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What the Kashmir ceasefire means for the army

May 22, 2018 09:34 IST

'Viewed militarily, the cease-fire puts the brakes for sure on the hard fought dominance that our security forces have achieved.'
'The ensuing weeks will witness their losing ground to the terrorists,' fears Brigadier S K Chatterji (retd).

Soldiers move towards a house where terrorists were hiding during an encounter at Kokarnag in Anantnag district, south Kashmir, January 10, 2018. Photograph: PTI

IMAGE: Soldiers move towards a house where terrorists were hiding during an encounter at Kokarnag in Anantnag district, south Kashmir, January 10, 2018. Photograph: PTI Photo

Hopefully, the echoes of gunfire will diminish and Kashmiris will enjoy a month of peace as the devout beseech Allah for reconciliation during Ramzan prayers in the Valley of Flowers.

Simultaneously, the men in uniform will wonder whether at the end of the day they will face a better organised foe and many more bullets, or will a new political initiative drive the Kashmir narrative forward.

Our previous experience with a ceasefire in the valley doesn't provide the wherewithal to aspire for either of the above.

During the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime, a similar largesse was put in place and was extended thrice. 348 civilians were killed before the security forces renewed operations.

Will the terrorists use this opportunity to cower down Kashmiris again?

Eighteen years since the last ceasefire, the first signals have already been received with 23-year-old Ahmad Parry's body being found close to his home. He had been abducted by the terrorists.

They didn't waste a bullet on him; he was strangled.

An ominous start to both Ramzan and another ceasefire.

 

It isn't a ceasefire per se though; it has been limited to no initiation of combat, and operations being undertaken only on specific information.

The security forces can retaliate if attacked and if civilians need to be protected.

Viewed through a humanitarian prism, it is a generous gesture. It reinforces the message that we are committed to saving lives in Kashmir.

That we understand that amidst the bloodletting in J&K, a religious practice for the majority of people in Kashmir needs to be given room for observance.

Men, women and children can roam the streets more freely to celebrate, practice their faith and exchange pleasantries.

Viewed from a political point of view, the proposal raised by J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was approved in its present format by New Delhi. It will raise Mehooba's standing in Kashmir. It has been hailed by a cross-section of major political parties. Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba's primary opponent in the valley, has welcomed it.

However, no terrorist group has as yet come out in support.

The most aggrieved lot seems to be the separatist leadership in J&K. They called the ceasefire a 'cruel joke'.

The announcement of the ceasefire had the usual suspects who remain bereft of new ideas -- Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik -- express their frustration by announcing that they want a 'permanent halt on the war thrust by India'.

Viewed militarily, the cease-fire puts the brakes for sure on the hard fought dominance that our security forces have achieved.

The ensuing weeks will witness their losing ground to the terrorists. A sense of frustration could easily seep into the rank and file.

Rationalists would term the unilateral ceasefire as more aspirational than a realistic approach.

However, the hard option that we have been exercising since the launch of Operation All Out has not lead to any tangible progress for peace in the state.

Of course, viewed from a different angle, without the success of Operation All Out, J&K could have transformed to a nightmare by now.

To that extent, a fair degree of normalcy has been restored. However, the successes of the hard option has not led to creating an environment for soft power to take the lead.

Any evaluation of Delhi's decision to impose very tough operational restraints on the security forces needs to be necessarily multi-dimensional.

While it is laudable as a political and humanitarian move, it is loaded with the probability of negative fallouts from a military perspective.

The ceasefire will trigger a more aggressive design from the Pakistanis. They will want more eruptions in the valley during this period to drive home its fragility.

Terrorists like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad will be tasked to up the ante.

Infiltration attempts will witness accretion.

The Hijbul Majahadeen will focus on increasing the momentum of terror recruitments in the valley.

The over ground network will also find an opportunity to build a better network.

The separatists will be shriller without benefitting either themselves or any other party.

The Kashmiris may find some respite without cordon and search operations.

Stone throwing may witness a marginal decline.

However, the kidnappings, extortion and civilian casualties from terrorist actions could well increase.

At the end of the day, the security forces will face the effects of a better entrenched terror network. There will be more casualties on both sides.

The battle for peace in J&K will continue along a bloody path, quite akin to what we witness in a more pronounced way in Afghanistan, another destination where Pakistan runs its other proxy war.

In both cases there are barely any local solutions. In Kashmir the situation is far better contained because of the superiority of our security forces.

In Afghanistan, with the security forces not yet fully mature, a drawdown of US and NATO forces, a fractured society and more professional and intimate guidance by the Pakistanis, the terror groups have been able to notch more diabolic successes.

Till we focus on Pakistan globally, terrorism will continue to plague the Indian sub-continent and Afghanistan. It will continue to threaten global peace simultaneously.

Brigadier S K Chatterji (retd)