By Nishant Rajeev*
The September 18, 2016 Uri terror attack has possibly changed the course of India-Pakistan relations for years to come. It was the single largest loss of life suffered by the Indian Army since the Kargil war. But the events that followed Uri were of greater significance.
The Indian Army crossed the LoC to strike terror “launch pads of terrorists” and even gave a public statement to that effect. It’s not as though the army had never crossed the LoC before, but rather the direct targeting of terror launch pads and the public disclosure is something that no government had dared to do in the past. The Indian media hailed this as a historic feat and said that it was no longer ‘business as usual’. The status quo had changed and the Indian state had the resolve to strike back at Pakistan for conducting terror attacks in India.
Looking beyond all the rhetoric, it must be said that the “surgical strikes” were truly an impressive operation. The ability to conduct such strikes coupled with a robust counter-insurgency grid can adversely affect the operations of insurgents in the Kashmir Valley, not to mention the psychological impact it will have on terror groups across the border.
However, the government’s strategy on cross-border terrorism and Kashmir shouldn’t revolve around the use of the military alone. India’s strategic planners will face new challenges in employing this tactic (surgical strikes) as both countries move forward. The loss of the element of surprise will be of major consequence while planning future operations. The Pakistan army will increase vigil across the border making penetration harder. They will also increase security around these camps and move them further away from the LoC.
Even a single failure with large casualties on the Indian side, can make for very bad headlines and lead to an embarrassment on the global stage. It would be prudent to say that such tactics can’t be used with high frequency and will be reserved for special circumstances only. One must remember that military force has its own limitations and can’t address all the causes of the insurgency.
The problems in Kashmir stem from various avenues starting with a lack of economic development to the psychological and historical aspects of the problem. The people of Kashmir have a deep mistrust for the Indian state and the security agencies in particular. As a recent report by a delegation to Kashmir led by former union minister Yashwant Sinha noted, Kashmiris detest the view of the government that everything that happens in the Valley is a Pakistani ploy and the real crux of the matter isn’t political.
The economic landscape of J&K doesn’t fare too well either as highlighted in an economic survey by the J&K government in 2014-15. Unemployment in the Jammu & Kashmir state is at 4.9 per cent compared to the all-India figure of 2.9 per cent. The report also noted that work opportunities have not kept pace with the increasing population. The problem of unemployment gains more importance because of higher incidence of unemployment among the educated section of youth of the state.
The share of industry in GSDP is around 20-25 per cent and the growth of the industry has decelerated by about 4 per cent from 2007-08 to 2014-15. The state also faces challenges when it comes to physical infrastructure as well as power supply. These socio-economic factors will have only complex solutions. Different people will want different things from the government and it will be a monumental task to accommodate them all. But to get some concrete results, these are the aspects that will matter the most.
The army has always played a major role in Kashmir ever since the insurgency began. Most governments have heavily relied on the army to maintain law and order ever since the insurgency began. Although the army has done a commendable job in quelling the insurgency since the 1990s, the Indian government’s policy needs to have more depth than blaming Pakistan and deploying the army.
Any future policy needs to incorporate not only the use of military force but also diplomacy, dialogue and development. The government must work towards regaining the trust of the people by bringing economic progress and opening avenues of dialogue with the relevant stakeholders.
There must be a willingness on the part of the central government to talk to the local population and address their grievances. Also, the recent moves by the Indian government to diplomatically isolate Pakistan has been a significant step in the right direction, as we saw in the aftermath of the surgical strikes when even Pakistan’s loyal allies remained silent on the issue and the boycott of the SAARC meet.
The real challenge and focus should be to break the Pakistan-China nexus. Such a move will affect investments, development and will have a direct bearing on the civilian population and the voter base. Only if the government comes out with such a multi-pronged strategy can it expect some tangible results.
The current government and many previous governments have relied on the army far too much when it comes to Kashmir. They must all remember that the army can never be the solution to the Kashmir problem. The army’s deployment must be viewed as a short-term strategy to give the government some breathing room to implement a long-term plan.
Without a coherent long-term solution, which most governments don’t seem to have up till now, we can never hope to see a stable Kashmir.
*Nishant Rajeev is a GCPP course student at the Bangalore-based Takshashila Institution, a public charitable trust engaged in public policy research & education. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org