Mehbooba Mufti, stated while addressing the passing out parade of the J and K police in Kathua recently, that merely eliminating militants will not wipe out militancy, it needs a more humane approach. This statement of Mufti comes close on the heels of her Government announcing cancelling of court cases against first time stone throwers. It also comes soon after security forces touched the magic figure of eliminating two hundred militants this year.
The impact of security forces operations is the state regaining initiative in the region, resulting in the appointment of an interlocutor on behalf of the government. The Interlocutor’s increased interactions with groups and individuals, even in the interiors of the state, is an indicator of the changing narrative. He would not have been able to meet and obtain views of such a variety, had it not been for the changing security situation. Slowing down at this stage would give the militants the break they desperately need, hence should be avoided. A humane approach needs to be based on the nature of militancy in the state.
Militants in J and K come in two distinct categories. The first are those pushed in from Pak, who have no option of returning, despite any collection of promises made to them while being hired, trained and then subsequently infiltrated. Exfiltration is nigh impossible, surrender is hardly an option, hence they seek to survive on local resources and engage security forces, till as long as possible. They must be eliminated, as they neither have a home nor hearth and would always remain a threat. Calls to surrender has no meaning and should not even be considered as an option.
The next variety are home grown militants, who have been lured by the glamour of the gun. A few are diehard fanatics, while most are social media militants, who have joined the ranks to gain a name and reputation. Social media militants rarely engage security forces, prefer living in the safety and security of their home regions, secure that any action by security forces would invite protests and stone throwing, enabling their escape. They are ill-trained, ill-equipped and carry the gun to enhance local standing and settle personal disputes. They are known to attack soft targets like security personnel on leave, out of favour politicians and lobbing grenades from a distance.
The diehard local militants need to be eliminated thus discouraging others from following their steps, while social media militants must be given a chance to surrender and join the mainstream. If they fail to accept Governments offers, then there is no option except elimination. The offer of surrender being made to them is warning enough and as humane as security forces can be.
A humane approach is only feasible, if the militant indicates a desire to surrender. In a democracy, anyone who chooses violence as a means of protest, especially picking up a gun, to challenge the authority of the state, is an enemy of the state, hence needs to be treated as such. The shorter the life span of a militant, the more would be appeals for surrender from his family. This has resulted in surrenders earlier and would in the future also.
The success of the security forces is visible in the manner that no longer are parents proud of the fact that their child has picked up the gun, but desire his surrender, knowing his elimination is around the corner. Thus, relentless operations, as being undertaken in the present, should continue unabated, despite Mufti’s comments on the contrary.
The decision of the centre and state to spare first time stone throwers is a welcome step, though security forces have been disappointed. Most were enticed with easy availability of money to participate. As the changed environment indicates, even confirmed on multiple occasions by the DGP of the state, stone throwing has become rare and very localized. This proves that it was money which enticed them, not the cause. Thus, those who indulged in it, during the burning summer of 2016 and prior on the lure of money need to be given one more chance. Most would realize their mistake and avoid repeating it again.
Many indulging in stone throwing suffered, while those who instigated them hid in the background. There are however known offenders, who have been identified on CCTV cameras, repeatedly participating in stone throwing, who deserve no sympathy. Sparing them is opening doors for either joining militancy or re-instigating youth to participate in the same. They need to be locked up.
A humane approach by security forces could come in a variety of different fields. It could come in assisting surrenders, protecting those who lay down their arms, reduced harassment to those who surrender and not harassing the kin of present militants. Simultaneous could be reduced classical cordon and search operations, security checks on the roads and minimum harassment to residents.
With the control of the region again back into the folds of the state, it is Government machinery, which should become more visible, thus reducing responsibilities of security forces, in resolving local problems. Local political groups and politicians should become more involved in development. The state must simultaneously implement a sound surrender policy, ensuring that surrendered militants neither become a target of their earlier outfits nor the promises made are unfulfilled. Success of the first few surrenders would invite many more, failure to ensure their security would deter others. Hence humane approach must flow from the state machinery, rather than security forces.
Security forces can only be humane to a level, as their tasks remains clear, eliminate militancy from the region. The state, by increasing its reach and control needs to be humane and caring for its population. Ultimately, it is a stick and carrot approach, stick by the forces and carrot by the state. Both need to operate in tandem, if militancy needs to be eliminated.
(The author is a retired Major General of the Indian Army)