‘They will not escalate and bring India-Pakistan close to war.’
‘India has to be on guard about what Pakistan does,’ Lieutenant General D S Hooda (retd), the former Northern Army commander who commanded the surgical strikes in September 2016, tells Rediff.com’s Archana Masih.
What are the new security challenges in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370?
There are the two major challenges -- one from across the border and one internally.
The first security challenge could be -- I’m not saying would be -- is whether it will lead to law and order problems similar to 2016, after the curfew and internet blackout are withdrawn.
That will be one big challenge for the security forces which they will have to face.
The second is to be on guard about what Pakistan does. Their army chief General Bajwa has said that they can go to ‘any extent’ -- whether that is empty bluster or whether they will step up support and increase infiltration -- is what we have to be vigilant about.
I am not again saying that this will happen, but if we have to be prepared for challenges ahead, these are what we must look out for.
What will the security forces have to do differently in the altered circumstances in Kashmir?
The handling of protests should be done in such a way that it does not lead to many injuries and killings of civilians protestors.
The protests should be handled in a measured way because that’s what the international community will also be looking at -- not so much that India has repealed Article 370 because that’s an internal matter but how these protests etc, are dealt with.
The security forces will have to seriously look into this. We don’t want a repeat of 2016 where there was a lot of condemnation about the use of pellet guns etc.
The security forces were also under tremendous pressure. I was reading that around 4,000 security personnel were injured, but that got overshadowed because the whole narrative was ‘look what India is doing’. That is something the security forces will have to look at and deal with.
What kind of response will it generate from Pakistan? Is war or a war-like situation inevitable?
I won’t say that. Although Pakistan tries to show its great support to the Kashmiri cause, they also understand the limits to what they can do and the extent to which they can go.
Even after Kargil, there was a lot of criticism within Pakistan that it could not put the survival of Pakistan at stake because of the Kashmiri cause.
I think Pakistan understands its limits. That they will go to war is a distant possibility. Yes, they will try to internationalise Kashmir, try and step up infiltration because of pressure from groups like Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad to do something at this stage.
But I don’t think they will escalate to the extent to bring India-Pakistan close to war. I don’t think they will take that risk.
Will this further activate Pakistan’s activity on the Line of Control?
The LoC is already fairly hot. There have been ceasefire violations, the use of Bofors guns, Pakistan is using its border action teams -- some of this will continue for some time.
I don’t see a cooling off on the LoC.
How long do you think this clampdown will continue?
It is very difficult to say because right now Kashmir is under complete lockdown and there are a large number of security forces. The real answers will come when the restrictions are eased off.
Will we then see large scale protests, or will we see somewhat of an acceptance and the population will deal with it in a calmer way? The danger is there, but we will only know the answers when the restrictions are eased.
Therefore, how long the clampdown will continue will depend on the nature of the protests, if and when they happen.
Obviously the government can’t permit a complete breakdown of law and order because then it will become completely chaotic. It is difficult to put timelines. So let us see.
I think the government will take one day at a time which I think is a better way than second guessing.
You said in a TV interview that development also has limits. The government says abrogation will bring development to the Valley. What did you mean when you said that?
What I meant when I said there are limits to development is that economic development is one part of the strategy to deal with internal conflicts, and yes in Kashmir, there is major unemployment amongst the youth, so development opens up avenues.
Though it is a positive, we must not look at development as a mantra for everything.
I say that for two reasons: Until the security situation improves I don’t think companies will establish industrial bases inside Kashmir because they also want a modicum of security. So to immediately expect that development will start happening is going to be a challenge.
Secondly, while development is an excellent idea, you also have to look at people’s aspirations. I don’t think we can actually find a solution to this conflict unless their aspirations are addressed.
These are the challenges to the fruits of development.
In your understanding, what kind of development will be possible in the short term?
Possibly you must focus on the industry that exists within the state and strengthen it, like horticulture, tourism, handicraft.
These industries already have an existing base and measures must be taken to employ more people in these sectors. In the long term, we must also look at what other new industries can be brought into the state.
What do you see as the advantages of the abrogation of Article 370?
Article 370 had seriously been hollowed out over the years. The general feeling was that it does not serve its purpose anymore and was proving to be a hindrance in the integration of not only the state territorially, but also the people of the state with the rest of India.
The government will have to build a strong narrative around the fact that what they have done is for the advantage of the people, and in the ultimate analysis it is the common Kashmiri that will benefit from this.
If that narrative can be created with the actions of the government, then it will have a positive effect.
We should not look at it with some short term visible gains. It is a long and difficult path.
What can we expect from alienated Kashmiri youth that was already obstructing anti-terror ops? What challenges are there in this regard?
In the short term, we should expect that this step is not going to meet with the approval of the Kashmiri youth. That reality we must accept.
Therefore, in the short term it could lead to further anger spilling out on the streets, but in the long run by doing some outreach to these groups, explaining to them why this action has been taken, by putting some really good measures to counter radicalisation -- we need to take such steps.
That is why I say that it is not something that can be resolved immediately. We have to look at a proper strategy to deal with it.
Would you say we have still not lost the battle to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiris?
It’s all dependent on the actions of the security forces and state government in whatever form it takes and the central government to ensure that we are still sincere about the hearts and minds approach.
I know a lot many will say that the hearts and minds approach is not okay, but ultimately that is the key to resolving this conflict.
If the actions of the security forces are matured and measured, that in itself will send a good signal.
If you were Northern Army commander today, what would you do?
The advice is what the military in its counter-insurgency campaign has always advocated -- and that is while you have to be tough with the terrorist, you have to try and get the population on your side.
If the population comes to your side, then obviously the support for terrorism and terrorists will dry up.
So wider the outreach, the more the government shows its sincerity in dealing with the situation and listens to the aspirations of the people, brings economic betterment with a clear and consistent strategy.
This is where we can find whatever actions have been taken by the government at the end of the day will prove to be successful in solving this problem.
The government released some images of the National Security Adviser meeting Kashmiris -- do other important people in government have to follow with similar actions?
Yes, absolutely. When we talk of narrative building, the narrative is not simply based on conveying a message, narrative is also based on what actions are being taken.
If you increase this to a much larger scale, then I think the right message will go out.