J&K needs to strengthen governance at grassroot level

Delhi, India Oct 27, 2018, 10.51 AM(IST) Written By: Syed Ata Hasnain

File photo of Satya Pal Malik. Photograph:( DNA )

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The new J&K Governor is proactively attempting to change things and should be advised on ground realities that will really constitute change in a transformational way.

The phase from the end of October to early November in J&K every year is 'paralysis' time. The old practice of moving the 'durbar' from Srinagar (summer capital) to Jammu (winter capital) demands a pack up and reopening period and virtually puts the government into freeze. About Rs 100 crore is spent on the practice of moving files, records and personnel twice a year. It is not a practice which can be stopped easily due to sentiments attached to the seat of power being alternated between the two cities of Srinagar and Jammu.

When an elected government is in place, this should be the time for the political representatives to visit their constituencies, ascertain the problems for winter and determine the needs to make life a little more comfortable in the bleak season. During Governor's rule even more opportunities exist, provided there is a will in the political community and the administration. There are many aspects which the administration should be looking at – snow-clearance, public health centres with sufficient medicines in them and in the market, emergency medical relief, adequate energy reserves and food stocks in the event of road closure, and the power situation. The new Governor is proactively attempting to change things and should be advised on ground realities that will really constitute change in a transformational way.

There is a misnomer that in winter violence takes backstage. In earlier times when foreign terrorists (FTs) were in abundance all over Kashmir, it was never very easy for them to move around given the lack of vegetation for cover and non-availability of guides. With militancy becoming largely local, at least in South Kashmir, local terrorists (LTs) know the ground and have multiple hideouts and safe houses. The level of violence through winter could remain almost the same as summer unless innovations are applied. Pakistan will attempt to up the ante to put India under pressure before the elections next year. Early indicators of enhanced rabble- rousing were evident in the speech of Pakistan Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, at Islamabad two days ago. Her supposed strategic conflict resolution model appears akin to a conflict-enhancing one. Economically broke or not, Pakistan is not going to let go of opportunities to weaken India's integration of J&K and continuance of violence forms an important aspect of that strategy. If violence levels come down in the hinterland then the choice remains to instigate more violence at the LoC. This is typical Pakistani strategy where strategic planning has no vision of the terminal end but there is immense clarity about the initiation in which much energy is expended. Fighting the twin tracks, of violence and information, remains the challenge for those responsible for securing and mainstreaming J&K.

The Indian security forces (SF) have been adept at quelling violence through 28 years but there is no common yardstick for the application of practices of counter-violence. The nature of violence is dynamic and best practices have to keep pace with change. Accusations of adopting a muscular policy to quell violence will remain rife. These have never cowed us down and should not do so now. The watch words here are sensitivity and calibration and that comes with careful monitoring, extensive coordination and the one aspect we rarely speak about, training. The Army has facilities and staff for training a very large strength.

There is no reason why these should not be available to all SF and without ego. No security personnel should ever be allowed to operate without having undergone joint training at such a facility. There has to be a more purposeful demonstration of will to calibrate than the one recently displayed at Kulgam's Laroo village, where unexploded munitions, probably of the terrorists, were left without final physical search and clearance leading to seven fatalities of civilians who entered the encounter site prematurely. The Governor himself chided the SF but the grim reality and the paradox remains; the persisting presence of SF after an encounter brings them into contact with instigated flash mobs thus enhancing the feasibility of serious casualties on both sides. It's a truism that violence can never be overcome with counter-violence; it can only be contained. A mature strategic-operational leadership understands this and the need for a muscular policy is to the extent necessary to contain violence. The reduction and final neutralization comes through means other than violent and allude to the other half of Pakistani strategy — the use of information to instigate.

Governance at the grassroots forms a part of the information domain as it has a telling psychological effect on the population. Surprisingly, Kashmir has been uncomfortable through winter for many years due to inadequacy of infrastructure for as basic a thing among others as stocks of cooking gas and other fuel. In bleak, cloudy, snow conditions, the abundance of material comforts brings joy to people. Nothing can be done in a single season but the Governor and his administration ensuring an energetic presence during such times and maintaining contact with people will have a telling effect. The Governor has shown a sense of commitment; taking this proposal to visibility in other domains can have a cascading effect of positivity.

Two other measures among a host of ideas come to mind, due to experience of being amongst the troops and the people. Let the administration spend some money on a 'meeting of minds' programme for the various regions of J&K. There exists such a perceptional fear 'for the other' that mutual understanding and cooperation for the betterment of the people is adversely affected. It is only worsening by the day due to the negative media blitz from Delhi's visual channels. The involvement of the Kashmiri Pandit community in such a campaign will only be helpful. Secondly, Governor's Rule does not place an embargo on grassroots politics. There are panchayat polls yet to be completed. Hopefully, these will go through without much violence but post polls, efforts should be made so that the regional mainstream parties, the NC and the PDP, can return to their constituencies. Dealing with J&K, without their presence will only give us an artificial sense of calm; that calm should give us no joy.

(This article was originally published on DNA. Read the original article)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)