Kashmir ‘conditional ceasefire’ : Has the Narendra Modi government learnt nothing from the past?

A wise man once remarked, “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.” With every passing day, British historian and philosopher, Arnold Toynbee’s words appear more and more appropriate not just for Europe but for India as well. It appears as days go by, we have lost the will necessary to survive and secure for our children and their children a future where they can thrive and prosper.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh has instructed the Security Forces not to launch any operations against terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir during Ramzan to ensure that Muslims can observe their festival in a peaceful environment while reserving the right to retaliate.

Our politicians may preach that terrorism has no religion. However, their actions and policies prove beyond any reasonable doubt that terrorism indeed has a religion and much of their policies are formed based on the constant fear that our actions, however necessary and just, may provoke a certain section of the population to take up arms against the nation. One is forced to ask how would operations conducted to eliminate terrorists disturb peace-loving Muslims from observing their sacred month and if certain people are indeed disturbed by operations conducted to eliminate terrorists, are they really peace loving?

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History repeats itself, it is oft said, but people conveniently choose to forget that history repeats itself not because the entire universe is conspiring to make it happen so but because people do not learn from the events of the past and are even arrogant enough to believe they shall not suffer from similar consequences if they indulge in similar proclivities as those men who suffered the same in the past. A ceasefire during Ramzan has quite obviously been tried in the past as well. And the person to give it a try was, of course, another NDA Prime Minister, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Mr Vajpayee did get a lot of things right but the decision to pursue a ceasefire during Ramzan was not one of them.

Such ceasefires basically mean that the security forces have the right to retaliate when attacked but don’t initiate operations.

In the two months preceding the ceasefire from the 27th of November, 2000, 151 civilians had been killed as a consequence of the violence in the state. However, in the month of Ramzan, 96 civilians had died as a consequence. While 119 members of the security forces had died between September 26 to November 27, between November 28 to December 27 (Ramzan), 56 security-men had been murdered. Thus, there was hardly any decline whatsoever in the murder of security men during Ramzan and seemingly an increase in the deaths of civilians.

The ceasefire was eventually extended until May 31st, 2001. During the period between January 1st to May 31st, 233 security men and 445 civilians were killed and for the remainder of the year without any ceasefire in place, 389 security men and 627 civilians were killed (the numbers are provisional for the post-ceasefire period). Remarkably, while the terrorists suffered only 543 casualties during the ceasefire period in 2001, the number went up to 2094 for the post-ceasefire period (the numbers are provisional for the post-ceasefire period). Thus, there was a significant increase in the number of civilians killed during the month of Ramzan without any significant decrease during the post-ceasefire period. There was hardly any decrease in the casualties suffered by security forces as well during the ceasefire in Ramzan. However, the only thing that decreased during the ceasefire was the number of terrorists eliminated which dropped significantly during Ramzan and again increased remarkably post the ceasefire period which ended in May the following year.

The terrorists appear to be mocking the government’s decision of a ceasefire already. Within one and a half hour of ceasefire announcement by the government of India, terrorists have already targeted security forces in Shopian.

Moreover, terrorist attacks appear to increase during Ramzan. ISIS, for instance, has urged its supporters to commit more attacks during Ramzan and often called it the “holy month of Jihad”. A consequence of it has been the fact that in recent years, Ramzan has easily been the bloodiest part of the year. Most significantly, there is no evidence to suggest that the terrorists confine themselves to performing only acts of piety during the month while every shred of evidence suggests that terrorists do seek to commit acts of terrorism during the period. At a time when reports have emerged of ISIS gaining ground in Kashmir, does it really make any sort of sense for the government to tie arms of the security forces behind their back? And especially since there is not the slightest indication that their goodwill gesture will be reciprocated.

Negotiations can only be successful when both sides are clear about the intent behind it and the reasons to commit to such negotiations. When one side perceives a ceasefire as a goodwill gesture and the other a sign from above that their enemies are cowering before them and see it as a reaffirmation of the righteousness of their path, negotiations are fated to fail from the very beginning. The current ceasefire will suffer the same fate and only succeed in giving the terrorists enough time to recuperate and reorganize after they have suffered a series of heavy losses at the hands of the Indian Army.

A ceasefire is called between two conventional Army’s of two sovereign nations. Not between the Army and terrorists. Eliminating terrorists is the job of every sovereign nation and by furthering this “ceasefire” narrative the state unwittingly legitimises the skewed definition of peace that is oft repeated by Hurriyat, that the state is using ‘excess force’ and that use of such force is avoidable to maintain “peace”.

One wonders, what is the purpose of such a “ceasefire”? Many have said that perhaps this is a ploy to get the terrorists to lower their shields. Some have said that it is to reach out to the local population because the aim of Counter-Insurgency (COIN) is to reestablish the legitimacy of democratic government.

The aim of COIN is certainly to reinforce the legitimacy of democratically elected government and our Army’s COIN strategy is as good as any other country globally. ‘Operation Sadhbhavana’ is aimed at such a goal. The fact that the Army works hard to avoid civilian casualties and urges the terrorists to surrender rather than getting killed, is aimed towards that end. Who doesn’t remember the audio of a Major trying to convince Pakistani terrorist Abu Dujana to surrender? Who doesn’t remember the comfort with which the civilian, in whose house Dujana was holed up, spoke to the Army major? That is how legitimacy is restored. By instilling faith in the civilian population, that it is in their best interest to side with the state.

It is often theorised that the civilian population supports the side which can provide them with security. For example, if the terrorist presence is strong in a village, the villagers are likely to support terrorists. While if the Army presence is strong, and the civilians believe that the Army is equipped to provide them security in that village, they will support the army. Ergo, the way to win civilian trust is to let the Army do its job. Conduct aggressive operations to flush terrorists out, gain control of a village, thereby facilitating the process of trust between the civilian population and state.

The need to look for such ridiculous peace measures stem from two ailments. One is to not call out the Kashmir problem for what it really is. Islamic Jihad. And second, the urge of every single government to purport the cause of ‘benevolent state’. A benevolent state cannot fight the threat of radical Islam and that has to be understood not just by the government but even the population of the country on the whole.

The only saving grace appears to be the fact that the security forces reserve the right to retaliate and attack if necessary to protect the lives of the innocent.

Apart from this slim silver lining in the cloud, the decision does not bode well for anyone concerned.

Average in every department

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