paid the price for this in blood and doesn’t want to fritter away the gains made till the condition is ripe to lift AFSPA.
The political view point has its own merits in building a constituency for peace. Selective removal of AFSPA would provide it the requisite atmospherics of bringing peace to the state. However if our experience of Imphal is anything to go by, reimposition is a very difficult proposition and would alienate more people. Then there has to be a common standard of “peace” to lift AFSPA as demand for removal will start emanating from all quarters. Failure to do so would result in vitiating the political environment.
If we put this in perspective this is what Pakistan and especially the ISI want. A rift between the state and the Army to somehow create a weakened security structure. This would help it infuse Kashmir with its own brand of silent operators and build a greater constituency for secession with the help of secessionist forces in the state. It can play this game to subvert more people while the army is not looking and overtime bring the situation to a boil at a time suitable to them.
Consider the aspect of historical experience……In 1999 we similarly read emerging normalcy and got hit by Kargil; in 2008 a great tourist year was hit by the SASB agitation. Each time an emerging normalcy is evident the nexus elements of the Pakistan Army, ISI, Separatists and Terrorists get their act together. Thus a single normal summer must not get us complacent.
Most critical is the National Security aspect of Kashmir….that it is beyond petty politics and that the Peace Dividend can be best given by lasting peace and better development. Kashmir issue remains an existential threat to India, its integrity and sovereignty. It therefore cannot be treated as a local security problem. It is an issue of National Security.
For the Army it is not an issue of counter terrorist operations alone. Logistics lifelines to the Line of Control Sector and Leh pass through Srinagar and Badgam from where the AFSPA is intended to be revoked. Our ammunition and essential convoys move on these strategic arteries. These lifelines have to be protected round the clock by road opening parties that extend three Kilometers on either side of the road. Further the funnel of the Srinagar airport is protected by army deployment in Badgam. A funnel requires security because an aircraft is most vulnerable during landing and takeoff. Revocation of AFSPA will render it impossible to operate in Badgam and troops will have to be restricted to billets or relocated.
In Srinagar, the other area where the AFSPA is recommended to be revoked, it is a fallacy that the army does not operate. Army has the Badami Bagh cantonment, Hatf Chinar and the Tattoo ground. Field Petroleum Depot also lies within the municipal limits of the city. These strategic assets require security through domination. Any attack on these symbols would turn the clock back many notches.
Then there is the larger perspective of Pakistan’s intent in Kashmir. These are not short term. Even the separatists intent has been spelt out by Gilani in his meeting with Hina Rabbani…it is to take a long term view without hurrying for results. The crunch point here is that the unlettered community in security issues considers the current situation in Kashmir as “Post Conflict Stabilization”. Actually we are just about entering the “Conflict Stabilization” stage of this conflict from the “Conduct of Conflict” stage. At such a stage concessions to the adversary embolden him and demotivate the forces besides losing hard fought critical space.
The next two years are crucial for Kashmir when viewed in context of the drawdown in Afghanistan. Today Pakistan has more than 1,20,000 troops engaged in Operation Al Mizan on their western borders in support of the Taliban. Simultaneously, Pakistan is actively engaged in fighting another proxy war in Afghanistan against the US forces and the Karzai government. Its strategic hedge are the terrorists of all hues be they the Haqqani network, the Quetta Shura or the Jamat i Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Other India centric Pakistani groups are also providing assistance to these groups. It(Pakistan) doesn’t want to lift its eyes from the ball at this crucial juncture by diverting its attention and resources to Kashmir.
A deeper look at the terrorist activities will establish the fact that we need our counter terrorist grid in place to obviate spectacular attacks changing the geometrical equations of the conflict. The terrorists operate in a grid with prongs in different parts of the state or within the valley. The leadership sits in one place, the human elements perpetuating the act come from another area, the finances come from some place else and the planning is done in yet another place. To counter this our anti terror grid cannot be undermined by removing vital links in the web.
Pakistan is using the current period to consolidate by silently building constituency for a popular support base. Its aim is to add to the indigenous component of the insurgency. Today there are more than 20,000 surrendered terrorists who are available for re recruitment and are in different state of disarray. There is no system except the army’s “Hazri System” (Roll calls) to monitor them. Pakistan doesn’t even have to infiltrate militants even if 2 percent of these terrorists are reintegrated with terror outfits in Kashmir.
Consequently Pakistan finds violence through infiltration counter productive to its overall aim as it would suck away its Afghan resources and make it fight two proxy wars to its east and west. Around 2014 the activity level in Kashmir is bound to pick up immensely after Pakistan achieves its objectives of a Pakistan backed Taliban government in Afghanistan.
Then there is the great Pakistan initiative to break India into pieces under its game plan called “Ghazwa i Hind“. This is a pan Islamic movement led by Pakistan which is currently planning subversive activities against India. It is gathering momentum and must be studied for its impact on Kashmir.
When seen in this larger perspective diluting AFSPA or sowing seeds of discord between the state and the army are detrimental to the over all picture in Kashmir. The peace that has been brought about in the valley is at best fragile and stoking passions based on AFSPA debate may prove catalytic to tilting the tipping point against the interest of the nation. Giving in to the machinations of the nexus of Pakistan Army, ISI, separatists and terrorists at this juncture when they are evidently colluding to play their long term game by short term and short sighted policies will prove counter productive.
This is the larger picture we must see – intellectually.