Red zone over Kash­mir Val­ley by Air Chief Mar­shal P.V. Naik (Retd)

The thought that must pre­vail in our minds is that Kash­mir is an in­te­gral part of In­dia and it is our sa­cred duty to re­store the Val­ley to pris­tine con­di­tion.

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - Et voila. The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the au­thor.

“Agar fir­daus bar ruheza­m­i­nast Ham­i­nasto,ham­i­nasto, ham­i­nasto”

Amir Khus­rau, the great poet, coined this beau­ti­ful cou­plet in the 13th cen­tury. Many years later, in 1998, I was the Air Of­fi­cer Com­mand­ing (AOC), Air Force Sta­tion, Srinagar. Thanks to the then Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) who ac­ceded to my re­quest for the Suryaki­ran Aer­o­batic Team to per­form over Srinagar. A crys­talline morn­ing with a trace of cir­rus clouds to pro­vide the back­drop, the venue for the air dis­play was the Dal lake. The Chief Min­is­ter (CM) of Jammu and Kash­mir ( J&K) had in­vited us over at Shal­i­mar for watch­ing the dis­play with a full-scale Kash­miri break­fast as added in­cen­tive. As usual, the Suryaki­rans pulled off a fab­u­lous dis­play. The tri­colour lin­ger­ing in the skies af­ter the Bomb Burst filled one’s chest with pride. The CM asked me, “Isko kya ka­hen AOC sa­hab ?” I said, “Sir, In­dian tri­colour over the skies of Srinagar for the first time…..?” He said,” No, no, no, no. The tri­colour has al­ways been in our hearts. Noth­ing new.” Suit­ably chas­tened, I con­cen­trated on the bakarkhani roti and ro­gan josh. A few hours later, on TV, I sud­denly found the CM grab­bing head­lines with one of the most pa­tri­otic quotes of all times. “What can I say? The In­dian tri­colour over the skies of Srinagar……..”

I have been fa­mil­iar with the Val­ley since the mid 1970s when I went for Jun­gle and Snow Sur­vival course there. How lovely the Val­ley was! Mother na­ture at her most pic­turesque; some of the most beau­ti­ful pic­nic spots; the best flow­ers and fruits and, of course, un­sur­passed fe­male beauty. The peo­ple were friendly and laid back. But, even then, they thought of In­dia as a for­eign coun­try, in a be­nign sort of a way. Sud­denly in 1989 the sit­u­a­tion changed dra­mat­i­cally and kept go­ing from bad to worse. Aided and abet­ted by Pak­istani ISI, Wa­habi ter­ror­ism en­croached upon the Val­ley. Many peo­ple and Gov­ern­ments mis­took the at­tacks and the vi­o­lence and the bandhs as an ‘Azadi Move­ment’. Lit­tle by lit­tle, af­ter wit­ness­ing the de­mo­graphic shift and eth­nic cleans­ing of Pun­dits, we re­alised that the whole game was of Is­lami­sa­tion and had noth­ing to do with Azadi ex­cept in the ini­tial stages.

At present, the whole na­tion is won­der­ing what the Gov­ern­ment is go­ing to do to re­solve the Kash­mir is­sue. To­day even a com­mon cit­i­zen blames the peo­ple con­cerned about Ar­ti­cle 370, about tak­ing the Kash­mir is­sue to the UN, about re­turn­ing the hard won Haji Pir pass, about go­ing soft on the sep­a­ratists and about re­leas­ing Kash­miri ter­ror­ists from jails. I would like to sub­mit that it is very easy to be wise af­ter the event. Ret­ro­spec­tive crit­i­cism is, in fact, the hobby of a large sec­tion of in­tel­li­gentsia re­sid­ing in and around Lu­tyen’s Delhi. One needs to put one­self in those times, in that en­vi­ron­ment. One needs to sense what the pres­sures were un­der which such de­ci­sions were taken. Know the mis­takes, by all means, but now think of so­lu­tions rather than re­crim­i­na­tions and move for­ward. This ar­ti­cle is not en­tirely about solv­ing the Kash­mir im­broglio; it is about how bet­ter to use the medium of air and space to con­trib­ute to a so­lu­tion.

The Kash­mir val­ley is, para­dox­i­cally, de­signed for peace. The land is ex­tremely fer­tile, thanks to the silt which Jhelum de­posits reg­u­larly. No one is abysmally poor. You will not find a Kash­miri with­out a roof over his head. When peace­ful tourist trade thrives and tra­di­tional busi­nesses of Shikaras, car­pets, sil­ver jewellery and Akrod wood­work flour­ish. Other than in these ar­eas, there are no jobs. Thanks to Ar­ti­cle 370, no one is keen to es­tab­lish in­dus­tries in the Val­ley. The In­dian Gov­ern­ment has been subsidising J&K since 1947. The Ab­dul­las and their ilk en­sured that the aid never reached the in­tended re­cip­i­ents. Gov­er­nance was ex­tremely poor.gov­er­nance. This, along with ad­vent of Wa­habi Is­lam and, of course, the ISI fu­elled peo­ple’s anger. The cul­mi­na­tion was the killing of Burhan Wani and the pent-up anger and vi­o­lence ex­ploded land­ing us in the present sit­u­a­tion.

Were it up to me to seek a so­lu­tion to the Kash­mir prob­lem, I would go about it like so:  En­sure the sit­u­a­tion meets all re­quire­ments to im­pose Gover­nor’s Rule. Once it is im­posed, it must re­main in vogue for at least six months. In fact, it must be made abun­dantly clear to all stake hold­ers that Gover­nor’s Rule will re­main for as long as re­quired, un­til the sit­u­a­tion is deemed to be nor­mal and free elec­tions can be held with ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion from all. In fact, we had Gover­nor’s Rule for al­most six years in the 1990s when the sit­u­a­tion was re­ally bad. Dur­ing the Gover­nor’s rule now, iso­late the sep­a­ratist lead­ers like Gee­lani and jail them out­side J&K, os­ten­si­bly for their own safety. Give the Armed Forces full free­dom to op­er­ate un­der full AFSPA pro­tec­tion. The mil­i­tary must be cau­tioned that any abuse of these pow­ers would in­vite swift de­liv­er­ance of jus­tice. On the other hand, the pub­lic also must be cau­tioned about anti-na­tional and anti-Con­sti­tu­tional ac­tiv­i­ties. These must in­vite strict ac­tion.

 As of last count, there are about 250 for­eign ter­ror­ists op­er­at­ing in the val­ley. Use the spe­cial forces with a clear man­date to seek and elim­i­nate them. This would only be pos­si­ble if the In­dian Army re-es­tab­lishes the in­tel­li­gence frame­work in­volv­ing the

Aided and abet­ted by Pak­istani ISI, Wa­habi ter­ror­ism en­croached upon the Val­ley

lo­cals. A few months of Gover­nor’s Rule should fa­cil­i­tate this ac­tiv­ity.  The Kash­mir is­sue can­not be re­solved by the mil­i­tary alone. Gov­er­nance also has to be im­proved. I would se­lect and de­pute a spe­cial team headed by a Spe­cial Sec­re­tary to look af­ter this as­pect un­der the Chief Sec­re­tary. Their task would be to stream­line work­ing of Gov­ern­ment De­part­ments, en­sure high ef­fi­ciency and outreach to peo­ple. There should be spe­cial im­por­tance for de­vel­op­ing our own ‘Kathanak’ or Nar­ra­tive to com­bat the ex­ist­ing pro­pa­ganda spewed by anti-na­tion­als. The team needs to con­trol the me­dia and en­sure that deroga­tory and in­flam­ma­tory pro­grammes are not aired.

 There will be con­sid­er­able op­po­si­tion to all this. The peaceniks would be cry­ing hoarse. The en­tire world opin­ion may turn against us. I do not think it would in­vite sanc­tions; but a lot of po­lit­i­cal mileage will have to be used up if we are to suc­ceed in this en­deav­our. All this re­quires tremen­dous po­lit­i­cal will and pub­lic sup­port. This is where our Nar­ra­tive will come in handy. One area which I feel is un­der-utilised is the use of the po­ten­tial of mil­i­tary air power. Sur­veil­lance of trou­ble spots and pre­vent­ing in­fil­tra­tion across the Line of Con­trol (LoC) are key ar­eas in the search for a so­lu­tion. This can­not hap­pen overnight. It needs con­sid­er­able plan­ning and spe­cial­ist re­sources. Let us have a brief look at what is in­volved.

In­tel­li­gence. This is the pri­mary re­quire­ment. Net­works both sides of the bor­der need to be reen­er­gised. Sources need to be ac­tively pur­sued. In­tel­li­gence sources within the Val­ley are dwin­dling. This state must be re­versed on pri­or­ity. We need to cre­ate a sin­gle agency which will col­late and man­age in­tel­li­gence from dif­fer­ent agen­cies cen­trally. A cen­tral data base needs to be cre­ated with easy and quick ac­cess to in­tel­li­gence teams. Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion re­mains a key, but elu­sive area. Face match­ing, DNA match­ing, fin­ger­print match­ing fa­cil­i­ties will be needed.

Cen­tralised Plan­ning. This is es­sen­tial. We must have a cen­tral agency in­volv­ing the mil­i­tary and para-mil­i­tary forces, po­lice, R&AW, IB and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the State In­tel­li­gence agen­cies work­ing to­gether from a sin­gle, se­cure, pro­tected lo­ca­tion.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions. These are ex­tremely vi­tal. We have to go in for data link, SATCOM, laser and other forms of ef­fi­cient com­mu­ni­ca­tions. This is the back­bone. The net­work must be able to de­liver fil­tered, preecise, timely in­tel­li­gence to the low­est in the chain on de­mand.

Hard­ware. This will com­prise UAVs, at­tack he­li­copters, fixed-wing air­craft on the lines of AC-130s of US Air Force and Spe­cial Forces Teams as boots on the ground..

Com­mand and Con­trol. This is vi­tal for such com­bined op­er­a­tions to suc­ceed. It must be uni­fied and tran­scend in­ter-ser­vice bound­aries. It must have a flat struc­ture for quick de­ci­sion mak­ing. Author­ity and on-line de­ci­sion pro­to­cols must be in place.

Red Zone Dec­la­ra­tion. This is some­thing that is manda­tory for this sce­nario to suc­ceed. I re­mem­ber, dur­ing my ten­ure as the CAS, some pres­sure tac­tics were em­ployed to use air power of­fen­sively against Nax­als. I had flatly re­jected the sug­ges­tions and was caught a bit of a flak be­cause of the re­fusal. My rea­sons were two. One was un­re­li­able in­tel­li­gence lead­ing to blueon-blue or frat­ri­cide or killing in­no­cent civil­ians. The other was the col­lat­eral dam­age in­her­ent to aerial weapons. I feel there is an in­trin­sic dif­fer­ence be­tween the Nax­als/Maoists and the ter­ror­ists/sep­a­ratists. The former have arisen be­cause of ab­sence of gov­er­nance. They are still within the con­sti­tu­tion and do not want to sep­a­rate from the Union whereas the lat­ter want to sep­a­rate from the Union. In the Val­ley, we need to de­clare Red Zones in in­fil­tra­tion-prone ar­eas near the LoC. Each Zone should be a bub­ble ten km in depth and in­clude airspace above. This is the zone in which any unau­tho­rised move­ment will be treated as in­im­i­cal and pros­e­cuted. These would be pro­mul­gated and pub­li­cised. Of­fen­sive op­tions would be per­mit­ted freely in Red Zones.

The sce­nario would go some­thing like this. The re­sources would be C-130 air­craft mod­i­fied with radar con­trolled 20mm gun and a 105mm how­itzer sim­i­lar to the AC-130 of US Air Force. HALE UAVs on sta­tion cov­er­ing ei­ther the Red Zones or on de­mand over trou­ble spots. At­tack he­li­copters would be on standby dur­ing the day for any con­tin­gency. SF teams ready along with Mi-17 V5 he­li­copters to move them. Data link and seam­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion among air and ground re­sources must be pro­vided. In a clas­sic case the UAV spots tar­gets which ap­pear on the screens of the C-130 that tracks and neu­tralises these. In Red Zones, no clear­ance would be re­quired ex­cept to as­cer­tain that they are not own troops. The same method could be used when large mobs gather. Here we could trans­port SF if re­quired to con­tain the sit­u­a­tion. Of course, of­fen­sive use of weapons would not be called for.

The above sce­nario ap­pears sim­plis­tic; but is not. It will take con­sid­er­able plan­ning, long lead-time, in­ten­sive train­ing and prac­tice. It will con­sume a heavy re­sources in­clud­ing man­power. Some ca­pa­bil­i­ties al­ready ex­ist and some will need to be ac­quired. But we must start think­ing along these lines if we are to be ef­fec­tive in con­trol­ling ter­ror­ism in the Kash­mir val­ley.

I have left sev­eral things un­said. These can­not be dis­cussed in pub­lic do­main. The sin­gle thought that must pre­vail in our minds is that Kash­mir is an in­te­gral part of In­dia and it is our sa­cred duty to re­store the Val­ley to its pris­tine con­di­tion. Hard de­ci­sions will have to be taken, some out of the box, but our re­solve must not wa­ver. I have mostly spo­ken of things mil­i­tary but the sit­u­a­tion de­mands strong po­lit­i­cal will and pub­lic sup­port. It de­mands im­prov­ing outreach to peo­ple and im­proved gov­er­nance. It de­mands some­thing which other peo­ple feel we as a na­tion lack – Ruth­less­ness.

Com­mand and Con­trol is vi­tal for com­bined op­er­a­tions to suc­ceed. It must be uni­fied and tran­scend in­ter­ser­vice bound­aries

AIR CHIEF MAR­SHAL P.V. NAIK (RETD)

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