Kashmir: Analysing “Heart is My Weapon” Doctrine
“The long journey towards normalcy in Kashmir may have just begun. And no change is permanent, much less in Kashmir”
-Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, UYSM,AVSM,SM,VSM**
After years of experimentation with winning hearts, the current strategy in Jammu and Kashmir ie “Heart as my Weapon”, as enunciated in the Hearts Doctrine, seems to have found resonance with the people, the state and centre machinery and within the army. While the philosophy has remained consistent, its execution this time around has reiterated that in Counter Insurgency environment people are the centre of gravity of the operations. If they are dealt with due diligence and empathy, the security forces can gain a huge upper hand as part of their psychological operations campaign to win hearts and keep them. This directly impacts on operational results as insurgents find themselves helpless without popular support. In this conflict stabilization stage in Kashmir leading to peace there is a steady decline in insurgency and a rise in terrorist activities to keep the pot boiling. This difference needs to be understood clearly.
The Heart Theme is special, as it has as its basis, the retention of power through genuine goodwill, humane attitude, sympathetic conduct and most of all an understanding of the social, cultural and moral sensitivities. The arrogance of power needs to be subjugated to the goodness of will. The Hearts concept is thus several steps beyond WHAM and has exploited the intellectual connect of Sadbhavna (Good will).
The real challenge in adopting this strategy lay in convincing the Security Forces -military and the other components viz police, para military forces, the people and the civil administration about the sincerity of the approach. This calls for detailed deliberations, initiatives in public diplomacy and result oriented action plans which helped shape perceptions that something new and effective was afoot. This was the biggest game changer and convinced all stake holders that true passion was at work to improve the situation. The result was reduction of animosity towards the Army and better inter-agency cooperation to conduct successful LICO/Counter Terrorism.
The strategy was evolved based on the governing principles of the 15th Century Kashmiri benevolent King Sultan Ghias-ud-Din Zain-Ul-Abidin, as called in his life time and thereafter as Bud Shah or Great king. He ruled from 1423 to 1474, for 51 years. The centre of gravity of his governance too was people. He brought to the table a people led philosophy of rule which can truly be called the golden period in the history of Kashmir.
The aim of this analysis is to study the fielding of the strategy of “Heart is My Weapon”, effective strategy execution principles and procedures in this conflict stabilization phase leading to peace in Kashmir and its application universally in and outside India
Understanding the Need to Implement Heart
The Hearts theme has been in the Counter Insurgency Operations (CI Ops) manuals since time immemorial. There have been numerous efforts to combine the hard and soft power approaches to resolve insurgencies in India. The North East, Kashmir and the Naxal rage have been dealt with different combinations of these by commanders with varying degrees of success. The concept underscores management of militancy by gaining the popular support of the most critical component – the people.
For far too long this concept has received lip service with reliance being on hard power – “Kick them in the pants and the hearts will follow”. Peace was defined as gaining the attrition ratio in keeping the mathematics of terror in favour of the Security Forces(SF). While WHAM was part of the CI doctrine, kills were supreme and in the hard/soft power equation, the hard power invariably won, being the easier option. The challenge thus is taking public stand on nominating Hearts as the stated doctrine. This thus is an initiative which at the best of times is fraught with dangers of backfiring. The Hearts Doctrine’s true contribution is in refining an existing concept and, most importantly, publicly making the concept a stated doctrine.
What did this translate into?
- First off, the neglect in understanding people and their cultural sensitivities marginalized the population and the levels of violence kept rising. The feeling of “us” and “them” compounded the undercurrents and the SF repeatedly failed to gain popular support. It called for the forces to change themselves before engaging and communicating with the people.
- Secondly, the proxy war sponsors always worked on this lack of popular support to fuel the insurgency at will by demonizing the SF. The cycle of violence of 2008 – 10 is prime example of this proxy strategy of keeping the pot boiling.
- Thirdly, lack of deep understanding of historical and social underpinnings of Kashmir led to further alienation of the population and often worked towards fuelling animosity towards the armed forces. This made winning peace complicated and understanding of Kashmiriyat by all ranks mandatory.
- Fourthly, without the policy of heart being put in place in sync with other security forces operating in J&K the net gains were marginalized by force rivalries. Revitalisation of the Unified Headquarters to get all stakeholders on board was thus critical.
- Fifthly, the prolonged state of violence in Kashmir had set in violence fatigue. People were tired of mindless killings and loss of livelihood. The cycle of violence of 2008 – 10 was just one such major event indicating this fatigue. This implied that people, tired of violence and disruptions, yearned for change with dignity. This meant that the relations between Awaam (population) and Jawan (soldier) had to be based on mutual trust and respect.
- Sixthly, Kashmiris are hugely talented and grossly misunderstood people. They like Taqrir (debate) to vent their feelings. Understanding these cultural sensitivities thus is crucial. Historically, in order to draw attention to their sufferings, they have tended to exaggerate them. This also needed to be understood by the Dil Se forces with sensitivity. This needs to be channelized optimally in favour of hearts.
- The neglected intelligentsia, media and opinion makers in the society including clerics were thus instrumental in building the right atmospherics through intelligent integration as part of the solution.
The Concept of Heart as My Weapon
Conceptually, there is nothing very unique about using hard and soft power towards managing insurgency. However, what stood out now was the concrete shaping of perceptions by a passionate action driven programme (Dil Se…) beyond Sadbhavna to convince all stake holders that something new and credible was afoot. The cornerstone of using “Heart is my weapon’ is to respect the dignity of each individual and ensure justice and fair play in dealing with the society[i].
The concept aims at winning the psychological battle and gaining popular support to combat the insurgency. The centre of gravity of the army thus now is the people. The branding and marketing of the concept requires passion and intelligent integration across domains. The essential principles of employing heart as a weapon are coherence, continuity and innovation in its application. This is primarily where hearts achieved the required stickiness and the concept stuck.
Initially this predominantly soft approach was seen with apprehension within the army and amongst the other civil intezamia (administration) members who looked at Hearts as a catchy slogan. Old thinkers in CI Ops still believed that keeping a lid on violence was only possible with an aggressive counter insurgency posture and that the Kashmiris “tilt at the windmills” and must be treated accordingly. There were few takers for the strategy amongst the awaam (people) too who had been brought up in an environment seeped in mistrust of the security forces. The biggest challenge to hearts though came from within the army – from senior commanders to tactical leaders saw this as giving in without a fight and were deeply suspicious of the strategy.
The Banihal Syndrome The Banihal syndrome, where troops and units entering Kashmir saw this as an opportunity for honours, awards and citations based on kills made it imperative to dispel the myth that killing alone could ever lead to a solution. The intense feelings among the junior leaders towards tangible results had to be managed and diverted towards winning hearts without letting the guard down. The Army’s system for awarding points for unit citations loaded almost totally in favour of kills as opposed to winning and/or maintaining the peace contributed adversely.
The Unified Headquarters The politico-military apparatus at the unified headquarters did not initially subscribe to army taking the lead role in what is considered a civilian domain. The political landscape thus had to be managed craftily to spread the message that change was possible. However, the intezamia still reeling under the pressures of “cycle of violence” were the most difficult to convince. Any animosity at the political or administrative levels thus had to be turned in favour of heart.
The People The people were skeptical and the university students, lawyers and the Huriyat sponsored cadres did their best to discredit the strategy. However, as the news of active engagement with positive results entered the valley from the hinterland, opinions began to change for the better. Nonetheless, it would be pertinent to concede here that Kashmiris who have been at the wrong end of the stick for over three decades have a “public” and a “private” face and need to be tackled as such. Absolutism, while working with people, is utopian as they operate in shades of grey.
The strategy aims at managing the mathematics of terror at the Line of Control, creation of a strong intelligence network in the hinterland to isolate and neutralize the militants and spreading the message of hearts through credible and genuine actions.
The strategy execution comprised following three steps:-
- Strategy Process The strategy was led from the front by the military leadership In Kashmir by a series of well-defined initiatives to reduce the animosity towards the SF. These included:-
- Winning the hearts of the SF was the first step of the strategy. It was a herculean task to make everyone comprehend the historical and cultural sensitivities in Kashmir. This was specially so at the junior levels which faced bullets regularly. This entailed deworming the units and men at Corps Battle School by the Corps Commander and all commanders down the chain. This message was thereafter reinforced regularly by units and formations.
- The process involved detailed outlining of initiatives based on needs of people in various areas where the army operated. Removing the animosity towards the army was the desired outcome.
- The strength of strategy lay in controlling the mathematics of terror in various areas from Line of Control to the hinterland where in it was required to launch hard intelligence based operations to neutralize militant activity. It was not possible to underscore the credibility of heart without controlling the levels of violence.
- Perception management through credible action plans by integrating the intelligentsia, intezamia and the people was critical to the success of the concept.
- The heart of the strategy lay in winning the psychological operations by a mix of hard and soft techniques.
People, both in and outside the uniform, are the centre of gravity of the strategy. Hence it is imperative to gain and retain their trust through a credible people’s process. A range of initiatives were needed to ensure this. Operationalising the people’s process was the toughest part of the strategy. It sought deep commitment, credible result oriented action plan to convince people about the sincerity of approach and above all a sense of passionate delivery model as the key to success of this process. Awami Sunwais(Peoples Hearings) were an innovative approach adopted by commanders at all levels to integrate people in administering their woes and were a game changer in establishing strong contacts with the people. The Sunwai was or is, or should be construed as an open air Taqreer to hear the people’s voice and answer those concerns on which the commander, often the Corps Commander, had either writ or domain knowledge.
The Operational Process
Operational processes were seen with skepticism initially. However, trust was built over a period of time as the strategy began to bear fruit. The hostility of junior leadership during the Human Rights Seminar in 2011 had all but disappeared during the Seminar on Enhancing Jammu and Kashmir’s Pride in 2012. The operational process of restricting military convoy timings to obviate inconvenience to the people went a long way in convincing the people who army respected their dignity and was keen on restoring their pride. Likewise all people friendly initiatives gradually worked towards building trust. Operationalising the Kashmir Premier League (350 matches over 50 teams) in a cricket crazy Kashmir provided the requisite fillip to the self-esteem and pride in believing that change was near.
Synchronization The most important aspect of strategy execution remains synchronization. The very complex nature of interactions amongst people, ideologies and ethos of a large number of stakeholders is daunting if actions of all these are not synchronized. To achieve this synchronization, it is imperative that commanders at all levels spell out their intents regularly to all troops, create suitable media opportunities and handle bad news with as much conviction as the good news and intervene in a flattened information environment to accept realities rather than hiding behind veneers of false sense of pride. Synchronization thus calls for:-
- Clear and unambiguous spelling out of intent at regular intervals.
- A fast and effective OODA cycle at all times to stay on top of situation.
- Resolving negative events on priority with honesty.
- A proactive and intelligent media policy employing all channels of communication including conventional and social media.
- A balanced use of hard and soft power to ensure heart is not taken for granted.
- Managing the environment effectively by constructively engaging with all stakeholders consistently to win the psychological battle.
- A very dynamic and real-time feedback mechanism, shorn of prorata mindsets, was the backbone behind tempering the strategy frequently to coincide with the larger aim. The media were for instance, fine tuned by regular interaction, taking on board “off the record” on sensitive issues and acceptance of their charter in terms of reporting not just the Army views but contrary views as well.
The Turning Point – Moving from Conflict Stabilisation towards Peace[ii]
Within the ambit of above principles, 2011 can be termed as the Turning Point in Kashmir in terms of winning the peace. The narrative dominance was achieved by operating from the paradigms of passion by the army. Some of the highlights were:-
- The first was a change of the basic paradigm of “long term solution” against the argument of “peace this summer”.
- Detailed “net assessments” carried out over a five to six-year horizon.
- Various scenarios were built around which suitable strategies were interwoven.
- Politically and intellectually a large number of initiatives were taken to express the sincerity of all organs of the state and the civil society.
- The synergy in the changed approach to the army strategy.
- How the message of the Army turning a new leaf stuck to the minds of the people. Muzamil Jalil [iii]of Indian Express was the first off the blocks. Young Kashmiri journalists like Riyaz Ahmad, Shabir of Kashmir Times and established old timers like Shujat Bukhari recognised the change and made people aware of the potential of peace with the change of heart.
- Involvement of intellectuals who helped shape the environment were Professors Siddiq Wahid and Riyaz Punjabi and Dr Fida Hasnain the well-known author.
- “Awaami Sunwais”, change in convoy timings, Jee Janab, Kashmir Premier League, football and basketball tournaments, tours by youth to various parts of the country and helping them engage in education and employment were the corner stones of the concept of “Heart is my Weapon”.
- That heart succeeded despite the nexus of ISI, separatists and the terrorists goes to prove the sincerity of the approach.
- The biggest game changer was converting Sadbhavna from a mere Military Civic Action into a huge psychological operations campaign and was actually the biggest gain.
- Chinar Doctrine’s singular achievement has been to obliterate the animosity against the Army among people. In the absence of that animosity, separatists cannot target Delhi.
- People engaged in resolving Kashmir respect intellect more than the brass on the shoulders and thus they earned their respect and retained it by interacting with and impressing all shades of public opinion including columnists, academics even religious leaders.
- This legacy may be summed up in two phrases, first, obliterating the popular animosity against the forces and secondly earning intellectual appreciation of all shades of dominant opinion in Kashmir.
- Hearts succeeded in management of Tipping Points where despite change in connectors and message the focus of context to remove animosity towards the army was vitally retained.
- Resulted in diffusion of “Us and Them”. The people friendly policies resulted in people accepting army as theirs thouh this is still a work in progress.
In the networked environment of today, print media follows electronic media, which in turn follows cyberspace, a space that respects no boundaries. All three media, namely print, electronic and cyber, were harnessed to achieve own objectives. To win the battle of perceptions a powerful message was required that would catch the imagination consistent with the prevailing environment. Some recent events have reaffirmed the potential for change with the power of intelligent action, proving that nothing is as immovable or implacable as it may seem. The Army has to be alive to the context, the messages and slogans and be pro active in changing the context.[iv]
Lest Hearts be taken for Granted
The management of mathematics of terror ensured that at no time the insurgents were allowed to alter the equation in their favour. Despite their best efforts the odds favoured the military by relentless counter infiltration posture on the Line of Control, intelligence based operations to neutralize militants who had managed to infiltrate and management of various tipping points which could have triggered anti army protests.
Prominent amongst these were killing of 13 militants in Gurais by the Ghatak platoon led by Lt Navdeep Singh of 15 Maratha LI – a deed of valour for which he was awarded the Ashok Chakra posthumously, effectively countering the Kulgam rape case by proving it to be a sly militant effort, pinning responsibility of killing of young girls Harifa and Akhtara of Sopore on the militants and taking prompt but effective steps to control the situation arising out of accidental killing of Manzoor, a teenager who entered an ambush inadvertently.
Changed Force Ethos
Based on the experiences and initiatives of 2011 and early 2012, the “Force Ethos” came into being to guide the actions of the counter insurgents. The guiding principles of this ethos are:-
- Clear understanding of and, loyalty cum passion towards the mission; a selfless commitment to ushering peace in Kashmir.
- An intelligent appreciation of the aim, strategy and tactics of our adversarial Nexus together with continuous professionally honest evaluation of mission accomplishment.
- A deep understanding of Kashmir’s history, cultural and religious sensitivities, of Kashmiriyat to win the Awaams’ faith and trust by culturally correct conduct and behaviour of our teammates, sub-unit and units.
- Utmost respect for Awaam’s constitutional rights and their quest for security, peace and prosperity.
- Synergising all agencies and security forces by good inter personal relations and mutual cooperation.
- Realistic training, detailed planning and proactive ethical response as per our mission and rules of engagement, along with truthful cum timely reporting.
- Valour, courage and intellectual honesty in face of adversities and complexities.
- A shared sense of achievement amongst all Warriors leading to maximizing professional satisfaction, sense of achievement and personal aspirations.
An everlasting commitment to patriotism and will to sacrifice for achievement of the National Aim.
The Way Ahead
Peace in Kashmir is at best fragile and needs to be nurtured with due caution considering the stakes involved for Pakistan and the separatists. It is utmost imperative that our future course is charted cautiously harnessing the spirit of the doctrine. The future path entails the following:-
- The ultimate derivative of the Chinar Doctrine is that there was a long-term vision drawn up from a “people’s perspective”.
- There is a need to harmonise the Centre State mechanism to streamline coordinated action.
- This time around this positive turn needs to be made in favour of resolving strategic and local issues like electricity, water, roads, education and employment.
- 2011 did not only bring in the right strategies, it also brought in lots of grass root level participation of youth in channelising their energies towards engaging, empowering and employing those they could.
- The other concern should be the radicalization of the separatist movement. The loss of the culture of Sufiyat is a telling blow to all moderates in Kashmir. The AQ linkage comes through this radicalization
- There appears to be a perception among the separatists that without greater Islamic involvement their movement is bound to flounder
- The separatists have to be dried out financially.
- Kashmir requires what we call subtle and intelligent integration into mainstream India through a participative review of such issues as Article 370, to enable joint ownership etc, so that industry can enter and create the economic bonds for integration.
- Ensuring the security and safety of Kashmiri youth in education centres in mainland India.
- Any countering of the current situation in Kashmir has to be viewed from a social, religious, economic, political, diplomatic and military standpoint.
- We have to keep the pressure on albeit within the philosophy of the Doctrine.
- Militarily, any change including AFSPA, must be made only after a realistic appraisal of the security situation.
- We need to clearly outline our endgame in Kashmir beyond petty politicking within the ambit of a grand strategy, harmonising our development efforts with a firm control on the terror emanating out of Pakistan.
It is time we engaged Kashmir sincerely this time with policies that we wish to implement and not hollow promises.
Application in other Counter Insurgency Models
There is no gainsaying the fact that heart applies unequivocally to all formats of counter insurgency in the nation and can be adopted for achieving semblance of normalcy to kick off the political process – the key ingredient and desired outcome of all CI operations. The strategy has to be applied with due diligence and passion after understanding the cultural sensitivities and aspirations of the people in a given geographical area. Historical perspectives play an important part in understanding the behavior of people and should thus form an integral part of force ethos. This assumes added significance as counter insurgents rotate often in their tours of duty and this critical component of cultural sensitivities, language and aspirations gets marginalized in quest for quick results.
Operationalisation of hearts in Kashmir underscores the need to learn the lessons by setting agendas rather than following the insurgent’s agendas. This can only be achieved when the counter insurgent maintains narrative dominance through people friendly policies. At no stage should there be a vacuum in gaining and retaining popular support which otherwise would be definitely occupied by inimical interests.
Kashmir has a special situation as the insurgency is being fueled, supported and managed by active participation of Pakistan. It therefore calls for managing the mathematics of terror on the Line of Control, in the hinterland and taking care of the separatist elements operating openly in the state. North Eastern insurgencies do not have strong external support but have different dynamics. The battle of hearts there too can be effectively won with passion as the case of Lt Col DPK Pillai proves. While flushing out militants in Longdaipabram, Pillai was shot six times and his left foot blown up by a grenade. He was to be airlifted when he decided to stay back, insisting that two children who were caught in the crossfire be airlifted instead. While the Captain would survive and spend the next year in hospital, Longdaipabram never forgot Pillai’s gesture — as he was to realise much later. The locals cherished and celebrated his revisit 20 years later.
All people respond to heart delivered with passion within the larger construct of conduct of Counter Insurgency. The dynamics may differ but the basic principles of application of Hearts would remain same transcending personalities
Many may perceive the ‘Heart Theme’ as simply old wine in a new bottle because Winning Hearts and Minds (WHAM) has always been integral to CI operations. However, there is an essential difference between the conventional WHAM approach and that of the ‘Heart Theme’. The latter has, as its basis, the retention of power through genuine goodwill, humane attitude, sympathetic conduct and, most of all, an understanding of social, cultural and moral sensitivities. The arrogance of power needs to be subjugated to the goodness of attitude. Such an approach appeals to the psyche and not the material greed of people. The Heart Theme is, therefore, several steps beyond WHAM and way ahead of Sadbhavna. Sadbhavna had worked well in a standalone mode – as an institution for physical succour and some sops – but it could not deliver beyond that without an intellectual exploitation of the goodwill it generated.[v]
This innovative, passionate and people centric strategy has many takers in other conflict ridden states of the country. It needs judicious application with suitable modification to create conditions where a political solution may be in sight. However, in a democracy such as ours the army has (yet again) set the stage for a political solution by imposing an acceptable modicum of security; but it cannot create so much security that a political solution is no longer required[vi].
[i] Heart is My Weapon: Revisiting Kashmir by Lt Gen SA Hasnain UYSM,AVSM,SM,VSM** in Army War College Journal Spring 2011
[iv] Op cit Heart is my Weapon
[v] Op cit Heart is My Weapon
[vi] Ajai Shukla in Business Standard