By Bharat Karnad
One of the reasons, other than fatigue of the people in absorbing the costs of insurgency, that the intifada-style uprising in the Srinagar Valley petered out, was the effectiveness of the counter-insurgency group headed by the former MLA, Mohammad Yusuf (“Kuka”) Parrey. The intifada-style uprising had gained momentum following the 1989 state elections in Jammu & Kashmir, which New Delhi tried to manipulate and ended up botching completely. The Parrey group—Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen, was anti-Islamist and sought a more seamless integration of the state with the secular Union of India. Parrey was killed in a militant ambush in Bandipore in 2003 by when his group, after its huge successes in the war to keep militancy and militants out of Kashmir, had been all but disbanded.
True, the Kuka Parrey fighters operated on a grid mapped out by the Indian army, which also provided logistics support, accurate and real time intelligence, communications wherewithal, and other assistance in operations on an ongoing basis to these doughty Kashmiri fighters. As part of the active fish in Kashmiri waters, they notched up signal successes in turning the fight around, not least because of the spirit of Indian nationalism instilled in its cadres, which due to a process of social osmosis, affected the social milieu and influenced the rest of the social milieu as well. Whence the eroding of the militancy and growing participation in electoral politics was evidenced in the last two state and general elections.
Whatever caused the insurgency to come back into the picture in Kashmir, it may be time to revive and incentivize a cadre of Kashmiri youth to take up the gun against the militants relying on material support, safe havens, and training on Pakistan’s deep state. If one cares to examine how Parrey originally gathered his group of motivated youngsters around him, this shouldn’t be too difficult. Among Parrey’s fighters, there were many who joined him for purely mercenary reasons. There are many educated unemployables available to choose from, to inspire and to train to fight the militants and otherwise to strangle their support base gradually in the Kashmiri society.
Time is nigh to pursue this option because the Pakistan-merger seeking Hurriyat headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani has declared open war on the state law and order apparatus by threatening to name Kashmiris serving in the state police and paramilitary organizations involved in anti-militant actions. By doing this, Hurriyat intends to virtually paint a bull’s eye on the backs of each native policeman and people in paramilitary, identifying the targets for the militants to eliminate. In all his 83 years, Geelani never made this sort of mistake before and this is a grievous one that New Delhi should capitalize on.
Geelani has handed the perfect incentive to Kashmiris responsible for maintaining law and order and desirous of protecting themselves, their extended families, circle of friends and acquaintances, to fight the militants. It is a strong motivation for them to make the fight with the Hizbul Mujahideen of Sayeed Salahuddin, the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba of Hafiz Saeed and their ISI handlers in the shadows, a personal one.
It is a perfect opportunity and time to again form and field a nationalist, anti-Islamist, counter-militancy force skilled in guerrilla warfare and hit-and-run tactics.
In this respect, I recall what KPS Gill, ex-DG, Punjab Police, long ago told me, that the best recruiting poster for anti-militancy fighters are two things—fear (of losing their own lives and putting the lives of family and friends in danger) and revenge. In the Khalistani insurgency of the 1980s, Gill exploited what he called the “Jat Sikh mentality” of avenging the wrong done to a person and his family. Gill remembered going to villages in the Doab and elsewhere, rounding up young Sikh boys who had seen their parents or siblings, killed and raped by the Khalistanis and telling them that he would give them the license to go after these killers, hunt them down like vermin and let them have the satisfaction of personally executing the wrongdoers. If they were unreachable (because they had found refuge in some bolt hole in Pakistan, California, Canada, or the UK), he would help them target their immediate relatives. It was a horrific saga but Gill killed off that insurgency.
In Kashmir, it is the fear for one’s life and threat to family and friends that will gain for the nationalist cause adherents, both within the Kashmiri police and people in paramilitary, their extended social circles and whose guerrilla actions can then be sustained without too great an expenditure of resources by the Indian state. The Indian army, instead of being on the front lines, can then be engaged in cordoning off suspected areas (as happened in Punjab and during Kuka Parrey’s time in Kashmir) while leaving the more onerous task of dealing with the young men heeding the call of the late Burhan Wani, to the locally-raised vigilantes.
It is time for NSA, Ajit Doval, to wake up and muster this option at the earliest, as part of the larger scheme of things that includes coming down hard on the sympathizers and (potential) recruits of the Islamic State and others dreaming of another khilafat and helping sections of the Pakistani and the Afghan Taliban to achieve their aims.
Bharat Karnad is a senior fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi and author of most recent book, ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’.
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