Millennium Post

Hope floats in Valley of Fear

The creases on the foreheads of the top security forces officials deployed in Jammu and Kashmir seem to have increased a little more this time. The creases do appear about now as the snow melts in the high mountain passes, through which terrorist infiltrators enter to cause havoc in the Valley. This time around though, it is not only the usual terrorist threat, but another factor that is dominating their threat boards: the enhanced construction activity in the Northern Areas (NA) of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), leading to a palpable increase in Chinese footprints in the entire region.

A top military observer, who visited the valley about a fortnight ago said that the ongoing four laning of the Karakoram Highway, the proposed rail link between Kashgar in the Xinjiang province of China and Havelian, just off Manshera, in NA, as also the four laning of the Gilgit-Skardu highway have been noted with a fair degree of concern. 'Even though one has to be cautious about how to term these activities, strategically it seems like shaping a future battlefield,' the observer said, adding, 'This is where a new Great Game is going to be played.'

He also pointed out that from a categorical 1999 statement, delivered during the Kargil conflict by China, that the ‘map of the region cannot be redrawn through blood’. Such statements have not been forthcoming for the past few years. Instead there seems to be a perceptible shift in the battlefield arena. But there is a marked, palpable change in the security environment of the valley. The year 2011 had been more or less peaceful. There had been no cases of major terrorist attacks during the year; the level of infiltration was also down substantially, besides it was ensured  that the strong civil resistance witnessed during 2010 was not allowed to be repeated.

A lot of people credit these changes, especially the improved relationship between the security and the civillians, to the leadership of Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, who took over charge of the XV Corps based in Srinagar in end 2010. Hasnain has been able to forge a closer relationship of the security forces, dominated by the army, with the civilian population.

A sensitive general, Hasnain, besides being the only Muslim officer at the three star level of the army, has also advocated and implemented changes within the armed forces deployed in the Valley. The first is to bring in attitudinal changes in the jawans who have to interact with the people. For example, if a jawan stops a vehicle for a search, these days they first greet the occupants and then politely ask people in the car to help them conduct the search. This has brought down the feeling of having to confront an 'occupation force' in the people.

During the cordon and search operations, no longer are common people made to go through the humiliating process of being herded to a central ground in the village and wait there till the forces have searched through their houses and rummaged through their belongings. Instead, the forces are told not to form a close circle around the houses under search. Now, they normally throw a larger ring of forces around the village, avoiding a close confrontation. Though this requires a larger number of people to man the cordon, it minimises ruffling the feathers of the civilian population.

Most importantly, Lt Gen Hasnain travels through the length and breadth of the Valley meeting people and listening to their grievances. The youth are specifically targeted to express their feelings and opinions. This has created a sense of inclusivity in the region.

Whether all these factors could keep the Valley quiet and in peace this year too is being watched closely by the governments in Delhi and Srinagar. Till the snow starts falling again, the Chinars can be in full bloom.
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