Simmering violence in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) threatens to go on the boil again, as apprehensions that the increased infiltrations in 2009 translates into a spike in violence. Defence Minister A. K. Antony warned, on January 13, "The incidents in the first week of January in the Valley are indicative of the shape of things to come."
In the context of an escalating threat, both of infiltration and of terrorist cadres at a ready to cross the Line of Control (LoC) from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), one of the biggest counter insurgency (CI) operations, codenamedOperation Khoj [Search], has been launched in the State. Between March 27 and April 2, 2010, a group of 16 Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militants and six soldiers were killed, as almost 1,000 troops spread out across an area of just over 50 square kilometres in the Rajouri District. The operation was launched following information that a large group of LeT militants, all equipped with maps, weapons and ammunition, had infiltrated along the Pallanwalla sector near Jammu in the night of March 22. The militants had then split into smaller groups of four to six, possibly to launch a major attack. Superintendent of Police (Reasi District) Anand Jain disclosed that the militants were probably trying to sneak into Reasi, bordering Sadda, as 31 of them had been killed in the District since June 2009. The entire group was, however, eliminated in four different surgical strikes in Triyath and Kandi areas of Rajouri District.
Speaking about the scale of the operation, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the CI Uniform Force, Major General M. M. S. Rai asserted, "No doubt it was the biggest by the sheer size of it, and the number of people involved on ground. We wanted to quickly eliminate, search and destroy and that is why we lost our own men too."
Meanwhile, Security Forces (SFs) claimed that Operation Khoj was, in fact, the second largest CI operation in the State after Operation Sarpa Vinash [Snake Destroyer] that was executed in the State in 2003 in the remote Hill Kaka region near Surankote town in Poonch District. "Operation Sarp Vinash, which was conducted in an area of approximately 150 square kilometres between April and June [year 2003] after comprehensive planning, led to the elimination of 65 terrorists and smashing of 119 hideouts," an unnamed senior Army officer had then told the Media.
Meanwhile, the fragility of the security scenario in the State can be gauged from the fact that as many as 65 infiltration attempts, 126 militancy-related incidents, 18 civilian and 18 SF casualties and 45 encounters, which left 53 terrorists dead, have been recorded just between January 1 and March 30, 2010. During the corresponding period of 2009, 95 violent incidents, eight civilian killings, 18 SF killings, 41 encounters and 47 militant fatalities were recorded. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal database, 116 persons – including 80 militants, 24 SFs and 12 civilians – were killed in 2010 [Data till April 18] in just 10 major incidents. Astonishingly, for the first time in Kashmir, Rail services were disrupted after an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) ripped through the only railway track connecting north Kashmir’s Baramulla District to South Kashmir’s Qazigund area on April 2. Though there was no loss of life, the railway track was damaged. The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) is said to have claimed responsibility for the attack.
In a major development, according to the latest official data of the State Home Ministry, terrorists have now resorted to the use of IEDs and grenade attacks to avoid direct conflict with SFs. The report indicated that the terrorists had triggered 11,876 explosions, which claimed 1,754 lives, while 15,589 others were injured, over the last two decades in Jammu and Kashmir. There has, however, been a decline in grenade attacks over the past two years, with 79 attacks in 2009, as against 170 in 2008.
Reports also indicate that the terrorists continue with their campaigns of "agitational terrorism ". In once such incident, "the people" clashed with the Police in the Sopore and Baramulla townships on April 13 during a protest march against the drowning of a youth, who fell into a river while fleeing from SFs. Locals took to the streets and shouted slogans in support of their demand for action against the Policemen responsible for "forcing" Zuber-ul-Hassan Bhat (20) to jump into the river on April 12.
Referring to the numerous stone throwing incidents, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah told the Legislative Council, on March 2, that his Government would not allow some "700 youth" to disrupt the peace, adding, "They want a volcano to spread, but we will not allow that." Subsequently, on March 10, Director General of Police (DGP) Kuldeep Khoda observed, "This (stone pelting) helps militants to move from one place to another. This leaves less chance of ultras [militants] getting detected. Return of peace and developmental activities were also suffering."
There have, nevertheless, been some gains for the SFs. DGP Kuldeep Khoda disclosed, on March 10, 2010, that 39 militants, 30 of them ‘categorised’ (on the State Police’s Lists), have been killed in just over two months of 2010. Khoda added that of these 19 terrorists were killed in the Jammu region and 20 in the Kashmir Valley. In 2009, the number of terrorists killed over the same period was just 18. [The militants are categorised by the Police during prior operations in different parts of the State, and not after their killing.]
Earlier, on March 8, the J&K Police claimed that two terrorist outfits, the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), had been rooted out of the Jammu region. In another major source of relief to the SFs, according to State Home Ministry data, as many as 820 incidents of group clashes had taken place between various terrorist outfits in turf wars over the past 20 years of militancy, with 577 militants and 173 civilians killed in these incidents. 102 terrorists and 398 civilians were injured in these incidents. Group clashes between foreign militants and locals were also witnessed during this period. Ashok Gupta, Inspector General of Police (IGP, Jammu Zone), on March 8, disclosed, moreover, that 20 per cent of terrorists in J&K were now without guns.
The composition of militancy in J&K continues to be dominated by foreigners — of the 398 terrorists killed in 2008-09, 304 (76 per cent) were foreigners. In 2008, of the 237 militants killed 171 were foreigners and in 2009 of the 161 militants killed 133 were foreigners. Foreign militants generally come from the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), Punjab, Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and other areas of Pakistan. On March 18, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said that about 550-575 terrorists were presently active in the State.
Meanwhile, Pakistani manufactured goods recovered from Pakistani terrorists killed at Kalakote in the Rajouri District on March 27, including Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards, music players, eatables etc, once again re-established the Pakistani connection to terrorism in Kashmir. Further, some of the items seized from eight infiltrators killed in the Keran Sector of Kupwara District (March 23-27) indicate an Afghanistan link to the terrorism in the State. According to the SFs, several cans of tinned food meant for the personnel of Afghanistan's defence forces, carrying a label that read "Wizarat-e-Difa'a" (Defence Ministry), Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, were recovered. The militants were carrying arms, ammunition, gadgets, clothing, food and cosmetic products manufactured in at least seven different countries including the USA, the UAE, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, China and Russia. These included state-of-the-art gadgets like Magellan Global Positioning Systems (GPS) for navigation across the LoC and Thuraya satellite phones to keep in touch with their handlers across the Line of Control (LoC). Brigadier General Staff of Army's 15 Corps Brigadier Gurmeet Singh, during his briefing on the Keran operations, however, told reporters on March 27 that there was no evidence to suggest the presence of Taliban elements in the State.
Infiltration trends, meanwhile, suggest worrying times ahead. Admitting a surge in cross-border infiltration, the J&K Government, on March 1, stated, "It is a fact that infiltration bids have risen. During 2009, the gross infiltration (attempts) was estimated at 485 and net infiltration (number of militants who crossed) was 113. During 2008, infiltration bids were estimated at 342, while 57 militants intruded. There is an increase of 143 bids in 2009 and 56 more militants have been able to infiltrate as compared to the previous year." Brigadier Gurmeet Singh, on March 28, thus said that they were expecting a "hot summer" in Valley this year, with 400 militants were waiting at different launch pads in PoK to infiltrate across the LoC. Brigadier Singh also claimed there were "2,000 to 2,500 armed militants in Pak training camps, ready to infiltrate into Jammu and Kashmir.... There are approximately 42 training camps intact across the border of which 34 are active." The Border Security Force has launched Operation Night Dominance along the International Border (IB) from Lakhanpur to Pallanwalla, following specific intelligence that the Pakistan Army and Rangers were desperate to push terrorists across.
Meanwhile, the Government has indicated that its long-term objective in J&K was to entrust the responsibility for law and order to the local Police to restore normalcy in the State. On January 31, Defence Minister A. K. Antony declared, "As far as policy is concerned, we are very clear. Our ultimate aim is to bring normalcy in Kashmir and entrust law and order to Kashmir Police itself. The Army can safely safeguard the border. That is our long-term aim,"
Accordingly, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah disclosed, on March 18, that a total of 35,000 troops had been withdrawn from J&K, and their camps closed, during the tenure of the current National Conference-Congress regime. He added that, as and when the security situation improves, the Army’s footprint will be decreased further. Reports, however, indicate that the Government has now put on hold any further withdrawal of troops because of the renewed infiltration attempts.
Expectedly, troop cuts have an adverse impact on the security scenario, and a confidential report by the J&K Police blamed the resurgence of militancy in Sopore on troop ‘relocation’. Chief Minister Abdullah, on March 2, also noted, "Militants are grouping in the Sopore area and Kulgam District. These areas are a challenge for us on the militancy front. We are taking extra measures to deal with the militants there."
There is evidently a dilemma in the State’s approach to fighting militancy. On March 15, for instance, Abdullah said, "We are committed to rehabilitation of the youths who, according to our reports, were living a miserable life in Muzaffarabad, Mirpur and other areas of PoK. We will shortly come up with a Rehabilitation Policy for the youths." In another move, the State Government has abandoned plans to set up an elite anti-terrorism unit in the State, five months after the formation of the squad following a decision of the State Cabinet on July 14, 2009. Moreover, though full funds for procurement of different types of equipment, including security, bomb detection and disposal, crime detection, communication, and other gear approved in Annual Action Plans (AAPs) during 2004-09, were provided by the Government of India, delays in procurement at the State level resulted in substantial under-utilisation of the allotted funds. The Government is mulling amendments to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), though Army Chief General V. K. Singh has warned, "Any dilution of the AFSPA will impinge adversely on the manner in which the Armed Forces operate." The AFSPA, 1958, was extended to J&K in 1990, after militancy gained ground in the State, and covers its entire territories with the exception of Kargil and Ladakh. Under its Sections 4 and 7, powers and legal safeguards are given to SFs for undertaking counter-terrorism operations.
These many contradictions become the more astonishing when prevailing threat perceptions are taken into consideration. According to a March 17 report, Mohammad Yusuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin, the ‘commander-in-chief’ of the Pakistan-based HM, was caught on camera exhorting his squad of suicide attackers to cross the LoC and attack the SFs in India. Later, in an interview with the Dawn news channel in Pakistan on March 21, Salahuddin stated that the activities of militants in J&K had increased according to a "definite plan" and that the militants were continuing their "'war" against SFs. That these are not vague threats was brought home by the March 16 attack on SF personnel at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on January 6, which, sources confirmed, was carried out under Salahuddin’s directions.
With violence recovering some momentum in the State, it is imperative for both Srinagar and New Delhi to reverse the flawed policy of troop reduction before the situation becomes ugly. Consolidating the gains of the past eight years, and deepening the peace in the State, will require an enormous and sustained effort, since forces inimical to India continue to vigorously support terrorism and disruptive activities in J&K.
By arrangement with Institute for Conflict Management