The Indian Army’s doctrine of sub-conventional warfare released in 2007 in fact envisaged that Operation Sadbhavna would provide the healing touch during conflict and win over the alienated sections of people in the conflict zones.
The projects, according to a study done by a scholar at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) are identified and selected jointly with the state administration and the people at the grass root level. The Army actsq as a facilitator and catalyst and actively assists in planning, provides technical assistance, makes available specialized equipment and supervises it.
The scholar, Dr Arpita Anat asserted in 2010 that implementation of the projects under this initiative has had an extremely positive impact on the minds of the local population. Various educational schemes and women empowerment centres have helped in employment generation and transformed many lives. However, a common refrain was that there is scope for improvement in coordination between the Army and civil administration. Dr. Anant’s interface with local journalists revealed that although the initiative of the Army was very praiseworthy, real peace will come only with the resolution of the political problem.
Five years on, my own travels in J&K have convinced me that Op Sadbhavna has outlived its utility and it is time for the Army to end the scheme. The changing dynamics of on the ground situation in J&K makes it imperative for the Army to step back a little and let the other arms of the civil administration step up to the plate to deliver the basic services to the people.
Since Jammu and Kashmir is in a stage of ‘conflict stabilisation,’ the Army must consolidate its gains earned during intense and costly CI-CT (counter-insurgency, counter-terrorist) operations it has conducted over the past quarter century and not get distracted by civic action programmes like Op Sadbhavna.
Officially, the Army may not recommend dissolution of Op Sadbhavna but many officers and troops deployed on ground have increasingly felt that the project to win over the local population in J&K is showing diminishing returns over the past three-four years.
While violence may be down and the number of terrorists operating in the hinterland may have decreased dramatically, the demands of the people on the Army have been going up in direct proportion to the normalisation of the situation, straining the Army’s limited manpower.
Since the scope of Op Sadbhavna was always small, the Army does not have the resources to meet rising aspirations of the people demanding better lifestyle and living standards. Normally, this should have been the State Government’s and not the Army’s responsibility but during the high intensity conflict years the Army was the only contact point for the people in rural Jammu and Kashmir. Now, that bond is proving to be an albatross around the Army’s neck.
Keeping everyone happy is becoming difficult and in any case the Army is not in J&K to win any popularity contest. It is time that the Army de-linked itself From Operation Sadbhavana which represented at best a tool for feasible transition to the political process.
Over the years, Operation Sadbhavana had put the organisational, medical, engineering, transport and educational expertise of the Army at the disposal of the people but if prolonged any further it may jeopardize the Army’s primary function of training and deployment for high-intensity conflict.
And that is something that the Army can ill-afford given that Pakistan is unlikely to end its proxy war in J&K any time soon.