Subversion In Kashmir

The last few weeks have seen a steady deterioration of stability in Jammu and Kashmir, with at least 14 protesters dead from police actions, huge marches in the streets and failed attempts by the state government to maintain order, prompting the central government to send in the army (the first deployment in Srinigar for 20 years).

Today, a member of the Hurriyat Conference, the multi-party grouping that wants self-determination for Kashmir, has been arrested after a conversation was intercepted in which he called for at least 10 to 15 more protesters to be martyred as a way of fomenting further unrest in the troubled valley. This fits neatly with the discussion of subversion as a primary tactic of insurgencies which I’ve been reading in David Kilcullen’s Accidental Guerrilla:

Subversive groups often seek deliberately to provoke a government overreaction that alienates the population, increases support for their agendas, and creates opportunities for expanded subversive activity.

This has clear precedents in the urban subversion campaigns of the IRA in the 1980s, Che Guevara, Carlos Marighella and the Red Army Faction, among others. The lesson from these campaigns, argues Kilcullen, is that countersubversion campaigns must “focus primarily on strengthening, protecting and building networks of trust with at-risk communities … and should only apply active law enforcement measures to neutralize subversive actors as a secondary task.” By contrast, the Indian approach has been almost entirely force-led, with another 60 protesters arrested for trying to go to the mosque today.

The other point to make is that the government needs to present the current violence as instigated by a sinister cabal of insurgents, rather than a spontaneous expression of public anger, and today’s revelations of subversive engineering fit that need a little too neatly. Violence in Kashmir has fallen dramatically in recent years, from 1,116 fatalities in 2006 to 375 in 2009 according to the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, and tourism figures to the end of May were the highest in two decades. But the primary threat in Kashmir today is popular discontent at the lack of progress on political reform, and this is manifesting itself less in militant attacks and more in amateur stone-throwing, as John Elliott argues here. The reason for the recent disintegration has been the heavy-handed response of a poorly trained police, with every new death prolonging and deepening the crisis. This is not to say that a sinister cabal of militants is not interested in adding to the subversion, but given the current climate, the lack of political will for a comprehensive solution to the underlying problems, and the mounting civilian casualties, that cabal does not have to do much but sit back and watch.

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