Counter militancy operations take a character of their own depending on circumstances on the ground, perception of the commanders and their experience of management of terrorism and political directions.
The essential element of success in counter militancy is constant – people are the centre of gravity.
Confrontation with the masses in a counter insurgency area is always counter-productive.
In the situation that is faced in Jammu and Kashmir today this can be fatalistic in the long term given deeply ingrained sense of alienation in a section of the population howsoever small this may seem to the outsider.
People can never be seen as the “enemy”, and the smallest reference to this negative epithet in what ever context even where it is indirect is expected to cause ill will not just against the security forces but also against the State at large. For the SF are seen as representative of the State.
In the adrenalin generating success of encounters which pep up morale of the security forces and particularly so when high profile terrorist leaders are targeted commanders on the ground may lose sight of the EES of the insurgency fight – the people and go in for the “numbers,” game.
While it is nobody’s case that terrorists should be allowed a free rein amongst the masses, to neutralise them the analogy of a magnet in a haystack may be the most appropriate rather than burning the grass to discover the needle in the residue.
In a different setting Arunachal Pradesh Governor Brig (Retd) B D Mishra on November 18 called upon armed forces personnel from a ‘Mountain Cycling-cum-Trekking Expedition’ team from 106 Infantry Brigade to maintain the people connect.
“As members of the democratic nation’s armed forces, soldiers have to uphold nationalism and bonhomie with the civilian population,” Mishra stated.
The time has come in Jammu and Kashmir to redeem the central feature of countering militancy the “people,” after recent events which have perceptibly attenuated the divide perceptible or real.
Two incidents are relevant here.
In the Jammu region in the month of October – November a terrorist hideout was identified and a long operation undertaken to neutralise the miscreants in the Dehra Ki Gali and Nar Khas area in the Mendhar sector.
This resulted in a number of fatalities to mainly army personnel while the terrorists seemingly got away. The local police DIG claimed that terrorists had been holed up in the area for two to three months.
Obviously without local support this would not have been possible for the group had infiltrated from Pakistan and had perched in the belt in transit to the Kashmir Valley. During the army search operation the group appeared to have moved to Shopian in the Valley. While connect of the security forces with the people would have led to information of presence of the militants in the local zone but apparently the opposite happened in this case.
In a different context, the controversy over burial of terrorist and alleged accomplices by the police in Kashmir outline the need for empathy even with the venal.
After an encounter in Hyderpora, Srinagar on November 15 bodies of terrorists and their alleged associates were not handed over to the relatives but buried in Handwara North Kashmir
After a public outcry these had to be exhumed on orders of the Lt Governor of the Union Territory.
The emotional links of the dead with the public necessitates a decent burial in the presence of the near and dear ones. This reflects human values which the police and security forces of the country are committed to.
Jammu and Kashmir DGP Dilbag Singh had to walk back on the burial and the bodies have now been exhumed on the orders of the Lieutenant Governor as major protests broke out in the Valley.
"We will look into the demands of the families. We are open to corrections if anything has gone wrong. A police probe will also find out what went wrong,” Dilbag Singh is reported to have said as per Greater Kashmir.
"We will find out what happened in the Hyderpora encounter. We are for the safety of people and will not shy away from a probe," said the DGP.
Yes the antecedents of those killed will have to be traced and their links or otherwise to terror will be established by a probe, but the manner in which the burial was carried out needs no investigation and the concerned officials have to be taken to task.
Will this happen remains to be seen?
Another facet is use of social media to declare ongoing operations and their outcomes. While on one hand this may be done by the police in Jammu and Kashmir to warn the public to avoid innocent passage through the area, careful choice of words in a matter of fact tone remains the answer.
Triumphalism demonstrative the hubris of a coercive state may be counter productive.
It is nobody’s case to allow terrorist by whatever name – “Hybrid,” or “Listed,” to run amok and threaten the people at large particularly minorities and non locals.
Countering them cannot be undertaken by a ham handed approach and requires a sophisticated people centric strategy may have been lost sight of in Jammu and Kashmir.
The least that can be done immediately is to stop confronting the public directly or on the media – mainstream and social – this will the first step to mend fences and more will have to come in the period ahead for sustaining faith of the people at large in Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian state which cannot be achieved through boots on the ground.