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Insurgency in J&K

A Review of Our Response

By Yoginder Kandhari

Insurgency in the State of J&K is a decade old now and appears to have firmed in fully for a protracted combat with the security forces. Day by day we are being pushed into an Afghanistan like crisis with frightening consequences. Why we failed to bring the situation under control? Answer to this question lies in proper analysis of our response, both political and military, to the challenge of militancy.

Counter insurgency operations are fought on two fronts simultaneously, political and military. On political front, our response has throughout remained confused. Our political leaders are unable to comprehend the basic causes of the problem thus have failed to evolve a consensus on this strategic issue of national importance. Ever since eruption of militancy in Kashmir, successive governments at the Centre appeared bereft of ideas to counter this menace, so much so that the problem now appears to have slipped out of our hands. There hardly has ever been any substance in our political response which would merit a review or re-appraisal.

There is no doubt that our security forces have risen to the challenge of insurgency in the state in a wonderful way. Where else in the world does one find foot soldiers covering hundreds of miles day in and day out, just to keep road networks sanitized for safe vehicular movement. Hundreds of soldiers have been lost in last ten years and many times more maimed. Yet, the security forces have stuck to their job without a whimper. One justifiably feels proud of having been a member of such an organization, unmatched the world over.

Indian security forces, especially the Army, have enough counter insurgency experience. Yet, they have not been able to control the situation in J&K for last ten years. Surely, we have faltered somewhere in our military response. In retrospect, one finds that a lot of issues were either lost sight of or not addressed at all while formulating the military response.


Current Security Scenario

In present day context, insurgency in the state has graduated from hit- and-run and stand-off strikes to full-fledged pitched battles with the security forces. Of late, we have seen insurgents launching daring pre-dawn attacks on security forces’ camps which were unheard of till now. Recent encounters have revealed mature military planning and execution.
Adding a deadly dimension to the current security scenario is continued smuggling in of latest weaponry. Militants appear to have eased pressure in the Valley with a two fold aim in mind. Firstly, their continued presence would not have permitted revival of economic activity there which is essential to retain sympathy of the local public. Secondly, they have drawn our security forces to the ground of their own choosing where-in the difficult terrain acts as a force multiplier for them to offset their numerical inferiority. Their planning follows a carefully thought out design and they seem fully set to retain the initiative they have gained thus far. Needless to say, combat in insurgency situations is mostly battle of wits and retention of initiative is half the battle won.


Gap in Strategic Vision

A yawning gap in our strategic vision was evident when we failed to appreciate possible options available to Pakistan to keep Kashmir pot boiling. Fomenting insurgency in the Valley always lurked as a distinct possibility especially in the context of a similar attempt made by her in 1965 and in light of more recent experience of Indian response gained by ISI in sponsoring urban insurgency in Punjab. While we were thickly involved in Punjab, ISI dumped arms and ammunition, in heaps, in the Valley with impunity for their ultimate mission. We failed to pickup the threads and were caught off guard in our own backyard in 1989. Blame for this fiasco should equally be shared by the politicians and strategic planners.


Inadequate Initial Response

Since our security forces were just not prepared for such an eventuality, our initial response was inadequate to the task. True, there was an acute lack of will and direction at political level, especially so, in the initial stages. Our military leaders should have known that the buck ultimately would be passed on to them alone. Such a realization would have compelled the military planners to evolve an effective counter strategy, best suited to the local pattern and psyche. Instead, army think tank was found laid back in their approach to the problem just wishing away the worst. This delay forced the security forces to use age old concept of Cordon and Search Operations (CASO) every where without any results.

Thus our military response was ab initio cast in a predictive and essentially a reactive mould. A chance to gain military and moral ascendency over the militants was lost in the initial stages itself. It was the time when militant rank and file mainly consisted of home grown and ill trained youth who hardly understood nuances of actual combat. Whatever might have been the extraneous constraints, evolution of an effective counter strategy was security forces’ sole domain and none would have dared interfere. Alas, we procrastinated and let the golden opportunity slip away.


Failure to Read Design

Insurgency in J&K did not show any innovativeness per se. Its course was as predictable as it could be. As is common the world over, it started with isolated blasts to herald its arrival. This stage was followed by killings of prominent public figures by specially designated militant squads to strike terror. Thereafter, we had a longish period of five to six years when militants upgraded their operations to take on security forces, albeit standoff ones, with the primary aim to stay in the news. Hazratbal and Chrar Sharief episodes were essentially part of this phase. Simultaneously, militants ensured that their writ ran through the entire administrative and social fabric through frequent calls for strikes and ‘bandhs’. Next logical stage was to shift the battle ground to inhospitable terrain as obtained in Rajouri, Doda and Kupwara.  Had we read through their design we would have snatched the initiative by being proactive to keep them on the run. But, we waited for things to happen rather than preventing them.


Failure of Intelligence Setup

It is an open secret that huge quantity of arms and ammunition was brought in from across the Line of Control (LoC). Similarly, truck loads of youth were carried onto the other side from various towns of the Valley in full view of the administration. What were intelligence agencies doing in the Valley? We had a handful of them working there even before militancy erupted. It is just not enough to explain away intelligence failure to elimination of intelligence officials. Such contingencies should have been thought of in advance and alternate channels created to keep information flowing out to avoid information black-out that we witnessed in the Valley from 1990-1993. Even after intelligence agencies regained their poise, hardly any real time/actionable intelligence was forthcoming.


Lack of Tactical Planning

All tactical plans evolve out of clear understanding of adversary’s intentions. We failed to read the design of insurgency and our tactical planning suffered as a consequence. Had we initially dominated the difficult terrain, which militants are holding now, we would have denied these safe sanctuaries to them and upset their planning. We, of course, pumped in two more divisions into these difficult areas but only after militants had established bases. We seem to have fallen into their trap by committing a large number of troops, as if on militants’ command.


Lack of Appropriate Equipment

It is a common sight to find Generals cribbing about non-availability of proper equipment to fight insurgency. This cry has been there for long within the security forces but was never heeded to. Even genuine requirements were never projected to the appropriate authorities. We now hear that procurement is underway of ground sensors to check infiltration, of direction finders to hone on to militant command setups and of state of art weaponry. These items have been in the international market for a long time. We only woke up too late in the day to their requirement. Most of our counter insurgency operations have been fought with semi-automatic rifles, obsolete radio sets and opaque night vision devices.


Most senior officers wanted their tenures to pass off as quickly as possible leaving the dirty work to troops at execution levels. In 1993-94, troops

received some bullet proof jackets but most refused to wear them. These jackets consisted of two crude steel plates, weighing 10 kg each, put in cloth sacks to be bridled on to the human body. Imagine a soldier making tactical maneuvers, under battle conditions, with such ill fitting equipment. These bullet proof jackets were cause more of casualties than of protection.


Setting of Unrealistic Targets

As soon as higher commanders were under pressure to perform they set strange targets for their subordinates. Weekly Key Result Areas (KRAs) were set in terms of number of weapon recovered. Thereafter, the troops just went after weapons. A militant could move around freely provided he had hidden his weapon discreetly. Recoveries were stage managed in order to please the bosses. One is reminded of an instance when recoveries were stage managed to appease a divisional commander on visit to a brigade headquarter. An operation was planned for the occasion and recoveries, made much earlier, were announced in stages coinciding with each course being served to the General in the officers’ Mess. Thus, there was a general loss of directions in our counter insurgency effort and we lost sight of the real objective.

Interference from top

Troops in actual combat were not allowed freedom of execution by the top echelons. In such an exacting environment, it is very difficult to maintain morale of troops at battalion/company levels if orders are not clear-cut/self explanatory and tactically feasible. One has to guard against psychological fatigue setting in the troops. Curtailment of leave, mundane routines and over eagerness to show results, are factors contributing to such malice. Of late, psychological fatigue has started showing in the form of frequent shooting incidents within security forces camps.


Lack of Resources

Any number of mine blasts could have been averted and many more lives saved only if adequate resources, in terms of expertise and specialized equipment, were released by various headquarters to the troops in ‘action’. A strange bureaucratic attitude had set in and staff at various headquarters were too miser to even release whatever was available with them, leave alone requisition from other sources. Even basic equipment like mine detectors, prodders, radio sets etc were at premium and none bothered to rationalize these even within the same formation. Such callousness was manifest almost everywhere. Military intelligence fund never percolated down to execution level troops. How could it have? It was a means to procure exquisite wood carvings and ‘Pashmina’ shawls by those who were at the helm.


Inapt Media Handling

In all counter insurgency operations consummate handling of media is essential for success. Our senior officers, too keen to show themselves off on TV screens, were found wanting in this skill. During Chrar Sharief operations, we saw a General live on the national hookup declaring that his troops were fully poised to catch ‘Major Mast Gul’ alive. To the General’s bad luck Mast Gul did not oblige him. Just by one amateurish comment on electronic media, Mast Gul attained an instant ‘hero’ status. Escape of Mast Gul was celebrated through-out the Valley as an outright victory over Indian Army by the militants. 


Security forces have to search appropriate answers to the militants’ threats soonest before costs of our involvement in the battle rise further. A stock taking of our responses thus far is necessary to plan appropriate interventions if situation is to be redeemed before it is too late.


Yoginder Kaudhari was commissioned in the Regiment of Artillery in 1976. He served, participated in counter insurgency operations in Assam, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir before seeking premature retirement.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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