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.
“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