Dissecting the Proxy War
In sixties and
seventies Mainstream, Economic and Political Weekly and Seminar were influential
left-wing journals and commanded academic prestige. With profound crisis
overtaking Marxism, questioning its legitimacy both as a political system as
well as a social theory, very few left journals have survived in the true sense.
Seminar, has been different. It continues to modulate the national debate on
‘Something like a war’, ‘seminar special’ on Kargil war engages the attention of
readers in a serious way. For the last two decades the Indian state has been
involved in fighting the proxy war imposed by Pakistan. Today the Indian middle
class is more concerned about the strategic aspects of Indian security, internal
as well as external. It wants to know how the Indian state is countering this
proxy war. What are its limitations and successes? This special issue of Seminar
covers this gap to some extent. Disgraced Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat once talked
about the advent of a ‘scholar-warrior’ in India. Seminar carries as many as
five in-depth analyses from former officers in the Indian Army.
Major Maroof Raza poses the problem, saying that India’s experiences are a part
of the growing international phenomenon, where contemporary warfare has begun
to lean extensively towards the ‘low-intensity’ variety. Since 1945, the world
has seen around 160 conflicts-of which three-fourths have been low in intensity.
The message is, Raza adds, the military must ‘adapt’.
Gurmeet Kanwal holds the progressive decline in the defence budget, despite
manifold increase in threats, responsible for the failure of the armed forces to
keep pace with modernisation. He says it has compromised their security in the
type of war they are now being called upon to fight. Kanwal questions the
credibility of conducting a dialogue with a duplicitous state, Pakistan. His
judgement that Benazir Bhutto reflects the moderate opinion will be contested by
many. She is emerging as the new US trouble shooter on Kashmir.
What has gone amiss in the analyses of these experts is that they have not been
able to focus core objectives in Pakistan’s Kargil game-plan. Instead collateral
effects are described as the basic objectives. Gurmeet Kanwal does hint that
Kargil intrusion could have been an attempt to physically occupy a chunk of real
estate to use it as a bargaining counter subsequently, particularly in respect
of negotiations for a mutual withdrawal from Siachen glacier. How Kargil
escalation marks a qualitative change in proxy war, this perspective is also
Major General Afsar Karim specialises on J&K and is former editor of the Indian
defence review. He tackles the political perspective on secessionist war in J&K.
In his assessment, rampant mis-governance, dishonest politics by National
Conference and the rise of fundamentalist Islam are the main causes for
Kashmiris drift towards secessionism. He treats the rise of fundamentalism as an
isolated category and not in the context of power struggle within the ranks of
Kashmiri’ Muslim elite, the rural urban divide and the peculiar mode of economic
development. Also the rise of fundamentalist consciousness among Kashmiris
cannot be simply attributed to a conspiracy. Upwardly mobile groups among
Kashmiris have reacted independently as well as through Pakistan to the
fundamentalist movements in the Muslim world.
Likewise, re-establishing the power symmetry within Kashmiri Muslim society also
forms a subtle under current in the ongoing secessionist movement.
General Afsar Karim also gets carried away by the socalled Kashmiriat syndrome.
This word has never been used by Kashmiris till 1980. With the rise of the
secessionist movement, this expression is used more in a political sense. In a
cultural sense, Kashmiris have been as secular or as sectarian as any other
regional community of
Gen Karim says that the term azadi was deliberately left vague to deceive
Kashmiri Muslims. Azadi in fact cannotes independence from India and merger with
Karim attributes indiscreet handling of public demonstrations and indiscriminate
firing by armed forces for rise of alienation in the initial period. What were
soft options left? He himself concedes that ISI agents had infiltrated all the
vital organs of the state to paralyse the working of the government. Entire
intelligence gathering system had collapsed. Terror and psychology manipulation
had turned people indifferent.
It is said that 1995 marked a change in the situation in Kashmir. ‘Alien’ factor
started gaining ascendency, while alienation of locals started vis-a-vis
secessionist militancy. Karim, while acknowledging this neither quantifies nor
qualifies it. How deep was this alienation and on what grounds? If alienation of
locals crosses a particular threshold, no secessionist movement can go further
on. That, “Kashmiriat was slowly winning and fundamentalists were losing
ground,” is too general a statement.
The rise of counter-insurgent groups among Kashmiris was the major factor that
led improvement in the situation between 1995 and 1996. Elections became
possible and a section of people became vocal against militancy. The successful
blows that counter-insurgents delivered to the secessionists made people realise
that militants were not the sole power centre. Thus, people, who had joined
secessionist movement in euphoria or under coercion distanced from it. There
were others who had suffered at the hands of militants in criminal acts of
extortion, rape, revenge killings, became more vocal with the ascendancy of
counter-insurgent groups. General Karim has totally glossed over this factor and
overemphasizes the ‘cultural encroachment’ dimension. Similarly on the role of
village Defence Committees, General Karim is not abreast with the ground
A common misconception, that Karim also laps up is that foreign mercenaries
induction was the outcome of locals’ alienation. It was, infect, a definite
phase in Operation Topac for upgrading the proxy war.
and retrieving the moral legitimacy of the state government in the eyes of the
people. For this he recommends free and fair elections, a corruption free and
competent administration and commitment of the government to protect the life
and limb of people from terrorist onslaughts.
Afsar Karim recommends two major initiatives for curbing the secessionist menace
in J&K - promoting regional security agreements against terrorism to isolate
Manavendra Singh, in "The Soldier’s story" captures the Dilemmas of a army
solder in the Coin-OPs (counter-insurgency operations). There is no front, no
border, no forward operating base and no identifiable enemy. He identifies the
camouflage of the insurgent and breach of faith by the local support structures
as the enemies of the soldier involved in Coin-OPs, provoking a sense of
frustration. Manavendra Singh remarks, “interweaving of the insurgent with the
civil society at all levels results in the development of a terrible feeling of
betrayal among the soldiers, ‘a breach of faith’ by the local political
leadership or administrative machinery,” About camouflage, he says, “the
camouflage in these jungle states is complete, so to say. A complete camouflage,
a near perfect subversion/bonhomie, is a cocktail that proves too heady for the
soldier to digest. The sense of honour that has been instilled in soldiering
prevents him from walking and leaving the mess as it was”. Kargil in this
situation comes as a relief-the desire to undertake Pakistan, identifiable
instigator for his agony. Direct war also has no disabilities of a Coin-Ops,
where a soldier bears “the loneliness, the strain and fatigue that accumulates
from a constant 24-hour mental battle with the militants with the frequent
taunts from the population whose lives he is supposed to protect. And all this
while a polity and an administration does not discharge its duties”.
“In ‘Angels who bring God’s blessings’, Nayana bose says, while quoting a study
by an Army psychiatrist that lure of power and quick money than religious zeal
was the motivating factor for many Kashmiri militants. Bose attributes growing
local alienation to fatigue, huge physical losses and a craving for normalcy.
She is also critical of what she calls Dr Farooq Abdullah’s “impulsive style of
governance,” and corruption. Bose sounds a pessimistic note saying “A fringe
will always keep this cycle going with some help from Angles”.
In ‘moving away from real politik’ , Lt Gen VK Nayar details his experiences in
North-East. He discounts negotiations with the insurgents, saying it is unlikely
to lead to resolution, “as the people’s problem is deprivation and not
insurgency.” Nayar argues that North-East insurgents were never strong on
ideology and the insurgency survives there for parochial political, ethnic and
material gains. The splintering and mushrooming of insurgent groups is
attributed by him to the outcome of ‘fear and favour complex,’ perpetuated in
the region. Nayar says over a period of time mutually beneficial patronage
relationships have been evolved between North-East politicians and insurgents
and the two have developed vested interests to continue the status quo. Nayar
blames north-east politicians, and says, “extortion by regional bosses and
denial of resources for development constitute the twin banks within which our
policy gets articulated. The political leaders and the bureaucrats use their
offices to siphon off development funds at the cost of real development.” Nayar
proposes paradigms of ideal politic and cooperative approach as a way out.
In an excellent paper on ‘Small Weapons and National Security’, BVP Rao explains
how the global proliferation of small arms and light weapons has resulted in
serious ethnic, religious and linguistic conflicts. He recommends many measures
based on international cooperation. These measures include a) retrieving and
destruction of small arms and light weapons, unaccounted in Afghanistan b)
curbing illicit arms trade c) data base on weapons licenses d) campaign over
arms proliferation and spread of drugs.
‘Takling the Tigers’, by Maj Gen Ashok Mehta is the most thought provoking essay
on IPKF mission. Its purpose, successes and failures are analysed so well and
reflect on general’s keen insight. In ‘unconventional terror’, Rahul Roy
Choudhary talks about the dangers of nuclear weapons reaching the terrorist
This special issue also carries interesting book reviews on ‘Defending India’ (Jaswant
Singh), ‘The threat from within (VK Nayar), ‘Low Intensity conflicts’ (Maroof
Raza) etc, besides a useful bibliography.
“Something like a
Seminar Special, July 1999
F-46, Malhotra Bldg. Janpatt, New Delhi-110001.
Price. Rs 15.
Kashmiri Overseas Association, Inc. (KOA) is a 501c(3) non-profit, tax-exempt socio-cultural organization registered in Maryland, USA. Its purpose is to protect, preserve, and promote Kashmiri ethnic and socio-cultural heritage, to promote and celebrate festivals, and to provide financial assistance to the needy and deserving.
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