New Delhi: Having covered the insurgencies of Kashmir and Punjab at their peak in the 1980s and 1990s, there are insights that this writer gained which are worth sharing with readers. These insights are available with army and police officers who are retired and have no desire for public engagements and a few others who are no more with us.

Punjab’s militancy was overcome because its roots were local while meddling by Pakistan and support of foreign Khalistanis prolonged the crisis a little more without substantially altering its complexion. Kashmir’s insurgency and terrorism, on the other hand, are full blown and Pakistan and Pakistan state terrorism sit squarely at the centre of troubles. It is also undeniable that there is a dispute over Kashmir with Pakistan with the LoC representing an unsettled boundary which is not the case with Punjab.

Commonly, nevertheless, capable men like K. P. S. Gill in Punjab and exceptional counterterrorism specialists in Jammu and Kashmir injected tremendous nuances into the fighting which give strategic overtones to an essentially tactical enterprise. Through this all, the Centre never diluted its political objectives in either state and kept operations above electoral and communal considerations. Narrow nationalism was permitted no footing. This is no longer the case. In the country’s interest, the good lessons of the old days need reiteration.

Generally speaking, publicity to operations in the Eighties and Nineties was negligible to absent and glory-hunting was the farthest from the minds of officers. The army faced some of its toughest assignments in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir but there was an omerta of silence about the operational details that continue to date. One helpful factor was the absence of social media. Secondly, commanders appreciated they were tasked against their own compatriots. There could be no proclamations of victory against your own people. This sentiment is missing with the Narendra Modi government and its TV studio warriors.

Particular care was also taken not to communalize the counterterrorism campaigns in Kashmir and Punjab. In Punjab, this was of course easy with Gill leading the strikes. Gill did not have a single sectarian cell in him. He represented the Union of India and the terrorists ran counter to his creed. In unnatural situations like terrorism, there are bound to be state excesses, and Punjab had its share. The details are well known. This cannot detract from Gill’s chief achievement, which was to cut the oxygen from the blots of Operation Bluestar and the 1984 riots for the Khalistan movement, and neutralize it. Those were very dark days in the 1980s and 1990s in Punjab. It was impossible to believe that the democratic, secular Indian state would prevail. It did.

Kashmir, however, has been a rollercoaster ride. This is partly to do with the fact that the Centre has forgotten the earlier lessons. One significant rule of thumb is to not counter the insurgent and terrorist groups indiscriminately. Insurgent groups of Kashmir have a stake in Kashmir. The JKLF was one such group before its decimation by the Hizbul Mujahideen which is also Kashmiri. The JKLF stood for independence of Kashmir and the Hizbul for integration with Pakistan. Over time, even the Hizbul ceded the final decision to the will of Kashmiris, a position naturally not to Pakistan’s liking. The Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, contrariwise, are purely Pakistani Punjabi terrorist groups. They call themselves Kashmiris but they are not. They are savages. These two groups, press reports say, are pressuring the Hizbul chief, Syed Shahabuddin, to step down for the ascendency of 24-carat Pakistani groups in Kashmir.

In an earlier time, the Centre tried to prop up the JKLF against the Hizbul. It prevented Hizbul domination for years. For years after the Hizbul prevailed, Kashmiri public opinion still sided with the JKLF. This, in part, compelled the Hizbul to moderate. In time, the Hizbul became something like the JKLF although never entirely so because Shahabuddin was Pakistan-based and could never return. However negligibly, the Hizbul provided a lever against the Lashkar/ Jaish hordes. It represented a Kashmiri separatist group with which the Centre could have negotiated peace. These things are not unknown. They have happened before.

Instead, Narendra Modi had Shahabuddin proscribed by the United States, the easiest and most short-sighted thing to do. Earlier governments were smart. This one is stupid. With the latest report of squabbles between the Lashkar/ Jaish and the Hizbul, there is misplaced glee here. If you are responsible for the squabble and can control it, that’s a plus for an intelligence officer. If you can neither control the squabble nor limit its dreadful consequences, you deserve a boot from the covert world. Under Narendra Modi, India has sunk into the second situation of disaster. Cool, thinking, reserved men have been displaced by chauvinists, hotheads and loudmouths and blood is flowing like water in Kashmir.