Winning hearts and minds

Brig Anil Gupta
Of late the security forces (SF) are facing a new type of challenge while conducting Counter Terrorism (CT) operations in the Valley particularly in South Kashmir. Moment the SF launch an operation a mob starts throwing stones at them and chanting anti-India slogans. The aim being to provoke them and divert their attention so that trapped terrorists can attempt an escape. Simply put they want to help the terrorists.  A few other disturbing trends include mass attendance by the locals of the burial of killed terrorists, applying henna on the body of slain terrorists by the local ladies & instigating mob violence against the SF.  These are serious indicators of lack of popular support and require thorough analysis.  It also needs to be examined whether this tilt towards terrorists is willing or out of coercion. Have we failed totally or is it a case of misplaced focus or simply a lack of unity of effort?
The proxy war being fought in the Valley falls in the ambit of unconventional warfare, the type of warfare our Army is quite used to by now and has adapted its tactics and conduct of operations as per the need of the hour. A fine synergy exists between the Army, State Police, Central Armed Police Forces and multitude of intelligence and other central agencies. The unified command under the head of the government has performed commendably. Cross border infiltration has reduced and crushing blow has been dealt to militancy with neutralisation of top terrorist commanders. Despite all these valley continues to simmer and flares up at the slightest provocation. It appears that there is something amiss.  It is essential to identify correct centre of gravity for successful conduct of operations. While “enemy” is the centre of gravity in conventional operations it is the “population” in the unconventional warfare. How does it affect the conduct of operations? Population- centric operations are needed to be conducted where in the focus shifts from physical factors to human factors. In conventional operations the population or people are clubbed with physical terrain whereas in CI/CT operations they form part of the human terrain. Hence these operations need to be fought over human terrain rather than the physical terrain. The emphasis shifts to winning hearts and minds of the population rather than defeating the enemy.  The Army through its Operation Sadbhavna has invested enough time and resources yet we have not been able to win the popular support. One possible reason is dis-connect between the SF and political leadership. The mind-set of our political class particularly in Kashmir is to oppose the SF rather than cooperate with it and jointly fight the menace of unconventional warfare unleashed by Pakistan.
The human terrain includes population characteristics, political and religious sentiments, vulnerabilities, other actors to include terrorists and sympathisers, governance, popular support and the level of intensity of that popular support. Hence the intelligence agencies should not confine their effort to locating terrorists hiding in human terrain but identifying the genuine grievances of the population. Resources need to be focused at winning popular support and deny the same to the terrorists through a combination of information warfare, psychological warfare and political warfare. While the SF are capable of taking care of the first two it is the political class that has to be responsible for conduct of political warfare. The aim is to address the grievances of the people to make insurgency irrelevant through economic, psychological and informational measures. The endgame is to have the overwhelming majority of active popular support on the government’s side and the least amount of support for the terrorists/anti-national elements. The SF can help in stabilising the situation and creating a safe environment for other organs of the state to function smoothly. However, the desired end result cannot be achieved without a fully determined political effort.
“Unity of Effort” is the mantra for success. Cooperation among plethora of SF and between military, government and political leaders is essential to achieve the desired end result. Even one of them being out of sync can negate the good work of others.  Every player has to tread the human terrain very carefully and with a positive mind- set. Perception management is an important tool for winning popular support. To change people’s mind- set in favour of the   government is a herculean task needing classic unity of effort. Local legislators/ politicians also have a major role to play in shaping the human terrain.  While the main focus of politicians is towards infrastructure development, it should not remain confined to that. In areas affected by proxy war, they should also focus on development of mind. It is their duty to educate the masses and wean them from the terrorists and their cause as well as to oppose anti-national elements. This is one critical aspect in which we have failed completely so far. If the politicians play their part, incidents of mob-mobilisation against the SF will see a downward trend.
(The author is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic expert.)