During the Def Expo 2020 in Lucknow, in an interview with a television channel, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, clarified on his earlier comments on the Raisina Dialogue, “Why must you allow a person to be radicalised and then deradicalise them?” He added, “Why do we run Goodwill Schools? I am preventing some of these children from going adrift and getting radicalised. So, you might call it deradicalization, but I would say it is preventive radicalisation.”

Goodwill schools have been the target of criticism by the Hurriyat. They have repeatedly asked their followers to withdraw children from the Army’s Goodwill schools and place them in Madrassas. This was because these schools were places where radicalisation would never take place. The only schools which the Hurriyat or its backers could never damage nor burn were Goodwill schools. They were fearful that these schools would make children understand the exploitation which Pakistan and they were resorting to.

Radicalisation of youth was being undertaken by multiple agencies working in tandem. In a recent case, separatists attempted to exploit the death of a Kashmiri youth, killed in a brawl in Jaipur, to instigate locals. Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti regularly influenced youth by announcing that any action of tampering with Kashmir’s status would lead to a backlash. They incited youth into violence against the state.

Pakistan and Imams in the valley have attempted radicalisation employing a volatile mix of Jihad and religion. With local administrative machinery on the defensive, it was solely the security forces that were campaigning against radicalisation. Since their reach went to grassroot levels, they were most aware of shortcomings and means to overcome them. They worked in tandem to change local mindsets. Multiple actions taken by security agencies over the years have helped partially reverse radicalisation.

There has been greater progress since restrictions on the internet and social media were imposed as it denied Pakistan these tools. This was supported by detention of political leaders. None of these steps involved locking population into deradicalisation camps but engaging with them and their families. One major step of preventive radicalisation has been Sadbhavana tours. This involves taking youth from different parts to the valley to cities across the country. Some groups interact with the President of India and the army chief. It enables them to understand how the nation has developed and what the future of Kashmir could be once peace reigns.

The army also sent a group of youth who were caught attempting to cross into Pakistan on a Sadbhavana tour. It changed their mindset. In recent times, Imams from mosques have been sent on similar tours. They interact with other Imams and as the CDS stated in the same interview, “You wanted them to see various ‘masjids’ in Delhi and Lucknow. You showed them this and said, ‘yaha bhi aapke jaise maulvi hai. Aap suno unko. Aap kya kar rahe the?’

“ In remote parts of the state the army provides medical cover to the local population. In peak winters, army personnel have carried the sick across large distances on stretchers to save lives. It has made the population realise that the army is not against them but for their welfare. During floods and natural calamities, the army remains the first responder. Local militants, trapped in encounters, are requested to surrender rather than being eliminated. In many cases, their family members have been brought to convince them to lay down arms.

While some have criticised the action, it has had its impact and anger towards the army for killing those who have picked up the gun has reduced. In recent days the Corps Commander of 15 Corps, Lt Gen KJS Dhillon under ‘Operation Maa’ has been requesting mothers to convince their sons against falling for Pakistani propaganda and taking up arms. He has even promised those who wish to return that “the army will ensure their safety and security and help them to get back into the mainstream.”

He stated, “Request all mothers of Kashmir to tell their sons to surrender and get back. Anyone who has picked up the gun will be killed and eliminated unless he surrenders.” It has helped reduce numbers of youth picking up the gun. The army acts as a link between the administration and the local public in many regions. Upon failure to obtain their dues in the form of kerosene or other subsidies, locals approach the army for help. The army then pushes the administration to act and ensures deliveries. In times of crises, the army shares its meagre resources with the local population.

Another preventive action has been the conduct of sports and cultural competitions. In a region where terrorism has led to almost no entertainment and activities to divert young minds, the army has come forward to create the diversion and enhance local skills. Sports and cultural competitions are held in areas where terrorism exists and these have been major successes. Not one event has been marred by terrorism or an untoward incident. The Army’s super 30 programme for preparing students for the JEE mains has been a success and many from the programme have joined prestigious professional engineering colleges in India.

As a veteran from the region stated, “The result gives a clear indication that students from J and K have the capacity to compete with the best in the country and come out victorious.” In its latest, the army conducted a smartphone film-making and screenplay writing course for youth in collaboration with Film and Television Institute of India, opening new avenues for them. While internal elements within the state seek to radicalise youth, it is the security forces, spearheaded by the army, who counters them. Their task is not easy but they have made slow and steady progress. The results are now visible as violence levels are down by over 60 per cent and the number of youth picking up the gun has dropped drastically from 14 per month prior to August 2019 to five per month post that period.

(The writer is a retired Major General of the Indian Army)