Syed Ata Hasnain
Interestingly, when former civil and military officials sit with serving ones in strategic seminars in New Delhi there is a question on many minds, a question most people desist from asking, for various reasons. It’s good to share that question here because someone may give us an answer to it. The question revolves around the fact that in any hybrid conflict, especially the kind of proxy one seen in Kashmir, everyone knows that the ultimate road to defeating it is the “all-of-government approach”. That is taught in every strategic studies institution around the world and studies on it are instituted by national governments to update themselves and prepare for situations that could arise in their own security scenarios. I was invited to participate in such a study by a foreign government once. The “all-of-government” approach is a strategy to use as many domains as the adversary addresses in a proxy hybrid conflict, to counter each of them and not treat the conflict as a purely military affair. It works on a simple principle — “that the absence of violence is not normality”, and it needs much more than just the elimination of terrorists to eliminate terrorism.
The Indian Army is one of the arms of our government which has effectively performed its role in counter proxy hybrid conflict operations in J&K, taking the situation from the dangerous initiation in 1989 to different stages of conflict stabilisation at various times, leading up to 2019. It has a clear-cut concept of its role and reviews that periodically. It is also aware that the final push for peace after stabilising security can never be its responsibility. However, it would always be good to know how other government agencies view their respective roles in the “all-of-government” approach, their concept of operations, aim or intent and vision of conflict termination and resolution. I did ask this question at a recent seminar, but it wasn’t just stonewalled, it was actually ignored. That should get people concerned as it appears that we do not have a consolidated aim or intent to fight the proxy hybrid conflict we have been subjected to for all these years. I do not profess that it could be the only reason, but it could be one of them which causes us to stabilise J&K time and again, only to find ourselves slipping many notches in the ladder of conflict stabilisation each time Pakistan uses the trigger of an unpredictable negative incident. Without a professional approach which involves the full spectrum of understanding of hybrid conflict, we can hardly aspire to achieve what should be our national aim to counter this war thrust upon us — the mainstreaming of J&K in the political, economic, social and psychological domains remains the abiding aim, but the means and the strategy to achieve that eludes us.
The car bomb attack at Letapur, Pulwama, on the new national highway was probably a well-thought-out strategy by Pakistan’s Deep State to recapture some of the security space which had been lost due to the successful run of Operation All Out over two years, in 2018-19. In a way the physical success of Operation All Out had already been partially neutralised by end of 2018 through the large-scale recruitment of local youth and some infiltration from across the Line of Control. The focus on neutralisation of terrorists was essential but the absence of visible efforts to address other domains, which have been active in Kashmir, seems to give advantage to the adversary and the separatists. The fact that the Hurriyat leadership was left free, without any plan to curb its activities or make it irrelevant, gave it the required space to continue playing different cards. Not much effort has been made to comprehensively address the issue of radicalisation, although one is aware that some nascent effort is on but that appears insufficient. Unless the clergy from other parts of India is not brought to Kashmir to partner the government in countering radicalisation, this isn’t going to work. These are just two domains. There are others such as the entire gamut of information and influence management to do what everyone demands — reaching out to the vulnerable segments of society, youth, the media itself and government servants, among many others.
Pakistan’s Deep State is aware of the reluctance of the Indian establishment to do a full reach out and engagement. It also appreciates that even if the need is realised by the establishment, it lacks the ability. It is content to place the lid on the situation and hope that the Army, the lead organisation in the game of physical neutralisation of terrorists, will continue to deliver along with the J&K police. In the absence of any such “all of government” efforts, it is advantage Pakistan, which with impunity aims to capture the mindspace of the youth and retain it. Exploiting the alienation, an event such as the Pulwama car bomb attack only assists in motivation of the skewed minds who have been rarely engaged by our efforts. Why the reluctance to engage and use scientific methods of influence through consultation with academia is something difficult to explain. With only revenge and retribution on the mind, even against the local public, there is no way that mindspace can ever be won back.
The entry of the car bomb and potentially of IEDs as weapons in the physical realm of conflict is worrisome. The United States and its allies could never find effective solutions against these in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have yet to witness an individual stand-alone, wired and strapped suicide bomber who can cause as much damage or more. However, it is also not to be imagined that every car is a potential bomb and beneath every culvert exists an IED. It may be worth knowing that during the Kargil conflict in a part of Anantnag district, the flow of ammunition was through one macadamised segment of 20 km, with 110 Hume pipe crossings which allowed the water to flow from one side to another. Each such crossing was a potential IED point. Constant patrolling by dedicated troops and Army dogs ensured that not one successful IED explosion took place. The only problem that the rampant use of explosives brings with it is that population control measures have to be doubled. Many more checkpoints and many more searches tend to agitate the same public whose support we intend to win against the adversary. It’s a paradoxical situation when the people you protect remain angry because you are protecting them. That is the challenge of counter hybrid conflict, and no military or police force, however efficient, can ever win unless the civil domain of the government understands the compulsions of such conflicts, educates itself and starts to contribute towards the “all of government” approach that the State needs to adopt.