Winning hearts and minds

Many parts of the world are inflicted with insurgencies and militaries world over have been deployed in numerous counter-insurgency (CI) operations. Similarly, the Indian Army along with defending the borders continues to remain deployed in counter-insurgency operations ranging from the North-East to Jammu & Kashmir, for almost 60 years. Considering the importance of the civil population in CI Operations, the doctrine of sub-conventional warfare of the Indian Army released in January 2007 placed winning hearts and minds (WHAM) as a prerequisite in conducting successful counter-insurgency operations. Redefining the basic definition of the role, the CI strategies of the Indian Army aims at not only winning the war but also avoiding it all together.

A manifestation of this strategy can be best reflected through Operation Sadhbhavna. In 1998, The Northern Command of the Indian Army launched Operation Sadhbhavna (meaning goodwill) and expanded its mandate to rebuilding the socio-economic lives of the people affected by terrorism. The operation aims at winning over alienated sections of the society and promoting development activities that focus on the basic needs of the people. Post-Kargil, in 2000, the operation was extended to Ladakh and Kargil by Lt Gen Arjun Ray, the then commander of 14 Corps. The initial aim of the operation was to prevent the Kashmir insurgency from spreading to the Ladakh region. It focused on bringing development and dignity to the 109,500 people residing in the 190 villages close to the Line of Control.

From 1998 to 2008, a total of Rs. 276.08 crores were allocated by the Ministry of Defence (MoD and spent on numerous developmental activities under this operation. Throughout the operation, the villagers of the conflict zones were the focal point around which the development was planned. Acting as the facilitator between the state administration and the villagers, the Indian Army assisted in planning, providing technical solutions and supervision of the developmental projects. The focus areas of the operation have been education, women empowerment, health care, community development and development of infrastructure. Local labour, artists and material was used to pump in money into the local economy. A wide range of projects were undertaken ranging from building and renovating schools; establishing vocational and computer training centres; bridges, roads, providing free medical services etc.

The results of the operation have been phenomenal and were illustrative of the change that the operation had aimed to achieve. Developmental projects helped transform the lives in border villages of Kashmir and instilled in the villagers a sense of confidence towards the army personnel. The locals cooperated enthusiastically in the completion of the projects and more importantly, people who harboured militants earlier, were now actively engaged in removing them.

In the year 2000-2001 alone, the army contributed a total of Rs. 35.34 crores to the local economy. In Ladakh region, 13 Army Goodwill Schools, 11 Women empowerment centres, 6 medical complexes were created.  Additional facilities also included 6 cooperative poultry farms, a boys’ hostel in Drass and an orphanage at Kargil. Along with providing 40 generators, a total of eight villages in the remote areas of the region have been electrified and the numbers continue to rise. Almost 1000 MHP are being constructed to meet the electricity demands and 283 MHPs have always been accomplished.

With regard to the success of Operation Sadbhavana, the case of Turtuk is worth a mention. Turtuk was part of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) until 1971 when India occupied it. In 1999, intrusion by Pakistani forces in the sector remained undetected because the locals did not inform the Indian Army, as it was viewed as an occupation force. The locals had refused to provide any logistical support to the Indian troops and reportedly even guided Pakistani shelling. After the launch of Operation Sadbhavana, the scene today is starkly different. The local population was the beneficiary of the army’s novel steps on border management and today the Indian army is considered as ‘apni fauj’ in the sector. Since Sadbhavana started, 80 men from the Turtuk area have joined the army and 32 the police.

Operation Sadbhavana since its inception has exemplified the Indian Army’s role in nation-building. The operation which continues to drive many developmental projects in border areas has positively impacted the lives of the populace and ameliorated the sufferings of those afflicted by militancy and insurgency. The operation in general created an urge among the local population to help themselves and become self-reliant. In the long run, it would be appropriate to transfer the projects to civil administration, which would best take the novel efforts of the Indian Army forward. The efforts by the army have also helped in projecting a positive image of the Indian government and civil administration. The strategy of WHAM has paid rich dividends and has also been an important factor in changing the perspectives of local populace towards the Army and has increased cooperation with the civil government.


Courtesy: The Indian Express, 15 January 2011

Aditi Malhotra


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