The Jammu and Kashmir situation: The Security Forces

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New Delhi, Sept.9 (ANI): Of all the pieces in the Kashmiri jigsaw, none has been more criticized than the security forces, whether it is the army, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF), or the Jammu and Kashmir Police. Alleged actions by them have triggered off protests time and again and now the protests have snowballed into the phenomenon of stone-pelting.

This, in turn, has provoked more firings and more casualties. No end of the cycle of violence seems to be in sight with the separatists providing a weekly calendar of protests and laying down conditions.

While they have been pilloried on a daily basis, it is necessary to dispassionately discuss the role and presence of the security forces who have become an inextricable part of the Kashmir issue.

We are informed everyday about the deadly death count of the protestors, about the heart-rendering stories of the killing of seven-year-old Milad Ahmed Dhar and Sameer Ahmed Khan of Batmaloo. However, there has scarcely been a mention of the over one thousand CRPF and J and K policemen injured by the stone pelters. Some of them have lost eyes, some have been paralysed and almost all of them traumatized. Don't they have a story, too? Yes, they have the guns but should we fool ourselves into believing that they are deranged humans who take pleasure in killing seven-year-olds?

What is also not highlighted is the kind of pressure that the security forces, especially the J and K police, is under on a day to day basis for doing their job. How many outside the valley know about the posters that call for the social boycott of families of police personnel? How many know about the separatists checking the ID cards of people on buses and soundly thrashing a policeman when found? Or that police personnel have taken to carrying fake ID cards of other departments?

This is not to condone the obvious excesses of the security forces. These obviously have to stop and the security forces have to be made accountable for their actions. But at the same time, the presence of the security forces underlines the human tragedy in Kashmir, and how complex the situation is.

However, in making complex analyses of a complex situation, most observers forget the basic question - why are the security forces present in the first place in the valley? Why have they been present there since 1947? Are they there on their own or have been called for by the elected government?

Though well known, it is worth repeating that the army was sent into Kashmir in October 1947 to defend the territorial integrity and the people of India in the wake of the unprovoked aggression by tribesmen sent in by Pakistan. The army has remained in Kashmir since then because the threat from Pakistan to forcibly seize Kashmir has not diminished an iota. The threat, in fact, has increased manifold over the decades with Pakistan trying every trick in the book culminating in terrorism and now a unique form of agitation. Not surprisingly, therefore, the presence of the Army has been supplemented by para military organizations to face civil threats.

The bottom-line, clearly is that so long as Kashmir continues to face external or internal threats, the security forces, would continue their presence. And wherever security forces are deployed in aid to civil power, there have to be Rules of Engagement or a legal cover. In the instant case, it is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This law was enacted for the North-East but has become equally notorious in Kashmir.

But, so long as the security forces are asked to operate in Kashmir, they will need a legal cover, whether it is called the AFSPA or something else. You can repeal AFPSA or modify it imaginatively but a legal cover will still be needed so long as the conditions are disturbed and the elected government calls for the assistance of central forces.

Having said that, should the presence of the security forces be so heavy handed, so visible, so in your face?

The answer is clearly no.

It is the ubiquitous sight of the security forces in every nook and corner of every street in every town in the Valley that is the most visible sign of a region under occupation. It is also most likely to lead to provocations, invite retaliation, lead to human rights violations and the unending cycle of violence.

The basic reason for this in your face and visible saturation deployment of the security forces is that the government, both state and central, haven't evolved from tackling insurgency to tackling political unrest. The tactics of the separatists, backed by Pakistan, have mutated. Taking advantage of the anger in the people, the tactics have evolved from gun-based insurgency to a pre-dominant political agitation backed by selective use of guns. This did not happen overnight. The waters were tested in 2008 and 2009 and have flowered, so to speak, in 2010.

The tactics of the security establishment, unfortunately, have remained static and unimaginative. The Home Ministry mandarins just haven't read the evolving signs. The focus continues to be on the insurgents, whether it is checking their infiltration or locating them in the hinterland. Resultantly, political agitations are seen as a law and order problem instead of being seen as the main cause for serious concern today. And the tactics deployed are for tackling a law and order situation despite all evidence to the contrary that the agitation is not a mere law and order issue.

With no change in how the State and the Central Governments are dealing with the evolved situation, is it surprising that the ongoing cycle of protests, retaliatory violence, curfews and strikes doesn't seem to be coming to an end?

This is not to suggest that insurgency is not a problem or that it should be ignored. But simply that right now, the priority has to be tackling the political agitations that call for a different strategy than tackling insurgency.

By not matching its tactics with the evolving tactics of the separatists, the government has played right into their hands. The security forces face the brunt of this static deployment and the security forces would react in the only manner in which they are trained. Yet, the government instructs the security forces to exercise restraint!

Adopting tough, in your face measures for tackling insurgency can be explained to a civil population. There will be resentment but also understanding. But how can you explain or justify the same measures when there is a political agitation, especially one that consists of women and children? Is it really necessary to stop a peaceful protest march? Is it really necessary to have pickets all over the towns that become tempting targets for stone pelters? Is that not an invitation to continue with the cycle of violence? Is not a basic principle of policing to defuse a public disorder situation rather than provoke it?

Leave aside the 'big ticket' issues of political solutions, packages, the question of self-determination, the immediate need of the hour is for the government to reorient tactics to face the political agitation and not treat it as a law and order problem.

Unless this is done, the security forces would continue to be pilloried and seen as being representative of an ugly and undesirable India. In such a scenario, talk of removing the trust deficit, winning the hearts and minds of the people etc, becomes meaningless. Finding that elusive starting point for talks has to begin with such an understanding.

Is the Home Ministry listening? By Salim Haq (ANI)

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