While Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) periodically reverts to violent ways, interest in its affairs still remains high. A solution is elusive and will likely remain so for a long time. The villain of the play — Pakistan – maintains the conflict by proxy and, at the same time, analytical literature continues to appear from time to time: a few scholarly articles and a strange, mostly cliché book. However, after long enough, comes a comprehensive text with authentic research and based on experience in handling the J&K situation at the national strategic level. HarperCollins recently published a book by General Nirmal Chander Vij, The enigma of Kashmir: the quest for peace in a troubled country. It is a masterpiece on India’s most intractable security problem that has plagued us since independence. General Vij is eminently qualified to write this, being a former Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, and then the army chief. Moreover, he is from Jammu and hence was born in the conflict zone. The people of Jammu have greater interests in peace in Kashmir although they do not like being part of a hyphenated state, now a union territory.
General Vij uses a very sequential format that allows the reader to easily relate to the context. Unlike most books on J&K, which get bogged down deep in history and lack space to analyze current issues, it avoids the temptation to delve into too much detail about the origins of the problem. However, it covers the essentials of post-independence history that build the context. The wars of 1947-48, 1965 and 1971 are analyzed from a political-strategic angle that sets the stage for understanding the deliberations of the Pakistani deep state to overcome the asymmetric situation with India.
The interesting aspect is that in a 412-page book, the decision analysis scene of August 5, 2019, to amend 370 and dividing J & K into two Union Territories occurs as early as page 176. Before that, the author discusses the start and progression of Pakistan’s proxy war, the different settlement formulas that emerged under different rulers , especially after the turn of the millennium.
What may be a little disappointing for military enthusiasts is the treatment of 1999 Kargil War in just a few pages. General Vij was the DGMO of the Indian Army in 1999 and therefore, in addition to having an overview of the events around Kargil 1999, he was also involved in the planning, execution and post-deliberations. operation with its counterpart Pakistan Army. It would have been tempting to write down all his experience of this very difficult period. Yet he flaunts his political savvy by including whatever is necessary but deliberating in more detail only on issues that have had a major political-strategic impact on J&K.
A comprehensive chapter on Perception Management confirms its support for the Indian Army’s very deliberate and balanced strategy of kinetic and non-kinetic operations. A potential lesson for the political community and leaders emerges from his analysis of Operation Sadbhavana, the Indian Army’s military civic action program. He recommends taking this agenda beyond the military alone, to give it the proverbial perspective of a “whole of government approach”. In fact, he suggests renaming it Operation Yakeen when performed at state and national levels. This chapter also considers the non-kinetic approach comprehensively with the immense experience gained by the Indian Army in handling the domain of perception. Education, youth affairs, economics, media, information, narrative management and counter-radicalization are all included with some guidance on how this might all be executed.
Without neglecting achievements in the military field, General Vij included a comprehensive chapter on India’s counter-militant strategy. It divides this into sequential phases, each with distinct characteristics. However, the real value of this chapter, beyond the factual account of events, is the insight it sketches into the main pillars of Pakistani strategy.
There are references and explanations of the LoC fence. It is something insufficiently written or talked about in India. General Vij, in his typical magnanimous way, claims no personal credit for it. However, it should be known that the Indian Army’s achievement to reduce infiltration to manageable numbers was made possible by the Anti-Infiltration Obstacle System (AIOS) based on the LoC Fence, a brainchild of the author, who in 2003 had first sought ways to reduce the strength of J&K’s resident terrorists to below a thousand. The loins of terrorism have been largely shattered by this measure.
Two chapters – “A Paradigm Shift” and “The Road Ahead” – complete an immensely readable book. Both examine the different aspects of the gray area that constitutes the enigma of Kashmir. In the years to come, this book should emerge as a virtual textbook to turn to if one wishes to have the basics for understanding the J&K problem.
Finally, in a book based on personal experience of an unsolvable problem, we almost never read any personal contribution or come across the word “I”. It is quite remarkable indeed.
(Lt. Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain (Retired), former Corps Commander of the 15th Corps based in Srinagar, is Chancellor of Central University of Kashmir)