For years, media has been telling us that there are 150-200 terrorists in Kashmir. Every year the security forces kill 150-200 terrorists. Next year, again we have a similar number joining ranks; the throughput in the system remains the same.
We are killing terrorists, not terrorism.
I recently spent time with the Commanding Officer of 19 Rashtriya Rifles, in South Kashmir. He is that typical breed of young infantry COs of the Indian Army; aggressive, decisive and wise beyond their years. He said something to me that will stay with me for a long time.
“I am responsible not just to the men under my command, but also to their families. Death of even one of my men is simply not acceptable to me, but I understand that defending the nation comes at a cost. So, I drive my men and myself to train in the freezing cold, day in and day out, without respite, for those 5 seconds of reckoning. When they come face to face with the enemies of the nation, they must win. In this game, there is no silver medal; its either gold, or death”.
As I travel through the breadth of South Kashmir, the hotbed of separatism and terror, I encounter a recurring sight; young Kashmiri men walking with their heads bowed, staring at a smartphone. Are they any different form young men around the world? Not really, except the content that most of them consume. Call it pure, unadulterated poison.
The Kashmir Valley is being radicalized at a furious pace. There are more than five hundred madrasas in Anantnag alone, unmonitored and free to decide what they will teach to the impressionable young. Thousands of such madrasas dot the landscape across Kashmir. In many such schools of religious learning, the teachers are no longer Kashmiris. They are from Deoband and they owe fealty to Jamaat-i-Islami. In these madrasas, the glory of Jihad is taught to children as young as five years old.
Smartphones in Kashmir have content that is shocking, and we have no strategy to counter it. If we say we do, we are lying. WhatsApp groups are used not just to gather stone pelters at the site of an encounter, but also to warn terrorists of movement of security forces. There are young men always close by, walking and watching. If they see an army convoy leaving the gates of an army camp, the message is broadcast immediately – number of vehicles, direction of movement and estimated number of troops.
Fake Twitter handles and Facebook pages are created by the thousands, backed by Pakistan’s ISI. Blogs, Vlogs, music, videos, and literature…it is an entire industry set up to poison the Kashmiri mind, and it is high-volume, high-quality, professional content. ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations), the PR wing of the Pakistani Armed Forces is the mother of this e-Jihad. And the poisonous content they create lands up on the smartphone of the young of Kashmir. Mass scale brainwashing is happening right under our noses.
When I was posted in Jammu & Kashmir, encounters with foreign terrorists were common. Afghans, Sudanese and Pakistanis were some nationalities that came to India to seek heaven. They raped Kashmiri women, killed with impunity and roamed the streets with abandon. The Indian Army responded by setting up anti-infiltration grids. Over a period of time, the deluge of foreign terrorists became a trickle. An odd Pakistani still manages to sneak in, but the majority of terrorists in Kashmir are locals.
Pakistan has ensured that it no longer need export terror to India. Pakistan radicalizes the young of Kashmir in the name of jihad. These young men join the ranks of terror organizations. Just so that they don’t have second thoughts, their pictures are taken with weapons and circulated on social media. Once security forces get these pictures, these men are marked. Once they die in an encounter with security forces, huge funerals are organized. These funerals are actually recruitment rallies. Terror has been outsourced to the victim of terror.
This entire environment ensures that there is always a steady stream of terrorists in Kashmir, home grown and able to melt into their surroundings. This also gives Pakistan plausible deniability. They can hence rightfully claim that the “freedom struggle” in Kashmir is indigenous.
As I said, the throughput in the system remains the same. Checkmate.
Information Warfare (IW) must be recognized as a weapon of war. It is. Yet, it is not. IW is a halfhearted push, even in the army. We don’t seem to realize that the enemy is in the mind, not on the ground. Killing terrorists will not solve the problem. Getting all mushy with the locals will not solve the problem, either.
Social media is the cause of the majority of problems we are facing in Kashmir. We should have been able to counter it long back. We didn’t. Here is a roadmap that will tell anyone in position of authority and willing to listen, how this can be done.
What is urgently required is a fully secure building in NCR Delhi, staffed by army officers at the top echelons. Lets call this building, the BLUE BOX. The top ‘management’ of this Blue Box must be wafer thin. The rest of the team, thousands of them, will be civilians, with the mean age not exceeding 25 years. We need content writers, videographers, special effects experts, video editors, hackers, social media experts, research scholars, experts in Islamic theology, linguists, songwriters and musicians, all under the same roof. In that building, we need a recording studio, server rooms, IT hardware, software, high speed Internet and all equipment related to content creation and social media. We need Kashmiri Muslim men and women working for us. Yes, there are thousands of them who put their lives on the line each day to tell India’s story. We must mobilize them.
All these professionals should be paid well, and made to sign NDAs. Thousands of Twitter handles, Facebook profiles, Instagram accounts, blogs, Vlogs, websites and WhatsApp groups need to be created, a veritable firestorm of pro-India content.
There must be action at multiple levels. Creation of content to counter malicious propaganda, creation of content to push our own narrative and ‘managing’ local Kashmiri media are the three immediate challenges.
IW must percolate down to the Rashtriya Rifles Sector level. It is important for the Sector Commanders to have their own IW team of professionals (civilians included), which is directly plugged into IW of Victor Force and Kilo Force. These must, in turn, be plugged into the IW cells of XV Corps, Northern Command and ADGPI. It is also essential to post a qualified IW officer at the RR battalion level. He may not generate IW content directly, but most information will pass through him. Information Warfare is both top down and bottom up. A simple top down approach can be detrimental because when it comes to social media use, both information and content are mostly generated at the ground level.
The need of the hour is to go on a massive media and social media offensive. It is important to flood Kashmir with a counter narrative.
RR Battalion and Sector Commanders must have the independence to deal with local and national media. The reasons are valid. It is not difficult to imagine a Tamil journalist living and reporting from New Delhi, or a Bengali reporting from Gujarat. The only limiting factor is language. Kashmir’s story is different. You have to be a Kashmiri to be able to stay in and report from the Valley. I am sure there is the possibility of a rare exception, but I am not aware of any. Indian journalists from outside the Kashmir Valley are just too afraid of being harmed or even killed, if they live and report from Srinagar. That fear is not without reason. Here, I speak about the national media, both print and electronic.
The local Kashmiri media is another kettle of fish. Hiding behind the façade of freedom of expression, it deals in rumors, insinuation and lies. While Indian media is known to be a little elastic with the truth, local Kashmiri media often behaves like the propaganda wing of the Hurriyat. I wouldn’t be surprised if individual reporters are on Pakistan’s payroll. Look at it from the ISI’s perspective. It makes perfect sense.
Private Kashmiri TV channels are an urgent requirement. DD Kashir is a dead duck. Private FM Channels should become a part of Kashmiri life. Both audio and video content must be beamed live across the Valley. Much of it must be web-based. Newspapers in Kashmiri and Urdu should be launched that tell our story. Distribute them free of cost, if we must. And all this should be plugged in to the Blue Box.
We simply have to find a way to communicate with Kashmiris through TV, print, radio, web and social media. There is no other road.
Massive infusion of funds is needed in the education system in Kashmir. Madrasas funded by Jamaat-i-Islami must be shut down and replaced with schools with a sensible, modern curriculum. Lets not get all touchy feely about this. The cost of our ‘liberal’ outlook is borne by soldiers.
This madness, which pervades Kashmir, is a mental illness. This madness will not go away, unless we attack its foundation. The foundation is in the mind.
We have been a careless nation. We have allowed this madness to spread in Kashmir, madness seemingly without end. But end, it must. The Blue Box is no longer a luxury. It is a question of survival.
Ministries and departments cannot run the Blue Box. It cannot be run by intelligence agencies. They simply don’t have the capability or the understanding. Teenagers and young adults, mavericks who don’t follow the rules, must run the Blue Box. And the army must supervise this operation.
It is time to call in the Indian Army once more. The only difference will be that this time, the laptop will replace the AK 47. It calls for a mindset change, a revolution in the army’s way of thinking. But history is witness that there is no student more willing than the Indian Army. Why involve the army, some would ask. Well, the Indian Army is the only institution that has men on ground and can get the job done. No excuses, no stories, no delays.
The Blue Box is what the Indian Army urgently needs in Kashmir. It has enough weapons, bulletproof jackets and helmets. There is no dearth of such equipment. But you cannot kill an idea, however poisonous, with an AK 47. Only an idea can kill an idea.
If we create the Blue Box, over time the throughput in the system will cease to exist.