Long-term deployment of soldiers inevitably leads to friction with local communities. In Kashmir, the tensions have been heightened by the failure of the government to sanction the prosecution of military personnel involved even in egregious human rights violations
In 1947, as Pakistani forces raced east in an audacious effort to take Srinagar, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru outlined the strategic challenge that has haunted every Indian Prime Minister since. “The invasion of Kashmir,” he observed pithily, “is not an accidental affair resulting from the fanaticism or exuberance of the tribesmen, but a well-organised business with the backing of the State […] We have in effect to deal with a State carrying out an informal war, but nevertheless a war.”
Earlier this month, the lawyer and Aam Aadmi Party leader Prashant Bhushan issued a radical proposal for the troops that Mr. Nehru despatched into Kashmir’s towns and villages.
“People should be asked whether they want the Army to handle the internal security of Kashmir,” Mr. Bhushan told the television station Aaj Tak. “If people feel that the Army is violating human rights and they say they don’t want the Army to be deployed for their security then the Army should be withdrawn from the hinterland”. The proposal was assailed by political rivals, and mocked by critics. The AAP itself was soon scrambling to disassociate itself from the idea.
Mr. Bhushan’s idea of law-enforcement-by-referendum might be eccentric, even dangerous — but the idea of phasing out the Army from its counter-terrorism commitments in Kashmir deserves serious debate. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has also long advocated a drawdown of troops from the State’s populated areas, a demand New Delhi has summarily rejected.
The war Mr. Nehru so evocatively described is now entering a new and dangerous phase, fuelled by the meltdown of Pakistan and the looming crisis in Afghanistan. Yet, having fewer troops in Kashmir, rather than more, might just be the right thing to do.
Even while maintaining a robust presence on the Line of Control (LoC) and retaliating hard against Pakistani military provocation, pulling out troops from counter-terrorism duties in inhabited areas could help address the resentments that long-term deployment of troops inevitably engenders. It could also breathe energy into J&K’s democratic system.