Let’s face facts; Kashmir is undergoing a new phase of terrorism – much different from what it has ever seen before.
August 5, 2019, was a red-letter day in Indian history when Article 370 which granted special status to Kashmir was abrogated and the erstwhile state of J&K was split into two union territories — namely Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Union Territory of Ladakh.
The rationale behind the move was to rope in the political instability, radicalization and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and thus usher in a new phase of hope, peace, development, and prosperity. It was believed that the new move would win over the local population and act as a deterrent against terrorism — creating new opportunities for economic and infrastructure development, and in general, improve the quality of life.
According to a senior CRPF officer who did not wish to be quoted, “the ground situation in Kashmir today is much better than it used to be. The terrorists are on the run while the morale of the security forces is high. The people are fed up with violence and want peace. The net result is that except for a few stray incidents, there is a near-total stoppage of stone-pelting which was symbolic of the participation and involvement of the local people”.
According to him the stone pelters – mostly youth enjoyed the support of both terrorists and the politicians alike and created such a situation that the security forces were forced to open fire in self-defence. Their bullets — once they left the gun, did not know the difference between the ‘guest militants’ trained and remotely controlled by the Pakistan Army and ISI and the largely untrained, unemployed local youth who had just a few days back been enticed to participate in the ‘fun’ in return for a few hundred rupees. Hence, invariably the innocent spectators were getting hit — leading to alienation and radicalization of Kashmiri youth.
PAKISTAN SPONSORED PROXY WAR:
Over the years, Pakistan has been trying its best to sponsor insurgency, cross-border terrorism and jihad in Kashmir through many terrorist outfits like the Lashkar e Taiba, Harkat ul Mujahideen and Jaish e Mohammed which have been known to publish advertisements in Pakistani newspapers giving their addresses, telephone numbers and bank accounts in Pakistani to invite donations and recruitment to carry out the continuing jihad in India.
It is a well-known fact Pakistan always wanted to wrest Jammu and Kashmiri from India. But since this is something its military can’t achieve, Pakistan is making India bleed by sponsoring terrorism as conceived by Gen Zia-ul-Haq in his Op Topac plan. As of date, more than 90% of the terrorists operating in the Indian Territory are Pakistanis.
This was corroborated by Akbar Khan a Pakistan Army Officer in his book “Raiders in Kashmir”, “I wrote out a plan under the title ‘Armed Revolt inside Kashmir’, “As open interference or aggression by Pakistan was obviously not desirable it was proposed that our efforts should be concentrated upon strengthening the Kashmiris internally — and to prevent the arrival of armed civilian or military assistance from India into Kashmir…”
It is hence an open secret that there can be no lasting peace in Kashmir- till Pakistan learns to mind its own business and stops using the Kashmiris as a low-cost expendable commodity that it can use and throw, once the need is over. As one military analyst argued, promoting Kashmiris to do Pakistan’s ‘dirty job’ is better and less expensive than raising an extra Division in the Pakistan Army.
CURRENT DAY TERRORISM IN J&K
Though it would be still too early to predict the end of the protracted phase of terrorism in J&K the ground situation has improved after August 5, 2019. No large-scale violence has been reported in the UTs. According to data compiled by the Ministry of Home Affairs, there has been a more than 60 per cent reduction in the number of terror incidents. As compared to 614 terror incidents in 2018, the number dropped to 244 in 2020 and only 15 terror incidents were reported and eight terrorists were killed in Jammu and Kashmir up to 28 Feb 2021.
This is a marked improvement because 27,000 lives were lost including 9,700 civilians and over 3000 Security personnel in over 51,000 terrorist incidents of Pak sponsored terrorism in the past decade. Besides the damage to public and private property, the weapons recovered from the terrorists were enough to arm several battalions of an Army. The ultimate price for the erosion of the secular fabric of the State was paid by Kashmiri Pundits and Sikhs who forced to migrate from the Valley leaving the homes and valuables behind. Even foreign tourists were not spared.
“There is still an urgent need to give a fillip to non-kinetic (non-military) measures that would entail an all government, and people approach to address the issue of alienation and radicalization and pave the path for good governance,” says Maj Gen B K Sharma (Retd), Director, United Service Institution of India (USI) a prestigious national security and defence services think tank.
‘OPERATION ALL-OUT’ AND ITS IMPACT ON KASHMIR
To bring the situation under control the J&K Police launched ‘Operation All-Out’ in 2017. At the forefront of this battle was the Special Operations Group (SoG) – an elite anti-insurgency wing of J&K police. The SoG comprised of locally recruited young men from all the regions and ethnic groups of the state – Kashmiris, Gujjars, Dogras and Sikhs. They were specially trained in anti-terrorist operations by the National Security Guard (NSG).
Many of the SoG officers and men led by Superintendent Police (operations) in every district had themselves been victims of militancy. This was one of the reasons why the SoG troopers were highly motivated and wanted to teach the terrorists a lesson. Apart from this, they were offered incentives like out-of-turn promotions and bonus – anywhere between Rs 35,000 -50,000 for every militant killed or arrested. Likewise, there were incentives for capturing arms and ammunition.
This made the SoG personnel genuinely want to fight the insurgents and among the first ones to reach the scene of the crime. Also unlike the rest of the police force, they were given a free hand — no questions were asked and their ammunition wasn’t counted. The biggest plus point in their favour was that being ‘locals’ they knew the topography of the area, possible hideouts and the people who could ferment trouble. But this also made them – the first and foremost target for the militants to eliminate, hence they were made to wear camouflage uniforms instead of khaki and cover their faces all the time.
Further, the SoG unit in every district was specifically asked to track down and eliminate an individual terrorist. These tactics came in handy as most of the Pakistan-backed commanders, trainers, motivators and handlers of the terrorist groups were caught or killed. For instance, the top leaders of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) were eliminated. This was a big and irreparable loss to their respective ‘tanzeems’. This led to a decline in morale of the militants and the number of infiltrations from across the border went down. For instance, as against 138 infiltrations in 2019 and 143 in 2018, only about 50 militants from Pakistan could infiltrate into India in 2020. This led to a shortage of funds as well as arms and ammunition. For want of any other means at its disposal, Pakistan started supplying AK47, pistols and grenades to the beleaguered terrorists from its side of the border with the help of drones. But the Indian security forces managed to foil Pakistan’s many such home-delivery consignments.
Read: What happens in Kashmir after US troops pull out of Afghanistan?
Another area of concern for the security forces was to prevent the local people from joining the terrorist ranks. This was done with the help and support of their family members, counselling vulnerable youths, facilitating surrender, preventing public funerals of terrorists etc. It also helped to hit the nail on its head. According to the data available, only 39 Kashmiri youth joined terror groups till May 2020 against 85 local recruits in the previous year.
The result is that though remains of terrorist outfits like Lashkar e Taiba, Harkat ul Mujahideen, Jaish e Mohammed, Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen (HM), Ansar-ul-Gazwat-ul-Hind (AuGH), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Al-Badr are still active in J&K — they are like fish out of water without Pakistan’s support.
Due to weak leadership, lack of training and fast depleting stock of guns, bullets and grenades the new terror recruits cannot withstand the Indian security forces and do not survive beyond a month after joining any terrorist organization. This has gravely dampened the morale of the terror ‘tanzeems’ and their handlers across the border.
To ensure that that terrorist infrastructure — created painstakingly over the last so many years — does not break down overnight, Pakistan has ordered the terrorists to maintain a low profile.
Another emerging trend is that the local support for terrorism has started receding. Till the early 90s, several local people were willing to conceal the presence of terrorists in their village, offer them a place to hide and feed them. Not anymore. What more many terrorist-strongholds like the Doda-Kishtwar area are today well under the control of security forces and are on the verge of becoming terrorism-free.