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THE ‘BULLDOZED EARTH’ POLICY WILL NOT WORK IN J&K
Opinion

THE ‘BULLDOZED EARTH’ POLICY WILL NOT WORK IN J&K

Lt Gen.Zameer Uddin Shah,PVSM,SM,VSM,Dep.Chief of Army Staff(RETD)

I have culled the term ‘Bulldozed Earth’ from the ‘Scorched Earth’ Policy followed by USA in Vietnam and which ended in dismal failure and the victory of the Viet Cong over the greatest military and economic giant amongst nations. The similarities are not total but repressive measures, a part of the ‘Scorched Earth’ Policy won’t work when you have 100% dissatisfied populace in an area. You don’t use a bull dozer to plough a field where you wish to plant seeds of harmony, peace and progress. The parched earth can only be made ready for ploughing by pre-watering. J&K is an integral part of India and not occupied territory. It needs the soothing flow of love and understanding before the plough share is applied.

We should have learnt from the American experience in Vietnam. They followed the 'scorched earth' policy, killing non-combatants, using 'Agent Orange' to deforest the ‘Ho Chi Minh’ trail and curbing free movement and speech. A rag tag guerrilla force, with the overwhelming support of the local population forced the greatest military defeat in America’s history. We did, indeed, follow this policy in Nagaland in the early1950s. At the peak of the insurgency whole villages were burnt, in reprisal, if they were suspected of harbouring Naga insurgents. Human right violations were not uncommon. There was constant irritation of checks on the movement of the local population. The insurgency was also provided much required sustenance from erstwhile East Pakistan and China. Naga women would quickly assemble whenever the Army was near habitation to impede operations of the army. The Nagas constantly used the derogatory term 'You Indians'. The result was that the Naga Insurgency continued unabated for 7 decades.

We took advantage of the fact that we played each of the 20 major Naga tribes against each other. The birth of Bangladesh and China's internal problems deprived the Naga Insurgency off the much needed oxygen to sustain the movement and we turned tables by recruiting their battle hardened core to operate with us.

It was only in the 1970s we realised we had to change tack. We decided to concentrate on winning 'Hearts and Minds'. There was a shift towards 'Civic Action'. The Army cut steep hill slopes and created football fields. New schools were opened in remote villages. Surrendered Naga insurgents were drafted in newly raised BSF Battalions. Strict orders were issued not to treat Nagas with contempt and a hand of friendship was extended. Despite provocations and constant demands for Naga Independence, for the last 70 years we did not falter in our policy of following the policy of the mailed fist (against armed Insurgents), inside the velvet glove ( civil population). The Nagas reciprocated and finding Anti Indian sentiments abating amongst the populace, began serious negotiations for ending the insurgency.

In J&K, we easily lost our patience. The velvet glove is in tatters and seems to have been thrown in the face of the Kashmiris. It is apparent that of late we have been following a 'Bull Dozed Earth' policy in J&K. Religious sentiments have played an important role. If we don't treat the Kashmiris as Indians but as 'Muslim adversaries' this insurgency is unlikely to end in the near future. Prolonged deployment in the Valley will communalise a first rate Army and other Para Military Forces. There had, earlier, been blatant use of fire power, much applauded by hard liners, who did not realise the long term adverse effect of strong arm tactics. When an insurgent barges into a house, uninvited, there are other ways of flushing him out rather than blowing up the house. Remember a destroyed abode means a destroyed family and only fans the flame of hatred for India. All members of that family turn anti Indian. The tactics of using pellet guns is abhorrent. It is our own countrymen we are firing at, not the enemy. Nor is it game or sport. Recall the success of ‘Operation Black Thunder’ in Amritsar in 1988 and the dismal effects of, short sighted, Operation ‘Blue Star’ of June 1984.

Let us adopt the method we adopted in the North East. It won't be easy. Things are a lot different in Kashmir. They are one unified community and cannot be splintered on tribal lines as happened in the North East where inter-tribal friction was exploited by us. External support is available to Kashmiri Insurgents from Pakistan. That support will not dry up easily. Let us consider making a onetime offer of amnesty and recruitment of surrendered insurgents of Kashmiri Insurgents into the BSF. IT IS A RISK BUT WORTH TAKING. The situation must gradually be handed over to the J &K Police. The state of siege must end at the earliest.

Kashmiris must be treated as Indians not as enemies. Some of them harbour separatist tendencies, similar to sentiments in Nagaland. But they are still not enemies to be 'defeated' and ‘destroyed'. The Kashmiri Pandits must be cajoled back to the areas they had vacated and security provided to them. India cannot and must not try and destroy ‘Kashmiryat’ or follow a ‘Bulldozed Earth’ policy in Kashmir. It’s our own countrymen we are dealing with.

My views may be anathema to some - so be it, if it can help to end the Kashmiri imbroglio.