Jammu and Kashmir had been witnessing a period of calm before the latest incident of terrorism in the Gadole area of Kokernag in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, which claimed four lives including three officers, two from the army and one from the police. The incident enhanced anger amongst the national public and reignited the debate on terrorism in the region and the role of Pakistan. Politicians from the valley were quick to comment and criticize the Indian Government.
Farooq Abdullah mentioned, ‘Such incidents will continue if there is no dialogue. We are fools if we think that it (violence) will stop. We will keep losing lives… There is no way but dialogue (with Pakistan). Both countries should give up their stubbornness and hold talks.’ Omar Abdullah added, ‘Terror machine has not been conquered. Attacks in Jammu and Kashmir whether directed against the security forces or against the minority population or even members of the majority population have continued all through. It’s only the propaganda of the Central Government ably assisted by the same propaganda machinery in Jammu and Kashmir that projects a different picture.’
There is no doubt that terrorism has not ended but it has definitely ebbed. After all, it has the backing of Pakistan, a rogue nation, which is desperate to keep it alive, mainly to display a disputed character to the region. Incidents in Jammu and Kashmir are used by Pak to convey to its revolting populace in POK that the region remains unstable. The anti-infiltration grid has reduced infiltration to a trickle. As the Northern army commander, Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi, mentioned Pakistan has been compelled to push terrorists either via Punjab or through Nepal.
The current period gains greater relevance as the nation recently concluded a successful G20 summit which also included a session in Srinagar, against the objections of Pakistan. The event brushed aside Pakistan’s claims of human rights violation and it being a police state. Pakistan had to push for reigniting violence to display its disputed status as also that Jammu and Kashmir remains affected by terrorism.
Terrorists have regularly been compelled to change tactics to stay relevant. When there was large scale domestic recruitment, local terrorists displayed their presence on social media, seeking to attract more into their fold. At that stage, targets were largely innocent locals, mainly non-Kashmiri labour and Kashmiri Pundits, apart from random police check posts, intending to cause panic and gain media attention. Terrorists had the confidence of being supported by locals who would pelt stones to thwart operations enabling their escape.
Security forces changed their strategies, reducing local intake. This was by extensive deradicalization, interaction with youth of impressionable age as also stopping glorified funerals of eliminated terrorists. Currently there are mainly Pak terrorists holed up in the jungles North and South of Pir Panjal alongside some local supporters. The terrain provides them with cover as also caves for habitation. Recent encounters in the Rajouri belt and forests of South Kashmir have been in these forested regions.
Operations in such terrain are slow, time consuming and may on occasions result in casualties to security forces as the advantage rests with terrorists. The terrain, in areas, restricts exploiting modern devices like drones. Inputs on presence of terrorists’ flow from intelligence, which is largely human. Intelligence is normally timebound. It is here that there could be flaws resulting in security forces suffering casualties.
Terrorists may escape after an encounter but cannot break the dragnet. It may take time, but eventually they will be neutralized. They have to keep hiding and running to stay alive, pursued at every stage, their sources of support slowly being cut off. They do not have any option of heading back to Pakistan.
Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed vast changes over the years. From the peak of terrorism in the early nineties to stone throwing during the days of the Hurriyat to record tourist inflows today. The youth have shifted focus from supporting anti-national activities to sporting events. Local football and cricket leagues are fully subscribed and conducted in packed stadiums.
Markets are bustling and the days of stone pelting have been replaced by candlelight vigils in memory of those killed by terrorists. Those, like Omar Abdullah, who claim terrorism has not ended, have been posting pictures on social media walking from his home to office, an act he would never have resorted to a few years earlier.
There are some aspects which must be accepted. Firstly, the game between India and Pak on infiltrating terrorists will continue. We close one door they will seek to enter from another. Secondly, talks with Pakistan on resolving pending issues will be fruitless as Pak will never accept its complicity in supporting terrorism and stop its actions, fearing failure of talks. Thirdly, dropping of weapons and drugs to finance and support terrorism will remain ongoing. While we may be able to capture few consignments, some will slip through.
Fourthly, terrorism has reduced drastically from the nineties and brought about near-normalcy. Expecting it to be zero may be exceeding expectations. Fifthly, we are aware from other states of the country that radicalization exists. Jammu and Kashmir can be no different. Curbing it must remain a priority.
However, there is still much to do, which needs a coordinated strategy. The state agencies must continue investigating overground workers and local recruiters who seek to influence youth to pick up weapons. There is also a need to curb drug usage and enhance budgets for rehabilitation of drug addicts. If ignored, many would be lured to join terrorist groups only to support their habit.
Simultaneously, the national leadership should increase pressure on global bodies to sanction Pakistan for its pro-terrorism foreign policy as also work to isolate it from the global community, stopping inflow of funds. The Home Ministry must reassess its counter infiltration grid along International Borders including the Pak border with Punjab and Rajasthan as also the open border with Nepal. The army must keep reassessing its tactics in counter-terrorism operations. Inputs post every operation must be assessed and standard operating procedures amended.
We need to face reality that while terrorism is at an ebb, it has not ended. Incidents may happen, though infrequently. The intent must be to prevent own casualties, while accepting that they could occur.
The author is Major General (Retd)