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Put faith in trust


Prem Shankar Jha

          An experiment in Kargil shows how the army can win over the people in Kashmir.

In November 1998, a small closed-door conference was held at the Army Training Command Centre in Shimla. Its purpose was to discuss the future role of the Indian army in a nuclearised military environment, and to frame issues for discussions at various command headquarters before preparing a blue-print for the future. A key question was whether the possession of nuclear weapons had made conventional high-intensity conflict obsolete.

     The Kargil war answered this question within six months. It showed that the possession of nuclear weapons did not rule out conventional high-intensity conflict.

     It also showed that it was exceedingly difficult for the same troops and the same command structure to fight both kinds of war. As a result, the government split the two functions.

     Recognising that the XV Corps, which was headquartered in Srinagar, would of necessity have to spend much of its time fighting a low-intensity war, a second corps, the XIV Corps, headquartered in Leh, was created to deal with the Kargil and Siachen sectors and to man the Line of Actual Control with China. Needless to say, this corps was devoted almost entirely to conventional, high-intensity conflict.

But what followed in the 12 months after XIV Corps be-came operational was something no one could have foreseen. Not only has it had to come to terms with incipient militancy, but in doing so it has created a model of cooperation with civil authority - both the politicians and the administration - that promises to become a model for territorial consolidation and nation-building throughout the country.

     That militancy had made some inroads into Kargil had become apparent during the war itself. But far more disturbing was the realisation that villagers in the valleys below the LoC had known that there were groups of armed men moving around on the ridges for the previous three months.

     But not one had considered it necessary to inform the army until finally a lone Buddhist shepherd did so in early May. It thus became clear that while militancy might not have actually taken root in Kargil, the precondition for it - alienation from the government and the State - was already far advanced.

     When the new corps commander, General Arjun Ray, took over, he faced the need to secure his rear before he could concentrate on his forward defences. It was here that he departed from established practice. Realising that alienation was very different from active militancy, he decided to target not militants but the cause of militancy.

     The difference between the two approaches is profound. The former looks upon the population with suspicion, and seeks, by a variety of means, to identify and isolate, if not eliminate, militants. That is what the security forces have been doing in Kashmir and earlier in Punjab.

     The latter assumes that the people are, if not with the government, at least capable of being won over. The job of the security forces, therefore, becomes one of reducing the distance between them and the State and making them its beneficiaries and ultimately supporters.

With this in mind, Ray launched an ambitious outreach programme, Sadbhavana, to enable the army to win the trust of the people. Elements of Sadbhavana have been in existence al-most since the insurgency in Kashmir began. Army detachments have frequently provided medical assistance, repaired school buildings, restored power lines and repaired bridges and roads at the request of the villagers in the areas where they have been stationed. But these efforts have been sporadic and scattered products of individual initiative at the company or battalion commander level.

     This was the first time that the organisational, medical, engineering, transport and educational expertise of an entire army corps was put at the disposal of the people, not to combat an emergency or natural disaster, but to promote their social and human development. And all this was done without jeopardising its primary function of training and deployment for high-intensity conflict.

Under this programme, 46,400 persons have received medical treatment at field, command and central hospitals all the way till the Post-Graduate Medical Institute at Chandigarh. Incidentally, the total population of Kargil is 127,000.

     The army has set up 16 primary schools and is set-ting up 16 more. These will teach over 4,000 children. The number will in-crease as senior classes are added. Each of the schools had six computers and dedicated software to teach the children English and computer skills written in Urdu.

     There are six vocational training centres where 500 girls are receiving training in knitting, sewing dresses, carpet making, computer skills and continuing education till class 12. Two centres have been set up for the mentally challenged. In an attempt to inject cash into the economy, the army is procuring 44 per cent of its vegetables, milk and eggs from local co-operatives that it had helped to set up.

     It has launched a recruitment drive to increase the proportion of Muslims in the Ladakh Scouts from 8 to 30 per cent. Perhaps most dramatic has been its success in saving over 220,000 apricot trees from dying because of a four-year-long drought in the district.

     With government generators having broken down, and pumps to draw water from the river on their last legs, the army rushed in pumps and generators of its own and managed to water the trees in time. Much of this year's apricot crop has been lost, but the invaluable trees, which are 25 to 50 years old, have been saved.

The impact that Sadbhavana has had on relations between the people and the army is difficult for those who have not visited these facilities to grasp. Thirty-five years of hearing politicians announce brave new programmes of miraculous social uplift, only to see them die ignominious deaths, has left me a confirmed sceptic.

     But in Kargil two small indicators told me a different tale. In an ultra-conservative, predominantly Shia society, not one parent, Agha or maulvi, had objected to girls going out to schools to study. What is even more significant, although most of the schools are in military areas, no one harboured any misgivings about sending adolescent girls into such an alien and pre-dominantly male environment.

     Where  has this trust sprung from? The answer boils down to one word: trust.

     The army has one ingredient that civil administration in India lost long ago. This is accountability for work it promises to do.

     When a senior officer tells his subordinate to provide a pump or generator, or repair a phone line within a specified period, people know that his orders will be obeyed. What is more, they will not have to bribe or wheedle or cajole to see it happen.

     In civil administration, the very concept of being held accountable for work done had ceased to exist. In the absence of accountability, corruption and extortion have flourished. For the people, therefore, the State had gradually become a predator, and therefore a hostile entity to be shunned.

     It is obvious that lack of accountability is not confined to Kargil, but is the rule in most of India. Sadbhavana has shown one way in which this can be got around.

But it also raises almost as many questions. If the army takes over the functions of the executive, will it not further delegitimise the government? If so, what will happen to democracy?

     The answer that XIV Corps has found is to work as closely as possible with the political representatives of the area, the district ad-ministration, key private organisations (in the case of Kargil, religious ones) like the Anjuman-i-Islamiyya, and the Khomeini Trust, and the people of the affected area. Whenever possible, it has sought the sanction, and obtained the equipment and finances from the civil authority.

     Only when the problem has been urgent and the civil authority too remote for immediate consultation, has it acted entirely on its own. It has thus seen its role as being that of a facilitator rather than an initiator.

     This a model that should be extended to other insurgency-prone areas, including, above all, in the Kashmir Valley, It can also be extended to states and districts where the administration has, for one reason or another, broken down.

     Finally, it needs to be extended to areas where militancy has been suppressed but civilian government is either moribund or incapable of reforming itself, Once again, Kashmir springs to mind.

Courtesy :

The Hindustan Times

(1 July, 2001)

18-20 Kasturba Gandhi Marg,

New Delhi 110 001.






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