A way to contain militancy in border areas

Representational Image

K D Maini

On 4th of May 2024, the Pakistan sponsored terrorist attacked IAF Convoy of three vehicles coming from Jaran Wali Gali towards Shiendara top. The three terrorists by getting the benefit of isolated site and thick forest cover attacked last vehicle of IAY convoy injuring six jawans out of which one jawan Vicky Padaye succumbed to injuries in hospital. The alert IAF jawans immediately retaliated from the vehicle but the terrorist managed to sneak in area of Gursai Moori, Sanai or fled towards Shiendara forest. These terrorists are still at large.
Immediately after the attack, the security forces and District Police started search operation in the villages Sanai, Gursai, Shiendara, Pathanateer and other suspected locations in Rajouri, Doda and Jammu. 25 persons including two women were detained for investigations. The security forces have also announced a reward of twenty lakh rupees that leads to their arrest.
However, the terrorists succeeded in reaching the place of their choice which may have been identified by them before the attack as was done by the terrorists during Bhatadhurian attack of 2003 when ultimately the terrorists were nabbed from Kandi area of Budhal. No organization has so far taken the responsibility of the attack. This is the second terrorist attack in Shah Satar range during this year. Earlier on 22nd of April a 40 years villager Mohd Razak of Kunda top of Shahdhara area was shot dead by the terrorists. His brother was working in the Army. Similarly, during December 2023 four Army jawans were killed near Topi Hill of this range.
Shah Satar Range passes through the heart of Pir Panchal Region. It starts from Rattan Pir (8600 feet) and moves towards Dhera Ki Gali pass, Chamrare pass, Bhatadhurian, Jaran Wali Gali, Ziarat Pir Shah Satar upto Shiendara which divides border Tehsil Balakote and Mendhar from Tehsil Surankote. From Shiendara this mountain range moves towards Khanater, Panjkakrian, Krishna Ghati upto Nanga Tekri near LoC and divides border Tehsil Mankote from Tehsil Haveli of Poonch District. The upper area (almost 125 km long) of this range is mostly covered with thick forest, bushes and disadvantageous terrain. It is convenient for the terrorists to cross LoC and sneak into the forest area of this range on the same day, where they take refuge and after strike manage to flee from the site towards other destination away from the striking location with the help of sympathizers.
After the abrogation of Article 370 on 5th August 2019, the Central Government took strong and effective measures in Kashmir valley alongwith the implementation of new Kashmir Policy of Development and prosperity and started All Out policy against terrorist due to which it became difficult for the terrorist to survive in the valley. Then from 2020 onward the Pakistan selected the forest area of Pir Panchal region to strike. Most of the strikes took place in Shah Satar Range from Kandi Budhal, Bhatadhurian, Chamrare pass, Dhera Ki Gali and now near Ziarat Pir Shah Satar. The Indian forces are retaliating effectively and contained the terrorism in forest area of this region.
Shah Satar Range was not hit by the terrorists during militancy days from 1990 to 2003 because the strategy of Pakistan was to spread militancy activities in Kashmir valley and use Shah Satar as transit area. Therefore, from 1993 onward, the terrorist after crossing LOC were using Shah Satar forest as their transit station. They were moving towards 65 km long isolated ‘Hill Kaka Bowl’ located between Ranjati Range and main Pir Panchal Range which touches the Kashmir valley. This area was mostly depopulated where only grazers and tribal people along with cattle and goats would visit during summer season. Therefore, the terrorists converted ‘Hill Kaka Bowl’ into their Headquarter. The notorious Pir Panchal Regiment of terrorists was also existing in this bowl.
From this place the terrorists were operating in Kashmir valley, Doda, Reasi Rajouri and other areas. This scenario continued for about ten years from 1993 to 2003. Ultimately on the orders of the then Home Minister L.K. Advani, the Romeo Force of Rashtriya Rifles under the command of General H.S. Leddar and along with the active support of grazers and tribal people, the operation ‘Sarp Venash’ was launched in April 2003. It was well planned operation in which upto June 2003, 65 terrorists were killed while the others vacated the ‘Bowl’. As a result whole of the Pir Panchal Region and Hill Tops were freed from the terrorists. This operation had broken the backbone of terrorism in J&K.
Immediately after this operation, Pakistan was on the backfoot and President Parvez Musharaf had declared unilaterally ceasefire on 23rd November 2003 which was implemented on 26th November after the consent of Indian Government. After that the peace process was initiated by the two Countries, Cross LoC road opened for trade and travel, the people of divided families were allowed to cross LoC and meet their kith and kin on the other side. Therefore, the ceasefire on the LoC and stoppage of militancy within Jammu & Kashmir for about ten years had created peaceful atmosphere in J&K upto 2013. After that Pakistan again started ceasefire violations on the LoC and trouble within the Jammu & Kashmir to disturb peace process.
In the above context, on 5th August 2019 Indian Government removed Article 370 which was psychological boost for Pakistan to keep Kashmir issue alive. Therefore, after that Centre Government converted J&K into Union Territory, took strong measures, silenced the guns, stopped stone pelting, hartals, anti-national slogans and took actions against Over Ground Workers due to which the situation in Kashmir valley had become normal and difficult for Pakistan to revive militancy in Kashmir.
In the above context, after 2020 Pakistan adopted new strategy to revive terrorism in Pir Panchal Region to keep the pot boiling, and exploit this scenario internationally. By and large Pakistan had got no public support in Pir Panchal Region. However, with the help of some sympathizers and over ground workers is not ruled out, because recently in Hari Budha village a school Headmaster was arrested with weapons and explosives.
On the other hand, effective measures of security forces helped in containing terrorist activities in some pockets in forest areas of Pir Panchal Region mostly in Shah Satar Range. It is also a fact that without the support of public the terrorism inside the region can not be eliminated.
Regular and rigorous efforts are needed to involve the public of militancy affected areas to get the clues about the terrorists, because in low intensity conflicts the terrorists have no face, no particular area and even the persons sitting on the opposite side of the table can be a terrorist. This is a psychological warfare which is all about chaos and disorder. Therefore, to locate the face of terrorist specific information from ground is needed which is possible only with the cooperation of the public. This information network can be generated by a good liaison of the security forces with the habitants of the area.
The Indian Army is well behaved organization. They always remain cordial and people friendly. The sympathetic behavior of the Army Officer can play a vital role in getting about the clues of the terrorists. The mingling of the Security Forces with the public, respecting their faith and beliefs, participating in their festivals and rituals and solving their need based problems can help a lot in segregating terrorists from the public. Ultimately by winning the hearts and minds of the natives of militancy infested areas can solve the problem of militancy to a great extent.