Dissecting the Proxy War

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 crucial issues.

‘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 weak.

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 India.

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 Pakistan.

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 reality.

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.
Afsar Karim recommends two major initiatives for curbing the secessionist menace in J&K - promoting regional security agreements against terrorism to isolate Pakistan 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.

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 groups.

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 war”
Seminar Special, July 1999
F-46, Malhotra Bldg. Janpatt, New Delhi-110001.
Price. Rs 15.

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