Lieutenant Murdered Because of India’s Headless Chicken Syndrome

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New Delhi, India – 2008 © Jeremy Richards

India’s political leadership has failed to counter the Pakistan army militarily or diplomatically, leading to tragic consequences for its security forces and the people of Kashmir.

The recent death and mutilation of two Indian soldiers by the Pakistani army-backed border action team, followed by the abduction and brutal murder of Lieutenant Umar Fayaz by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists in Kashmir, has placed the Indian government on the political back foot. It is time India firms up a response to the policies of the Pakistani army. Any further continuation of the “headless chicken” syndrome as a measure of policy will only embolden Islamabad and its proxies in Kashmir and elsewhere in India.

It is a tragedy that despite more than seven decades of relentless violence instigated by Pakistan, Indian polity has failed to evolve a consistent strategic and defense policy to confront its adversary. Starting from 1947, when Pakistan first invaded Kashmir under the garb of tribal irregulars, it has been a litany of Indian flip-flops that has encouraged Islamabad to needle India. New Delhi’s failure to formally acknowledge the fact that the nation is at war with Pakistan epitomizes this prevarication.

WHY LIEUTENANT FAYAZ’S MURDER MATTERS

The brutal murder of Fayaz is, however, a new low even by the macabre standards of Islamist terrorists. In the nearly three decades of terrorism in Kashmir, never had a local army officer on leave from his unit been made a target. The message from the terrorists and their mentors via this killing is manifold.

First, the terrorists want the government to know that no one in Kashmir is safe, not even army officers. The perceived immunity provided to the army officers of Kashmir has been withdrawn. The message from the terrorists is clear: the gloves are off.

This message is of particular importance in view of the fact that Kashmir has a rich tradition of providing soldiers to the security forces. Notwithstanding the continuing violence, 19,000 youngsters appeared for the army recruitment drive in Patan recently. That the military is the only organization providing a secure and respectable job that takes the youth away from the strife-torn valley bereft of employment opportunities has added to the allure of the army. The terrorists believe the murder will send a signal to future aspirants and their families about the retribution to be faced in case they join the army. They intend to drive a wedge between the Kashmiris and the Indian mainland by cutting off the umbilical cord of integration by joining the army.

Second, the message is also intended for the inhabitants of Kashmir, especially those who have still maintained firm in their allegiance to India. The terrorists want to ensure that the intelligence from the local populace dries up completely. Counter-insurgence measures depend heavily on local intelligence inputs, in the absence of which the security forces are blindfolded about the movement of terrorists and their sympathizers. The casualty rate among security forces has recently risen exponentially, as deprived of their eyes and ears on the ground they find it tough to differentiate between friends and foes. Without such intelligence, the security forces find it difficult to deal with an adversary adept at changing the rules of the game on a daily basis.

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Through the murder of Fayaz, the message for supporters of the security forces is loud and clear: if the army could not save its officer, the probability of an ordinary civilian surviving the onslaught would be miniscule.

The killing of Fayaz is a classical manifestation of the hybrid war unleashed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Such psychological operations are carried out to intimidate the opponent into submission. The effect of this was evident even during the funeral of Fayaz, as the people who turned up preferred to remain silent rather than express their anger against the killing.

In contrast, the aggressive funeral processions of terrorists killed by security forces have become a show of strength and a mode of gathering future proponents to the cause of jihad against India. The cause of worry for the Indian establishment should be the fact that Fayaz has been portrayed by Islamists as someone fighting for the “infidel Hindu army” and perhaps, therefore, deserving of his brutal end. The establishment has evidently failed in its mission, if there was one, to project Fayaz as a brave Kashmiri son of the soil attaining martyrdom in the line of duty.

Third, the ISI has been gradually escalating violence against Indian security forces, expecting a disproportionate response. The humiliation of Central Reserve Police Force personnel returning from poll duty was not only meant to assuage the morale of terrorists. By using local civilians to berate the security personnel, the terrorists conveyed to the Kashmiris that there was no reason to fear Indian forces as they could be humiliated by a few locals without any retaliation. In case of retaliation, stories would have been spun on how the Indian soldiers used force on unarmed civilians mocking at them in jest.

It is a win for the ISI and its proxy terrorists using typical hybrid war techniques. The stone throwing on security forces, which has been carried on relentlessly ever since the neutralization of Burhan Wani in July 2016, is another aspect of the psychological operations, with social media being used to portray it as a popular uprising against the Indian security forces — even with college girls and school children participating in the activity. The idea is to project a David vs. Goliath story across international media, with some Indian journalists promoting it without understanding the sinister mind indulging in it and the implications thereon.

Finally, but no less importantly, the death and mutilation of soldiers and the murder of Fayaz are also a subtle signal to the international conglomerate of jihadists. Linkage will be drawn between the act of beheading, which will be presented as drawing inspiration from Islamic scriptures and their reference to treatment of the infidel enemy. The Pakistani army, which has been radicalized ever since the advent of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, is cleverly positioning itself as the fulcrum of the Sunni Muslim world and the only defender of Islam against a mythical Christian-Zionist-Hindu international coalition. Such acts are also intended as a signal to the radicalized elements inside India. If left unopposed, India could see lone wolf attacks for creating mass hysteria or high-profile assassination attempts.

MODI RETURNS TO OLD POLICY OF DRIFT

The restraint displayed by Indian security forces, though well intentioned, cannot continue indefinitely. Any security force once projected as effete and unable to defend itself loses the authority to counter terrorism. Politically, too, the casualties being taken by the security forces and the open display of Islamic State flags in Kashmir could be damaging for the Narendra Modi government. For a leader who had nationalism and decisive decision-making as his unique selling point at the polls, the drift in Kashmir could be politically damaging.

So, has Pakistan and its proxies crossed the Rubicon with the murder of Lieutenant Fayaz?

The Rubicon appeared to have been crossed after the surgical strikes conducted by Indian special forces in Pakistan in September 2016 as retribution for the attack on the Uri military camp, which killed 19 Indian soldiers. However, the strategic restraint that had apparently been forsaken by India after Uri seems to have made a quiet return evident in the patience displayed despite repeated provocations. The fact that the escalation of attacks on security forces is to lure the Indian army into another surgical strike and perhaps a trap cannot be discounted. The Pakistan army is a canny opponent and needs to be tackled as such.

The security forces and inter alia, however, cannot keep getting slapped, kicked and mutilated indefinitely. It is time the headless chicken syndrome is taken head on and consigned to the dust bin of history.

The headless chicken syndrome vis-à-vis Pakistan stretches back to 1947, when India approached the United Nations for a ceasefire despite its forces on the ascendance against the Pakistani army under the garb of tribal irregulars. Kashmir has become a festering wound ever since.

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In recent times, Inder Gujral, during his brief tenure as prime minister, dismantled the Indian intelligence network in Pakistan to promote his “Gujral doctrine.” In the absence of an intelligence network, the military was in no position to foresee Pakistani intrusion into Kargil in 1999.

Notwithstanding the huge loss of army officers during the Kargil War, it was back to business as General Pervez Musharraf, the architect of Kargil, was invited for summit talks in Agra in 2001. It is an accepted fact in strategy that negotiations are held from a position of strength. Following the Kargil War, Pakistan in general and Musharraf in particular faced international opprobrium. India provided legitimacy to the then-Pakistani leader by inviting him to Agra and frittering away that advantage. Musharraf had the pliant media bosses eating out of his hands during the summit. Encouraged by Indian pusillanimity, he had the chutzpah to blame the Indian leadership for the failure of talks, ignoring his own intransigence.

Agra was not the only time when a position of advantage had been converted into adversity by the affliction of the headless chicken syndrome. Vacillating between positions of belligerence to timidity had been the hallmark of Indian diplomacy. The parliament attack in 2001 was met by the biggest peace time deployment of army personnel as the country prepared for war during Operation Parakram. The muscle flexing finally amounted to nothing as after months of standoff, with the army retreating to peace positions.

The headless chicken syndrome reached its nadir when, within months of the 2008 attacks on Mumbai and despite domestic emotions raging against Pakistan for its complicity in the assault, then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Egypt. In a classic manifestation of political hara-kiri, the Indian delegation agreed to the inclusion of the Baloch insurgency in a joint statement. With the stroke of a pen, India allowed moral equivalence to Pakistan, which had blamed New Delhi for the insurgency. Again, a rogue army was allowed the space to wriggle out of an uncomfortable position of its own making.

Time, however, has come for India to forego this headless chicken syndrome. A bully, which the Pakistani army undoubtedly is, understands the street language of tit for tat. Political etiquette and humanity are something alien to their fundamental structure. To expect an army that has hanged a prime minister and assassinated another one to behave with civility is not only foolhardy, but also dangerous.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Richards

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