Give CRPF a chance to prove itself as a counter-insurgency force
Things have never been so bright for Jammu and Kashmir and India. The 38-year-old Omar Abdullah will head the government in the state. He is undoubtedly the most sincere, bright, and well-meaning person to head the state in recent years. Despite bilateral tensions between India and Pakistan, the 26 November 2003 ceasefire on the Line of Control is holding, and bets are that it will continue to do so. Infiltration across the LC and violence levels in the state are low because the security forces are on top of their job, and General Headquarters Rawalpindi has deliberately shifted its proxy-war focus to mainland India. The separatists have learnt two lessons: people need both governance and azadi. And azadi is a step-by-step approach to bring the two Kashmir divided by the LC together.
Against this backdrop, Omar Abdullah recently made two relevant points to FORCE: The state mainline political parties, Separatists and the United Jehad Council should work together for the resolution of the Kashmir issue, and there is a case for phased withdrawal of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) and also review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act as well as the Disturbed Area Act. Probably the easiest doable thing from the above menu is the phased withdrawal of the RR. This will take the wind out of the sails of the Separatists, reward the people for the large voting turn-out in the recent assembly elections, help Omar Abdullah government establish early credibility with people, demonstrate Srinagar’s leverage with New Delhi, and send message to the US that India can do without its special envoy for Jammu and Kashmir.
This will not be a cake-walk. The army’s case is that reduced infiltration and violence level have little to do with RR reduction. The latter relates to ‘an eliminated cross border threat and lasting peace’ as the army commander, Northern Command told FORCE. The army worry is that if it is recalled in case of a deteriorated situation, it would need substantial time to re-establish intelligence grids, and New Delhi will be embarrassed to explain increased troops in the state. This, of course, is a matter of assessment. Given the overall positive indicators, New Delhi could consider a phased withdrawal/re-deployment of RR troops over the next five years. At present, there are about 50,000 RR troops in the state. In the first instance, about 10,000 troops, three brigades, could be removed from public areas. Most of these could be re-deployed in the higher reaches.
Now comes the hardest part. Commensurate with removal of RR, the Central Reserve Police (CRP) as the replacing Counter-Insurgency (CI) force needs to be strengthened. The CRP is doing a difficult and absolutely thankless job in the state. Of its 60 battalions (nearly 65,000 troops), only 30 per cent are on CI role; 40 per cent are doing static guard duties which is the state police’ job, and the rest are on Road Opening Patrol duties to ensure major roads are free of terrorism. The Union home ministry directive clearly states that the state administration and police will decide how the CRP is to be used. What this means is that the CRP is completely dependent on the state police, and the latter views it as the added numbers advantage that it lacks. On recent visits to the Valley, I have been shocked by the deplorable living conditions of CRP troops. Even a self-respecting animal would detest living in such conditions. Troops are huddled in flimsy tents that get blown off by the icy winds. Regular electricity is scarce as is warm water and hot food for troops in freezing cold weather.
Yet, this has not damped the spirits of bright CRP officers, especially the young ones. I was impressed by one such assistant commandant who has bought a laptop with his salary. He maintains profiles and activities in his area that could shame professional intelligence databank. A genuine grievance of CRP in CI role is the lack of intelligence wing; they are completely dependent on the J&K Special Operations Group and the local Intelligence Bureau for it. While the SOG provides good intelligence, the state police invariably extract its pound of flesh; the CRP rarely gets the credit for their operations. CRP officers told me that even if the Central government is reluctant to grant them an intelligence wing, they should provide mobile interceptors for intelligence gathering used by the SOG.
Similarly, a lot needs to be done about the weapons with the CRP. They have a limited numbers of rocket launchers, what they require are ‘flame throwers’ that have been used well by the RR. The CRP in J&K has 81mm mortar which is the army infantry heavy weapon and of no use. Once the morale, equipment and training are catered for, the need will be to look into two more issues that concern the regimentation in the force. These are the institution of the ranks of lance naik and naik like the regular army, and the opportunity for cadre officers to one day head the force. Only then will the CRP become the true CI force confident enough to replace the RR forever. The CRP needs the opportunity that should not be denied; there was after all unfounded cynicism and scepticism in 2003 in many quarters when CRP was to replace the BSF in J&K.