Origins of the ‘Muscular Approach’ in Kashmir

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Pakistan Army launched ‘Operation Gibraltar’ in 1965 in Kashmir. During this operation, regulars from Pakistan Army disguised themselves as ‘razakars’ (volunteers) and secretly entered Kashmir to incite the local Kashmiris to rebel against New Delhi. Instead of revolting against India the local Kashmiris turned against Pakistani 'razakars' and chased them away.

The present BJP-led NDA government has all along been accused for adopting what is being referred to as a ‘muscular’ approach while dealing with the situation in Kashmir. But those who are trying to insinuate that use of strong-arm tactics is a new phenomenon in Kashmir and that it’s only New Delhi that has been resorting to ‘muscular’ policies are either not conversant with the post-partition history of Kashmir, or are intentionally choosing to feign ignorance.

The bitter and undeniable reality is that the very genesis of Kashmir issue in itself is the result of ‘muscular’ approach and even though undesirable, this more than seven-decade old trend doesn’t seem to have gone out of fashion ever since, as events have proved.

Operation Gulmarg (1947-48)

The Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir entered into a ‘stand-still agreement’ with Pakistan immediately after partition. Under this agreement, Pakistan was required to honour all administrative arrangements that this princely state had with the British Crown till new arrangements were made. But just nine weeks later, Pakistan unilaterally reneged this agreement by launching a military campaign to seize Kashmir and gave this ambitious plan the code name ‘Operation Gulmarg’. To avoid being censured by the international community for its unprovoked act of aggression, Pakistan camouflaged this military action by giving it an appearance of a tribal invasion. Accordingly, armed by Pakistan Army and led by its regulars in disguise, 20 lashkars (militias) of 1,000 tribesman each, embarked upon their mission to conquer J&K. But the timely arrival of the Indian Army and its gallant actions thwarted Pakistan’s plan to forcibly assimilate the whole of Kashmir.

India had the military capability of wresting back the areas of Kashmir which Pakistan had occupied by force and any military action to restore its territorial integrity was legally and morally sound and justified. However, instead of doing so India took the matter of Pakistani aggression to UN Security Council and even agreed to a ceasefire even though the same didn’t make it incumbent on Pakistan to return the territory under its illegal occupation.

So, isn’t Operation Gulmarg the first instance when ‘muscular’ approach was used in Kashmir and doesn’t Pakistan Army rightly deserve the credit for introducing use of ‘muscle-power’ in Kashmir!

Operation Gibraltar (1965)

Unable to convince the world that Kashmir rightfully ‘belongs’ to Pakistan, its army once again attempted to seize Kashmir by force. A military plan code named ‘Operation Gibraltar’ was put into action in 1965, which envisaged the use of regular army personnel disguised as civilians supported by a force of 40,000 highly trained and well-armed ‘razakars’ (volunteers) who would secretly enter Kashmir and incite the local population to rebel against New Delhi. According to Lt Gen Akhtar Hussain Malik of Pakistan Army who was one of the architects of Operation Gibraltar, the aim of this military action was “to defreeze the Kashmir problem, weaken Indian resolve, and bring India to the conference table without provoking general war.”

“Operation Gibraltar” was the second time that Pakistan used a ‘muscular’ approach in order to get hold of Kashmir. Here again, rather than following a tough policy, New Delhi agreed to return those parts of Kashmir that the Indian Army had captured, even though this was legally Indian territory usurped by Pakistan in 1947-48.  

‘Freedom Struggle’ (1989 onwards)

Islamabad’s third and most brazen attempt to realise its Kashmir dream came in the form of Islamic terrorism in the late eighties. Thousands of local boys were taken across the porous Line of Control (LoC) and after receiving military training were armed and sent back to fight against security forces. Pakistani nationals were also sent across to join what they were told was a ‘jihad’ (holy war). In his well-researched book ‘Shadow Wars’, Arif Jamal mentions that in the early days of militancy there could have been as many as 180 militant groups operating in Kashmir and this gives a fair idea about the massive scale of the Pakistan Army and ISI sponsored enterprise.

Though terrorism in Kashmir erupted in 1988, instead of coming down on it immediately with an iron fist, the Government of India continued to try and control the same with standard regulations meant for maintaining law and order under normal conditions. It was only after these laws failed to quell Pakistan-sponsored terrorism that Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was invoked in J&K in 1990. So, those who consider promulgation of AFSPA to be ‘muscular’ policy need to realise that AFSPA came into force due to the need to counter Pakistan’s proxy war.

Though some nations and international bodies may occasionally air objections to AFSPA, but none of them will initiate or support concerted action to seek its removal since the world community sympathises with nations bearing the brunt of terrorism and appreciates the fact that security forces dealing with terrorism do require special provisions and safeguards to fight this menace threatening humanity.

Operation Vijay (1999)

Pakistan Army’s plan of large-scale intrusions across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kargil sector and occupying posts vacated by Indian Army during winters so as to alter alignment of the LoC was the fourth instance of ‘muscular’ approach being applied by it in the J&K. Here again the Pakistan Army tried to deceive the world into believing that the intruders were Kashmiri “freedom fighters” and in order to hide the truth, stooped to a new low by disowning the dead bodies of their own soldiers killed in action. But its bluff was soon called and the Pakistan Army had to suffer another ignominy of being declared the aggressor and having to withdraw to its own side of the LoC.

Despite Pakistan’s brazen use of muscular power in Kargil, India’s reaction to these intrusions was both measured and localised, which has been highly appreciated by the international community since it didn’t escalate into a full-blown war between two nuclear states. This was in sharp contrast to what Pakistan did in 1965 when it launched ‘Operation Grand Slam’ to capture Akhnoor even as its Operation Gibraltar in Kashmir was in progress. By doing so, Pakistan enlarged the scope of the conflict and this resulted in a full-scale war between India and Pakistan.

Who’s to blame?

Is Kashmir a victim of ‘muscular’ policy? The answer is ‘Yes’. But is New Delhi responsible for the ‘muscular’ policy in Kashmir? The answer is an emphatic ‘No’. If armed groups fire upon security forces, then is firing back at them adopting a ‘muscular’ policy? When terrorists refuse the offer to surrender and start a gunfight with security forces, then is retaliation ‘muscular’ approach? When Pakistan supported terrorists indiscriminately use ‘muscular’ means in a bid to create a state of anarchy in Kashmir, does invoking AFSPA indicate a ‘muscular’ approach?

Conversely, isn’t the barbaric act of terrorists abducting, torturing and killing innocent civilians ‘muscular approach’? Isn’t posting graphic ‘execution’ videos on social media to terrorise and intimidate the people ‘muscular policy’? Doesn’t the cowardly act of terrorists attacking unarmed policemen on traffic regulation duties amount to ‘muscular approach’? Aren’t vigilante squads formed by youth to enforce shutdown calls given by the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) ‘muscular’ tactics? Isn’t stone pelting and acts of arson during protests the manifestation of a ‘muscular approach’?

With terrorists openly using guns, grenades, bombs and Hurriyat leaders inciting mob violence in order to achieve a political objective does one still requires to be told who’s guilty of giving resolution of the Kashmir issue a ‘muscular approach’?

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