Armed forces

In Kashmir, the Battle of Stones and Rubber Pellets is Politics by Other Means

For those who would like to replace the killings in Kashmir, the violent and disruptive demonstrations, and the equally violent reactions by the state, with a negotiation process; understand: this is the negotiation process.

CRPF jawans stand guard during curfew in Srinagar. Credit: PTI Photo by S. Irfan

CRPF jawans stand guard during curfew in Srinagar. Credit: PTI Photo by S. Irfan

The situation in Jammu and Kashmir, and particularly in the Kashmir Valley, has been a rolling crisis and tragedy for over two and a half decades now, and this is the backdrop against which the disorders of the state and Valley must be assessed, and not within an imagined context of ‘normalcy’ or ‘peace’ restored.

Unfortunately, each cycle of transient and local escalation meets with hysterical assessments suggesting that this is the beginning of a new and catastrophic end. But we have been here before, though few remember the far greater disturbances of 2010 or 2008 – or, indeed, the near complete collapse of order in the early 1990s – with any measure of clarity.

There is, indeed, an overwhelming faith that things are actually getting worse, and that none of the many indices suggesting otherwise matter. It is this discourse that empowers the separatists as well as Pakistan and its terrorist proxies; that makes a hero out of an ineffectual boy, gets him killed, and then rues that his ‘martyrdom’ will produce many more Burhan Wanis. In passing, it is useful to note here that it is difficult to reconcile official descriptives of Wani as a ‘dreaded terrorist’ with posthumous claims from the same sources that he had not executed a single major operation.

The death cult of Islamist extremism derives great joy in celebrating its many ‘martyrs’ who are seduced, equally perhaps, by visions of a prurient paradise with its proliferation of pliant virgins as they are by the promise that the certainty of their political victory lies in direct proportion to the numbers that get themselves killed. Separatist leaders in Kashmir exult in private over the number of ‘our boys’ who are killed in security force firings, and in the orgies of street violence that are orchestrated from time to time. And let there be no doubt that separatism in Kashmir is rooted squarely in global Islamist extremism.

In one of his last video messages, the ‘rock star ultra’ Burhan Wani called for a global caliphate, once again exposing the duplicity of the separatists who pretend that ‘Kashmiriyat’ , and not radical Islamism, is their guiding ideology. Wani declared:

Ham Kashmir mein to kya, poori duniya mein, insha allah o taala, khilafat ka nizam kayam kar ke, insha allah, dam lenge” (Not only in Kashmir, but in the entire world, by the will of God, we will impose the sway of the Caliphate, and only then, God willing, will we rest.)

This is moreover, an overwhelmingly Pakistan-backed process, and the unison with which all centres of power in that country – the civil government, including the prime minister, the army, including General Raheel Sharif, and the terrorist leadership, including Lashkar-e-Tayyaba chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and Hizb-ul-Mujahiddeen chief Yusuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin – reacted to Wani’s death and to the ensuing street violence are ample proof of this.

Another widespread fiction refers to the purportedly non-violent ‘protests’ and the ‘brutality’ of state forces. There are several issues involved here.

First, these are not ‘peaceful’ or ‘non-violent’ protestors; they are rampaging mobs and they are willing to kill. Second, and crucially, there is a clear and inverse relationship between the quantum of deployment and the use of force. The larger the deployment – relative to the violent demonstrators – the less likely the use of extreme force, including pellets and rubber bullets. The smaller the contingent confronting a violent mob, the more likely it is to use everything at its disposal, since the alternative would be to be overrun, disarmed and, possibly, killed. In the initial phases of mobilisation after Wani’s killing, the police leadership conceded that they had failed to correctly assess the location of the protests and force deployment in many areas was severely inadequate. This indicates a significant failure of intelligence in what was essentially a predictable crisis.

However, separatist tactics also come into play, particularly as the violence persisted, and despite augmenting deployments. Mobs are mobilised against tiny pickets, rather than in places of adequate security force placement, and responses are invariably forced by the vulnerabilities of the security force units to being overrun. In the sentimental commentary on the violence in Kashmir, many have asked, what kind of ‘brutal’ army (or security force) shoots bullets and pellets at women and children? But what kind of people put their women and children in the forefront of a violent demonstration that is clearly contrived to draw fire?

Further, security forces use the equipment they are provided. It is not the brutality of the police or forces that has caused blinding injuries among agitators – it is the evaluation and selection process that resulted in the acquisition and deployment of pellet guns, despite well documented and recurrent evidence of the unacceptable consequences of their use in the control of violent crowds, globally (and even in J&K where they were first used in 2010).

The Ministry of Home Affairs has now belatedly announced the formation of a committee to evaluate options to pellet guns. However, even a cursory examination of available ‘non-lethal’ technologies would demonstrate that none of these are without their own risks. There is no painless method available to control violent – and at least occasionally, murderous – mobs. I have often heard with some amazement commentary about a ‘brutal lathi charge’; as opposed to what? A kind and humane lathi charge? We are talking about people acting violently and being controlled by violence. There is no ‘nice’ way to do this.

Pakistan’s absurd calculus

At the very peak of the crisis, there were some Panglossian appeals for a “political solution acceptable to all stakeholders”. This is unmitigated nonsense; there is no such solution. For those who would like to replace the killings in Kashmir, the violent and disruptive demonstrations, and the equally violent reactions by the state, with a negotiation process; understand: this is the negotiation process. This is ‘politics by other means’. Wishing it was otherwise will not make it so.

The violence will end and be replaced by progressively political engagements when one or more of the players find the equation of power sufficiently altered to abandon the use of force to secure their ends.

Violence does not end because negotiations commence; negotiations commence in good faith when the parties to violence come to believe that their ends are poorly served by violence. This occurs principally in two circumstances: a hurting stalemate – a situation where all parties have suffered for too long and none believes that it can get what it wants through violence; or a radical change in the equation of power – so that one or other party comes to believe that a negotiated settlement will give it more than anything it could achieve through violence. These circumstances, clearly, do not presently obtain in Jammu and Kashmir.

None of the adversaries in the conflict in Kashmir appear to display any familiarity with the nature and dynamics of power. Joining in with Pakistan’s army and terrorist leadership in support of Burhan Wani and the Kashmiri separatists, Prime Minister Sharif rather plaintively pronounced, “India should accept defeat before the freedom wave in Kashmir.” In this absurd calculus, a few hundred deaths in terrorism or street violence in Kashmir will somehow engineer a collapse of political will at Raisina Hill. India, with a population of 1.3 billion, has recorded, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a total of 65,153 terrorism-related fatalities in nearly 22 years between 1994 and July 17, 2016 – in all theatres, including J&K, the northeast and the Maoist insurrection. By comparison, Pakistan, with a population of about 185 million, has seen at least 60,791 killed in terrorism-linked violence in under 13 years, between 2003 and July 17, 2016 [these figures are likely underestimates, as media access to regions of conflict is severely restricted in Pakistan]. Yet, if any motivated ‘strategic expert’ was to suggest that Pakistan was on the verge of collapse as a result, or that an independent Balochistan and Pakhtoonistan were an imminent reality, they would provoke much mirth and contempt not only in Pakistan, but also among Indian analysts who may not be otherwise displeased with such possible outcomes.

India has confronted and defeated Pakistan-backed terror on its soil for over three decades, and there is no reason to believe that the future will produce a radically different outcome – particularly as the principal sponsor of this terrorism is itself confronted with multiple and existential crises. Islamabad’s war of a thousand cuts against India has left Pakistan bleeding far more profusely.

These are not arguments for any complacency in the Indian establishment. Every life lost is a tragedy. The interregnums of relative peace in Kashmir have been repeatedly wasted. While there is much talk about ‘political solutions’ during periods of escalation, calmer phases have seen nothing but a divisive and polarising politics by the principal parties in J&K and at the national level.

Security forces can be used to diminish or end violence. But for real peace to take root, for the consolidation of an enduring calm, there must be a political strategy. With occasional errors and at great sacrifice, the security forces have more than done their duty. But the political leadership, both in the state and at the centre, across party lines and over decades, has betrayed the national interest and the people.

Ajai Sahni is is Founding Member & Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management. The Institute focuses on research, documentation and consultancies on issues relating to internal security, primarily in South Asia.

  • dilip

    It would be interesting to obtain a face to face discussion between Mr Sahni and Mr Tarigami, an interview with whom also appears in the Wire. Mr Sahni quite rightly reminds us of the communal ideas of Burhan Wani. He also objects to the gloss being put on events by liberals. He might also consider the impact of the venomous communal ideas upheld by the RSS/BJP, whose cadre are even now wreaking havoc across the country with gratuitous attacks in the name of the cow, the ‘nation’, ‘hurt sentiment’ etc. It is pointless to criticise communalism of one hue and ignore that of another. Instead of exerting itself to calm the atmosphere, this government and its political fronts and allies are doing their utmost to spread communal violence as a means (their one and only) of polarising society to retain political power. This behaviour will not contribute to ‘negotiation’ of any kind – it will push the Union of India towards disintegration. The Sangh Parivar is as ‘anti-national’ as any separatist – only their fanaticism is masked by fake patriotism.