The Indian army commanders, who are in a conference deliberating on the security challenges and the possible responses have an onerous task- to devise a foolproof security plan for borders along China in Ladakh and Pakistan and Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir. These are bigger challenges at the moment than ever before because of the wide-range change in the geopolitical situation. So it is imperative that the conference must come out with something new and innovative to deal with these challenges. It’s incumbent upon it to show that it has a vision for the future for the security of these two union territories which were part of the same state four years ago.
The Indian army has been around in Jammu and Kashmir since October 1947. Its arrival in Kashmir on October 27 came as a sequel to accession of the state to India on October 26 by the then king Maharaja Hari Singh. A huge daunting task was placed before it, to repulse tribal invaders, backed by the Pakistan army, and to retrieve the territories that had been lost to the invaders. The challenge was extraordinary – it were not just the invaders and the territories that they had captured, there was something more that was to establish the Indian sovereignty in the state once and for all.
Since then, the Indian army had to tackle multiple challenges, ranging from wars with China (1962), and with Pakistan (1965, 1971 and 1999). And perhaps bigger challenge that came its way, which was completely unanticipated – Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, in which certain sections of the people in Jammu and Kashmir became partners, for they believed in the propaganda from across the border, and the accumulated grievances against Delhi owing to the discriminatory democratic system, all-time choking political and economic corruption. Separatist-oriented militancy in Kashmir had its origins in external and internal factors, and it fell on the army to play larger than life role in fighting terrorism at different levels -combating Pakistan and terror networks that it had helped disgruntled elements in Kashmir to weave, and at the same time working 24x7 to shift focus and faith of the people from separatism to the idea of India.
It's been more than 33 years that the army is engaged in Jammu and Kashmir affairs, which can be called as second phase after its arrival in 1947. This was a multi-faceted challenge, which came as a result of failure of the political leadership of both Delhi and Srinagar to maintain and sustain the gains the army had made in 1947-1948. The army had handed over the territory, which were there at the time of its arrival and the ones that it recaptured that time. Had political leadership been sagacious and conscious of sacrifices that soldiers had made to give accession to India the real meaning, things would have been far, far different than what are there today.
Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh situation has undergone sea change since 1947. The army, over the decades, operated within certain parameters in tune with its mandate, in these territories.It has undergone tough times, especially since the 1990s. The challenges on the borders multiplied, and now it is faced with one of the toughest challenges along the borders with China, better known as Line of Actual Control (LAC) – in eastern Ladakh. For over three and a half years it is locked in a fiendish standoff with Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh since April-May 2020. In between, Indian army also suffered casualties of its officers and men at Galwan Valley on June 15/16, 2020. One commanding officer and 19 soldiers lost their life in the line of duty. The violent clash and casualties at Galwan, though are not being spoken of in as many words as they should have been, because that is a big black chapter in the nation’s history. The clash should have brought to an end the standoff and fear of the threat of more such clashes, that goal is as distant as it was before and after the Galwan Valley clashes.
The continuing standoff reflects major challenges for external and internal security. An estimated strength of 70,000 troops is deployed at the LAC and close to it since 2020, and that itself shows that things are far from being normal, as it is not the normal deployment which was not there even after India suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of China in 1962. This, in a way, is a war-like situation, without actual war. And as long as these deployments continue, the internal sense of normalcy will be in a state of captivity. With tensions on borders, unless this is seen and something normal, the development in the hinterland – public-oriented infrastructural development and tapping of human resources – remains in shadow of uncertainties.
It is true that the army has better equipment and connectivity than it had for decades, and there is use of technology to take care of the Chinese threat at LAC, but that is something that only increases sense of unease. No rhetoric or optic can hide this ugly reality. A way out has to be found.
On frontiers with Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, the army has brought massive changes t0 reinforce confidence among troops and people about its readiness to check Pakistani designs . But that is not the end of the road, because the challenge is quite daunting. Despite ceasefire in place at the Line of Control that divides Jammu and Kashmir, and parts of Ladakh between India and Pakistan, it is not a line of peace.It, again is, not a normal border situation. Ceasefire denotes the fragility of peace on the borders. It is cessation of hostilities – no exchange of gunfire – but not the end of hostilities.
Against all these backdrops, the Indian army will have to put its heads together to find a way out for permanent peace in Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh included. This is the task which army should fulfil at a rapid speed than ever before, as that holds key to confidence -inspiring role for all in this sensitive set of territories.