The Indian Army is winning the proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir. There are clear indicators of this happening. Infiltration from the Line of Control is under check, violence level within the state have come down, more people are coming forward with information on terrorists, and are joining the ‘home and hearth’ battalions as well as volunteering for the Village Defence Committees, the terrorists are clearly on the run, they are avoiding the army in direct battles and instead are homing on soft targets. This is not all. Operations Rahat (the heavy snowfall in early 2006), Imdad (relief following the 8 October 2005 earthquake), and the ongoing Sadbhavna have helped build people’s trust in the army that have not gone unnoticed by the local police. On its part, the army is conducting anti-terrorist operations with care and from the front: most army actions are based on real time intelligence in which the police are assisting wholeheartedly, and led by officers, the army is avoiding both collateral damage (innocent casualties) and harassment of hapless civilians. In a clear departure from the past, there are few accolades for terrorist killings alone that had earlier led to units faking encounters. Case in point is the dismissed artillery commanding officer, Colonel Kohli, whose own men were ordered to smear tomato ketchup to look like blood in photographs. Clearly, killing of terrorists is not enough. The need for the army was to win the trust of the people also. This is the underlined message of General JJ’s ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ strategy.
Pakistan is clearly unhappy with the Indian Army’s success. Consequently, General Musharraf has sought demilitarisation in certain militancy prone districts of J&K. (Indian foreign secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon has reportedly said that New Delhi could consider this demand). The game is that a thinning of Indian troops from specific areas will lower people’s morale that in turn will boost the numbers of over-ground workers (OGW) needed for increased terrorism. The army has apprised the political leadership that reduction of troops in J&K should not be contemplated at this juncture when terrorism has been checked. This becomes more essential as the political process both within J&K and with Pakistan is progressing at snail’s pace. Ideally, this is the time when from a position of relative strength, New Delhi should take steps for conflict resolution with Pakistan. Managing the conflict alone is not enough. Unfortunately, there are three major problems that have tied Delhi’s hands: One, there is a Parliamentary resolution that says that the whole J&K (including portion with Pakistan) is an integral part of India. Two, while a porous Line of Control is fine, dissolving it completely (as Pakistan wants) is not acceptable to the main opposition party, the BJP. And three, there is simply too much dissonance between the various state political parties and factions that an acceptable option to most is not in sight. Pakistan knows this and hence its two-pronged approach. First, at the political level, Musharraf is throwing new conflict resolution proposals. Even if these are not finding favour with Delhi, they are helping him win over a few powerful J&K leaders. And second, while Pakistan is loosing the proxy war, it is ensuring that insurgency in the Valley should remain.
For this reason, Musharraf is making certain that terrorist sanctuaries on territory under his control are not shut down. It is an established universal fact that insurgent and terrorist groups that have external sanctuaries have rarely lost. Ideally, the Indian Army should have been hitting at these sanctuaries to tell Pakistan where to get off. For reasons, this is not an option now, but could well be in the near future. In addition to nurturing terrorist sanctuaries, Pakistan is exploiting chinks in the psychological operations that are innate to the success of an insurgency. The OGW continue to help in this by playing on the professional needs of an otherwise astute media. After all, with media proliferation, the biggest challenge for any newsman is to be first with the news. Here the media and the army appear on opposite sides: the army first establishes facts before giving them out, while the media needs the story fast. This is where the OGW’s step in. For instance, the media in J&K gets to know stories detrimental to army’s image within minutes of an incident, even before the army leadership gets wind of it. There are OGWs with cell phones whose business is to feed biased information to whoever is listening. While these activities cannot be stopped completely, the media and the army can certainly work together to minimise them. Instead of rushing with a one-sided story, the media could take a deep breath and get the army’s version also. Similarly, the army’s chain of command for terrorist related information should be shortened. This is easier said than done, and the real culprit here is the bureaucrat who is closer to the political leadership. Even as the need is for more and swift interaction between the army and the media, instigated by the bureaucrat, the top army leadership has been told to interact less with the media. This is the very antithesis of anti-insurgency operations.