The game of terrorism and counter-terrorism is a perpetually evolving one. So we need to always be prepared for new challenges. If it’s a suicide bomber today, it might be a different challenge tomorrow. We started seeing IEDs (improvised explosive devices) being used in Left Wing Extremism-hit areas and then stone pelting in Kashmir. These patterns will keep changing and our effort must be to stay a step ahead of these designs.
In Kashmir, since 2003, the security forces — the army, the BSF, CRPF and others — have succeeded in bringing the situation to what I call a manageable level. Yes, there have been ups and downs in between, but that’s something our democracy and our society can handle very well.
Kashmir is not a territorial issue. It’s not about a statement that we control Kashmir. It’s about bringing the people of Kashmir to our side, making them feel that they have a say in how Kashmir and their lives are governed.
First, there should be regular elections for local bodies. And we need a stronger law for local body elections in Kashmir. It’s very weak in the current form. Today, the real power is not being delegated to the people at the grassroots. The panchayats in Kashmir have remained ineffective. Anyone with a minor issue relating to water or sanitation has to go to Srinagar. This shouldn’t be the case.
Actually, vested interests of a few extended political families in the state are very strong. We must have a set of leaders other than the two or three who belong to influential families. Currently, they control the entire system. It’s like an extended family that shares the spoils. The problem is, the majority of Kashmiris today have no stake in the system at all. What we need are empowered sarpanch and other panchayat members who are given sufficient funds at their disposal. In Kerala, for example, 40% of the state budget is given straight to panchayats. The MLAs have no role in that. Second, we must take sufficient confidence-building measures. Once the situation improves, we need to withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA in a phased manner. If no terror-related incident has happened in a district for, say, five years, AFSPA should be withdrawn from that district. A lot of the reaction we see is just the plain irritation of ordinary Kashmiris being subject to checks and harassment as they go about their lives. There might be 200 or 300 militants in Kashmir, but we can’t hold the entire population of the Valley hostage for that.
Earlier, we had continuous dialogue with all stakeholders in Kashmir. Now, we have stopped it altogether. In fact, the common minimum programme between the BJP and the PDP was very good, but it was not implemented at all. A top agenda was to hold local body elections.
On the Pulwama incident, when we talk about intelligence failure, we should consider how intelligence inputs flow. Unless it is of a very specific nature, it is quite difficult for the forces to follow up on every lead. Lots of leads, some designed to mislead, come from the ground. We will receive specific information only if our intelligence agencies succeed in penetrating the enemy camp. If we had our men in terrorist group, we would have received very specific intelligence. But intelligence of a general nature is, by and large, not of a great deal of utility. In fact, we should have by now migrated to the NATGRID (National Intelligence Grid, an integrated intelligence grid connecting databases of core security agencies of the Government of India). Sorting out hundreds of intelligence reports manually is impossible. The NATGRID did not work out, as the Intelligence Bureau had opposed it. We also need to take initiatives in cyber warfare and recruit young tech-savvy people for intelligence agencies. For this, we need to relax the existing recruitment rules of the Union Public Service Commission and get young people on board.
I don’t think war is an option for India right now. It’d be hard to get international support at this point. US President Donald Trump needs Pakistan on his side to get out of Afghanistan. Russia and China continue to support Pakistan. So, India’s bargaining power in this regard has actually come down in the last three years.
Look, Pakistan is not our problem. We must ignore Pakistan for the next 10-15 years. We should work to get the people of Kashmir on our side. Pakistan gets its strength from disgruntled Kashmiris. There’s hence a need to reach out to the people of Kashmir. That’s where this government has failed. You can’t alienate the locals. Keep the people at the centre of your policy.
In the Northeast, insurgency was controlled largely by winning over the people there. Today, about 10,000 Tangkhul Nagas are living in Delhi. It’s a big change. Now, Th Muivah (of the NSCN), who is a Tangkhul, does not find good recruits. Winning the hearts and minds of the people, impossible as it might seem at any given moment, is a more productive and sustainable, long-term, counter-insurgency strategy.