The tone and tenor of the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech, addressing the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort on August 15, indicated fairly that the Government of India had made up its mind to take the gloves off in the fight against Pakistan-sponsored separatists in Jammu and Kashmir. Included, in the Prime Minister’s address was also an oblique message to the military-jihadi complex in Pakistan; internal interference in the affairs of a neighbouring country was a game two could play, and Pakistan’s long-running strategy of destabilising Kashmir through local proxies like the Hurriyat, could trigger similar counter-responses from India to administer Pakistan a dose of its own medicine in Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. In a separate but interlinked context, it is also very clear that it is in India’s interest to support Afghanistan with whatever military aid this country can provide to combat Pakistan-sponsored jihadi organisations attempting to take over that country, while intensifying proactive action against Pakistan-sponsored separatist elements seeking so-called “azadi” for the Kashmir Valley.
In this, the Centre seems to have political support of the Jammu-based BJP component of the state coalition, but not of the Valley-based Kashmiri People’s Democratic Party element, including a visibly distressed and disturbed chief minister, still desperately seeking a magic formula for a humane healing touch for “the boys” rioting on the streets of Srinagar, even as pronouncements in support of the jihadi-Pakistan Army nexus emanate at the highest level of the Pakistani political leadership, making it deafeningly clear to India that in the not too distant future, this country must be prepared to tackle the revival of another low-intensity Pakistani offensive in the Kashmir Valley, in a Version.2016 mutant of similar Pakistani offensives earlier.
Indeed, an “Operation Gibraltar 1965” redux could already be under way inside Srinagar as an urban-centric “azadi” offensive patterned on the Palestinian intifada, organised and coordinated by Pakistani agents already in residence in the downtown area of the city, supported by separatists of the “Hurriyat network”. All indicators to this effect are flashing-brainwashed child-soldiers as expendable cannon fodder during street riots after Friday prayers to stretch the envelope of patience of the security forces, and engineer an inflammatory incident to set aflame the incendiary urban jungle of downtown Srinagar, while the schemers of the Hurriyat Conference await the arrival of the human rights activist circus. Meanwhile, media reports seem to indicate that the timetable of an updated “Gibraltar redux” playbook is already unfolding in Kashmir according to plan so far.
In 1965, when the Border Security Force had not yet been created, “paramilitary forces” were still an unfamiliar entity, and the international borders of Jammu and Kashmir were guarded by armed police battalions from Punjab and Haryana, the then Indian government had reacted to a roughly similar operational scenario by creating a separate “V” sector headquarters for Srinagar to coordinate and control politico-military internal security within the town. Armed infiltrators from Pakistan had entered Kashmir and planned to link up with “home-grown” separatists during Id festivities at the Jama Masjid in Srinagar, and declare independence of Kashmir from India, but the lack of a supportive local response, coupled with a vigorous reaction by the Indian Army, led to their capture and elimination.
The current phase of intensified disturbances in Jammu and Kashmir too can be said to have commenced similarly with mob violence at the funeral of Burhan Wani, the Gen X icon of militancy, who was killed on July 8 in a clash with a combined operating group of security forces and multiplied exponentially thereafter by the unforgivable error of the state administration in acquiescing to the conduct of a public funeral for the deceased. The tinder for intense anti-India hate demonstrations was lit during the funeral prayers, and blown into a flame by selected “crowd manipulators” from amongst the militant cadres. The government response to the rioting was based on the cardinal principle of “minimum force” and in accordance with equally well-established standard operating procedures, but which, depending on circumstances, are also inevitably escalatory, and often turn crowd control operations into violent, high-intensity confrontations, with casualties on both sides.
Such operations progress in sequential ascendancy from physical barriers of barbed wire, and verbal warnings on loudhailers to disperse, up the escalation ladder to lathi charges and water cannon (if available, the Israelis have reportedly worked out some interesting variations), teargas (again with promising indigenous variations, which do not seem to have been deployed so far), and ultimately, if none of these are effective, police gunfire, strictly controlled in aimed single shots from rifles initially using “rubber bullets”, which may not kill, but can severely injure the human anatomy. In the utter confusion of a developing mob situation, the prescription of aimed fire “below the knees” is very often impracticable, and into this mix, has now entered the “pellet gun”, a smooth bore, low velocity, pump action shot gun used for crowd control by police forces (as also by bank guards and ATM watchmen) for the precise purpose of avoiding casualties from high-velocity police weapons like rifles.
As every “shikari” knows, shotguns discharge a spreading cloud of pellets of specified dimensions, to “sting” human bodies rather than penetrate them with grievous injury. This has resulted in severe eye injuries, often to totally innocent people, the political effects of which have negated a well-intentioned experiment. But in the middle of all this, also spare a thought for the unenviable lot of the beleaguered Jammu and Kashmir police. Always the first line of defence in any confrontation, whose task is vital in respect of the essential local intelligence they provide. Their role in the Valley confrontation is utterly thankless, but indeed commendable, and deserves approbation and full support.