How to counter radicalisation in Jammu & Kashmir
In the last few years, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has witnessed a discernible rise in the levels of radicalisation and violent extremism. There has been a marked increase in local recruitment of terrorist groups. The youth today appear far more emboldened to disrupt military operations and challenge the State authority, especially in the Kashmir Valley. The frenzied stone-pelting mobs at the encounter sites, of late, have demonstrated increasing levels of motivation and boldness in facilitating the escape of terrorists.
The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) sponsored propaganda and psychological operations based on toxic, warped and intolerant religious and ideological narratives have been instrumental in proselytising the people, eroding the ideals of ‘Kashmiriyat’ and gradually sowing the seeds of jihadist culture. Pakistan has effectively employed the cyberspace, subverted sections of the media and its proxies in the state for this purpose. The Friday prayers at the mosques are being used to fuel extremism and the young impressionable minds at the madrassas are also being surreptitiously subjected to jihadist ideology on a daily basis. Pakistan has also leveraged the existing communal fault lines in other parts of our country to create insecurities that bolster secessionist tendencies and an inclination for a new political order.
The rising level of radicalisation has manifested in increasing number of young people taking to arms. Even some of the well educated and employed youth have fallen prey to the ISI’s psychological machinations. As compared to 131 young people , who joined various terrorist outfits in 2017, the number in 2018 rose to over 200. Some new terrorist outfits, such as ISIS-Kashmir and Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind aligned to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al Qaeda ideologies, have also mushroomed in the past few years.
Radicalisation is a product of protracted psychological conditioning of the minds; it has no quick fixes. It requires an enduring strategy that focuses not just on targeting the external and internal actors and conditions that fuel radicalisation but also attends to the process of de-radicalisation. Logically, it should form an additional dedicated prong of our overarching national strategy that aims at bringing normalcy in J&K. In addition to the ongoing military operations, it will require a coordinated deployment of our political, diplomatic, economic, social, and perception management prowess.
An effective sealing of the conflict zone, both in the physical and virtual domains, is a prerequisite for dealing with the deteriorating situation. Therefore, in addition to plugging the porosity of the Line of Control, we need to establish ‘information superiority’ in the virtual space, which will deny the ISI and their proxies the ability to use various communication platforms to their advantage. It will also help us in the acquisition of uninterrupted real time intelligence, which is critical for proactive management and shaping of the environment. State of the art technologies available with our strategic partners like the United States and Israel should be leveraged to hone this capability.
Improvements in governance are necessary, whereby political leaders at all levels and the administration remain committed to the aspirations of the people. The state’s Vigilance Commission should be revitalised to deal with widespread corruption, which has precluded the desired economic development in the state. Sincere efforts should also be made in addressing the feelings of any perceived injustice. Rogue political and community leaders, who are playing to the tune of negative elements and spoilers, should be sternly dealt with as per the law. Contemporary educational infrastructure with dedicated security cover should be created and the religious preachers at the mosques should not be allowed to spew venom and spread jihadist ideology. Since poverty creates exploitable conditions for radicalisation and idle minds are the root of all evil, job opportunities should be created expeditiously by giving a boost to tourism, developing infrastructure and raising additional Home Guards and security forces units.
On the military front, the security forces should continue with their people-friendly counter proxy war operations, employing smart power, which is an imaginative mix of both hard and soft power. In concert with these operations, a determined drive under the police should be undertaken to ensure effective management of prisons and for neutralising various inimical players of the environment as per the law. De-radicalisation cells manned by experts and police personnel should be established alongside all prisons and also at the affected district headquarters. Well conceived and implemented de-radicalisation programmes can help the inmates and other radicalised individuals to reject the radical jihadist beliefs and re-embrace the prescribed value-based tenets of Islam.
Enduring political, diplomatic and perception management initiatives to coerce Pakistan to stop meddling in our internal affairs and putting an end to external funding should continue with added zeal. Perception management initiatives should also help counter toxic narratives and help cement mental and emotional bonding of the people of the Valley with the nation. The electronic and print media, in the larger interest of national security, should exercise prudence and ensure their reportage strengthens our secular fabric and does not widen or deepen any existing fault lines.
Radicalisation is the first step in the psychological process that transforms innocent young men into terrorists. As a nation, we need to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and put a pragmatic strategy in place at the earliest. Building strong shields of mental resilience among the youth is imperative to enable them to resist the temptations of any radical ideology.
Bikram Singh is the former Chief of the Army Staff
The views expressed are personal