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November 4, 2019

Kashmir militancy and classic guerrilla struggle

National

November 4, 2019

The annexation of held Kashmir and the ‘collective punishment’ inflicted on the Kashmiris by holding them incommunicado nearly over two-month-long 24x7 curfew, only alienates them further away from New Delhi, raising the specter of a resilient and more sustained militant resistance.

The scrapping away of its autonomy has also opened floodgates for demographic change by allowing outsiders to purchase property and to settle down in the valley. This has fueled fears of plans to eventually establish ‘settler’ colonies through land expropriation by taking over ‘enemy property’, drawing apprehensions of ‘settler vigilantism’, like the Israeli practice, against the local population and resultant communal violence. This has rattled every Kashmiri, drawing more youth to the ‘stone rage’ against security personnel inviting their wrath, landing them in prisons.

The stone pelting through the decades has come to be a regular feature with ebbs and flow. But now under the larger presence of Indian security forces deployed along every street in Kashmir amidst multiple tiers of concertina wires and roadside bunkers, without outside help and a resilient militancy, the Kashmiris would be brutally crushed.

Already, Modi’s total reliance on addressing Kashmir purely from a security angle multiplied the militants into several hundreds from a mere 86 in 2014. The famed militant leader Burhanuddin Wani who was gunned down in 2016 represented a different profile of Kashmiri guerillas

altogether. They are homegrown, educated, belong to the civil society and sanctioned by a widespread and fervent anti-Indian sentiment legitimizing militancy. The Aug 5 announcement has even brought the fence sitters to their side. The popular support is the seismic shift in

Kashmir and the most critical element for any armed resistance. Representing them he is simply leading their cause for the destruction of the existing order.

Until the August lockdown, the Kashmiri resistance through some acts of attrition and intimidation against the security forces were successful in instilling a sense of fear, uncertainty and unpredictability among the security forces but more often by exposing themselves too much to Indian attacks, to the detriment of the resistance.

According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program covering Kashmir Conflict, of the Uppsala University, Sweden, in the last decade over 4,000 civilians, militants and security personnel were killed. The average number of combatants killed in that period is roughly around 3,000 keeping

the hit and run militancy at a low boil. The security forces vs militant-casualty ratio remained 1:3 which manifests success of the highly pitched counter insurgency operations. New Delhi dismissed these civilian deaths as a necessary cost of putting down insurrection rather than to demilitarize the region and address the causes of insurgency and the Kashmiri aspirations. All that the Kashmiris wanted was some dignity and justice in their lives pledged by the Indian state. This has forced the Kashmiris to reconsider their strategy towards inflicting “high casualty and spectacular” attacks against the Indian security forces. Globally sustained level of higher losses of security forces speeds up the negotiation process.

The Afghan conflict where 147,000 people lost their lives due to Taliban attacks and Iraq where 4,809 deaths of coalition security forces tipped the scales, forcing the US to consider pullout. But the well-funded and well equipped Taliban resistance model cannot be applied to the nascent Kashmiris, who have bare minimum of these resources, though the principles of any guerrilla resistance are largely the same.

Analysing the Kashmir militancy, South Asian Voices, a policy platform for strategic analysis on South Asia, feels Uri where 17 Indian army soldiers were killed in September 2016 and then Pulwama in Feb 2019 where 40 paramilitary troops were killed in a single suicide bombing, by a local Kashmiri which is the deadliest ever in the history of Kashmir insurgency against Indian forces, is reflective of the tactical transformation by the militants to carry out ‘Fidayi’ (suicidal) high casualty and ‘gruesome’ attacks.

Experts believe the challenge now lies in sustaining both the sporadic and small-scale actions and highly selective spectacular attacks to keep the militancy ‘relevant and result-oriented’ over a long period of time for eventual desirable political effects. Any resistance has to be compassionate about the people it is waging the struggle for. Without the consent and active aid of the people, the guerrilla would be merely a terrorist force, like Al Qaeda or ISIS who tried to brutally impose a model on unwilling people and never succeeded beyond causing disruption and subversion.

In Kashmir at present, the more organized resistance is centered around north and eastern Kashmir since 2008, far away from Pakistan borders. The physiognomy of the hilly terrain is helpful to dominate, attack and bolt against security forces deployed in ever larger numbers.

Against a guerrilla resistance, the army action begins with certain disadvantages. The more territory the army holds, the more it has to defend exposing it to a broader insurgent target. In his book, the War of the Flea, Lt Col Robert Taber draws an analogy: “The guerrilla fights the war of the flea, and his military enemy suffers the dog's disadvantages: too much to defend; too small, ubiquitous, and agile an enemy to come to grips with."

The militants would eventually try and carve out free territories in northern or eastern Kashmir, like the territorio libre, of the Fidelistas, or the Makhnovia of the Ukraine, inviting even larger military presence against whom they can mount spectacular and high casualty attacks. Taliban controlled zones to this day outnumber areas under the Afghan government where they have imposed their own form of government and even cultivated poppy. ISIS had similar zones in Syria.

Cuban revolutionary figure, Fidel Castro, had also established a revolutionary government in Sierra highlands with a codified law, while waging a guerrilla war against the Batista government. For the people it was a stabilizing force in an area long neglected by the Havana government and he introduced agricultural reforms there.

Not exactly of that kind but the agitated Kashmiri youth already have one ‘no go area’ in Soura, Srinagar where they are keeping Indian security forces at bay. Barring history, the global realities are different in today’s world with higher stakes for the Kashmiris requiring a turnaround from a never ending toil of blood and tears.

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