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Transformation of Conflict: An Analysis of “Op Sadbhavana” in Jammu and Kashmir

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  • April 16, 2010
    Fellows' Seminar
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chair: Prof. Amitabh Mattoo
    External Discussants: Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Hari Prasad and Dr. Suba Chandran
    Internal Discussants: Dr. Namrata Goswami and Col. (Retd.) Ali Ahmed

    Dr. Arpita Anant’s paper notes that traditionally the Army defends the borders and, whenever called in, helps in counter-insurgency operations and provides aid to the victims of calamities. However, in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the Indian Army has extended its mandate to rebuild the lives of people devastated by terrorism. Operation Sadbhavana (meaning Goodwill), launched in 1998, is an unique attempt to apply the healing touch to win the hearts and minds (WHAM) of people by promoting development activities focuses on their basic needs.

    The author points out that the doctrine of sub-conventional warfare of the Indian Army released in January 2007 gives a central place to WHAM in counter-insurgency operations. Such attempts, it is envisaged, would provide the healing touch during conflict and win over the alienated sections of people in the conflict zones.

    According to Dr. Anant, from 1998 to 2008, a total of Rs. 276.08 crore, allocated by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), was spent on various multi-faceted activities under this operation. The Army has been running schools and orphanages, improving the living standard of the locals by constructing roads and bridges, installing hand pumps and electrifying villages and giving them free medical services. Excursion and education tours have also been organised during this period.
    Dr. Anant adds that the projects are identified and selected jointly with the state administration and the people at the grass root level. The Army acts as a facilitator and catalyst and actively assists in planning, provides technical assistance, makes available specialized equipment and supervises it.

    Dr. Anant asserts 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. Numerous other community development and healthcare projects have helped in mitigating the hardships of the common man.

    The author’s tête-à-tête with the civil administration reveals that most of them were very candid in admitting that the Army brought schools, walking tracks/roads, small bridges and doctors in areas where the state government could not reach in the difficult years of the insurgency. However, a common refrain was that there is scope for improvement in coordination between the Army and civil administration. Dr. Anant’s interface with journalists reveals that although the initiative of the Army is very praiseworthy, real peace will come only with the resolution of the political problem. Some educationists believed that the Army’s initiatives are lacking involvement of the youth in the age group of 18 to 21 years who constitute 60 per cent of the population. Her discussions with the Army reveal that Operation Sadbhavna had a positive impact on the relationship between the people and the Army. However, some Army officials did believe that the actual impact is only between 50 to 75 per cent of the desired targets.

    Dr. Anant’s conclusion is that Operation Sadbhavana has certainly been a successful effort. Although it adds to the responsibilities of the Army, it has certainly salvaged its image. The ease with which people were interacting with Army officials made this obvious. The unending list of demands, which ought to be fulfilled by the civil administration, also proved the same. She points out that the comfort level between the military and the people seemed higher in the Jammu region than in the Valley. Also, in some places people spoke highly of the Army officials they were interacting with and remembered some officers who had been posted out, indicating that personalities made all the difference.

    Dr. Anant’s paper suggests following measures for better results:

    1. Coordination with appropriate civil authorities could be improved.
    2. Projects like micro-hydel projects that have not worked well could be re-considered.
    3. The audit system of Sadbhavana needs to be publicized.
    4. In all projects priority should be given to basics.
    5. Quality of infrastructure projects can be improved.
    6. Civil society involvement to increase transparency and to add a sense of belonging is necessary.
    7. Engage the youth in the projects.
    8. Local media (rural and urban) could be used to portray best cases and clarify misperceptions.
    9. Transparency to avoid abuse of power.


    1. In J&K what has been achieved through Operation Sadbhavana represents the best feasible for transition to the political process.
    2. Operation Sadbhavana as a sound strategy for conflict prevention in Ladakh has been widely acclaimed. The scope of the study should be broadened to include this region of J&K as well.
    3. The overall aim of Operation Sadbhavana needs to be well-defined. Does it seek out ‘conflict transformation’ or is it just a ‘WHAM’ (winning the hearts and minds) activity?
    4. Operation Sadbhavana puts the organisational, medical, engineering, transport and educational expertise of the Army at the disposal of the people. It jeopardizes the Army’s primary function of training and deployment for high-intensity conflict.
    5. More detailed analysis of the data collected during the field visit will yield many additional important insights and further energize the discussion.
    6. Organising children educational tours under the initiative is a good step to showcase the dynamic culture of the country and to witness the fruits of peace and development.
    7. Cases and allegations of corruption and other irregularities against the Army officials engaged in Operation Sadbhavana have been cropping up with alarming regularity of late. This needs to be discussed.
    8. If the Army keeps on taking over the functions of the civil administration, it will further delegitimise the state government.
    9. The budget allocation for Operation Sadbhavana is too small to make a big difference in a large state like J&K.

    Report prepared by Dr. Imtiyaz Majid, Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.