J&K: Lingering Irritants
By Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management
Despite further consolidation in the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), a range of irritants continues to throw up challenges for the administration. The Union Ministry of Defence, in its latest Annual Report (2011-12), thus noted:
The security situation in J&K has been stable in 2011 with an overall reduction in violence. However, it has the potential to deteriorate at short notice. Pakistan's support to the ongoing proxy war continues unabated, the terror infrastructure, both in Pakistan/ PoK [Pakistan occupied Kashmir], remains intact. The Pakistan-Terrorist-Separatist nexus continues their (sic) attempts to foment trouble with an aim to internationalise the Kashmir issue.
In a similar tenor, the then General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Lieutenant General Ata Hasnain, now Military Secretary to Chief of Army Staff General Bikram Singh, on June 8, 2012, had observed, “The situation in Kashmir is unpredictable and dynamic. It changes colours fast.”
Terrorism-related fatalities in J&K have declined considerably, at 42 [including 29 militants, eight civilians and five Security Forces (SF) personnel] in 2012 [according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, till June 24]; as compared to 74 fatalities (including 41 militants, 21 civilians and 12 SFs) during the corresponding period in the previous year. The militants continue to carry out attacks at regular intervals, more so, in the State Capital Srinagar. Inspector General of Police (IGP, Kashmir zone) S.M. Sahai, on May 18, 2012, noted that the militants were trying to carry out attacks in Srinagar and that “Srinagar is being used for transit by militants.”
The capital city has witnessed as many as nine incidents of violence, including two involving killings. In the latest of these, in the afternoon of June 15, 2012, militants shot dead a Block President, Abdul Rehman Ganaie, of the ruling National Conference (NC) in Srinagar. A March 19, 2012, report disclosed that Members of the Legislative Assembly and top Government officials had been advised not to make frequent visits to markets in view of regular inputs regarding the terrorist presence in the city.
Further, according to a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) report, as many as 14 attempts at staging terror attacks in the Kashmir Valley had been interdicted till March 2012. In one such incident, on May 17, 2012, Police averted a major tragedy when a car, laden with multiple Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), was detected and the xplosives defused, on the Nowgam bypass road in Srinagar.
In another worrying development, wary of the Government machinery reaching to the grass root level, the extremists have been pressurising and threatening the panchayat (village level local self Government institution) members to resign. Around 300 panchayat members in South Kashmir resigned in the preceding three weeks after threats from militants, according to a June 23, 2012, report. Significantly, local newspapers carried notices of at least seven panchayat members, including women, from Rajpora in Pulwama District, announcing their resignations on June 8, 2012. A woman panch (member of the panchayat), Ameena Bano, from ward number 8 of Village Sahpora in Pulwama, in her resignation advertisement stated, "Without coming under any influence from any political or apolitical body, I am resigning from the post of panch. In future, I have nothing to do with this post and I will have no connection with any political or apolitical body." The Government, however, claims that they have not received any resignation officially. At least one panchayat member was killed and several others were injured during the year. Notably, an average voting of 76.87 per cent was reported in a largely peaceful 17-phases panchayat election that was conducted between April 13, 2011 and June 27, 2011.
In spite of the Valley being comparatively free of major law and order or civil disturbances of the nature seen in summer of 2010, there have been repeated attempts to incite mass violence. At least four such attempts have been recorded in 2012, with the most recent in Bandipora town, where a two day shutdown was observed in protest against the alleged desecration of the Quran on June 16, 2012. Sporadic protests were also recorded in other places, including Srinagar. Clearly, the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) devised after the 2010 summer unrest, and implemented since early 2011, have been successfully implemented, ensuring that there were minimal injuries during the quelling of protests.
Meanwhile, confirmation of India’s enduring stand that the mischief in J&K is fomented by Pakistan came from US attorney Neil MacBride’s explanation of the conviction and sentencing of Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, Executive Director of the US based Kashmiri American Council (KAC), where he observed that the protest movement in Jammu and Kashmir was never 'indigenous' in nature and was financially and logistically supported by Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) from the very outset. The KAC, MacBride asserted, was run by the ISI, and the All Party Hurriyat Conference-Mirwaiz (APHC-M) Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was also "supported and controlled" by the ISI. Fai was arrested in July 2011 and was sentenced on March 30, 2012, to two years in prison, for operating as an undeclared agent of the ISI.
Meanwhile, after pressure from within, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, on May 31, 2012, suspended former Chairman, Abdul Gani Bhat, for his remarks on the irrelevance of the United National Security Council Resolutions on J&K, and his proposal for a joint political front of the separatist Hurriyat Conference with pro-India political parties such as the NC and the People's Democratic Party (PDP). Another two members were also suspended. The rift within the Hurriyat may have repercussions on the security scenario, and Central agencies have asked the State Police to tighten security around APHC-M leaders, especially Abdul Gani Bhat, amid reports that terrorists may carry out assassination attempts to vitiate the atmosphere.
Significantly, there are still an estimated 250 terrorists operating in the Sate – 147 in the Kashmir Valley and about 100 in the Jammu region. The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) accounts for nearly 35 to 40 per cent of all terrorists in the State and is presently the "most active" outfit in the Valley, after Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), in terms of strength and capability. Intelligence inputs indicate, further, that there are some 42 terrorist training camps in Pakistan and PoK, and a majority of these are reported to be active. These camps house an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 terrorists, with around 300 currently located at launching pads along the Pakistan border and Line of Control (LoC).
Despite intensive efforts to contain cross-border infiltration, including round-the-clock surveillance and patrolling and the establishment of observation posts, border fencing and flood-lighting, infiltration attempts from across the LoC continue unabated. Further, confronted with the strong security efforts along the LoC and border, terrorists are also adopting the alternative route, flying from Pakistan to Dhaka in Bangladesh and Kathmandu in Nepal, and then infiltrating into India from the two countries, which share borders with India, principally along the States of West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Pakistan also continues to violate the Cease-fire Agreement (CFA) of November 26, 2003, which had held without major incident till General Pervez Musharraf’s departure in 2008. The year 2012 has already recorded 18 CFA violations [till June 24, 2012], ordinarily initiated by Pakistani Forces to facilitate terrorist infiltration across the border and LoC. Among these was the succession of incidents initiated on May 30-31, 2012, when Pakistani Rangers opened fire at Regal Post on the International Border (IB) in Samba sector, injuring a Border Security Force (BSF) trooper. The trooper subsequently died. Since then, Pakistan has initiated repeated firing, with at least six CFA violations recorded in June (till June 24, 2012), with another trooper killed, and several injured.
Continuous flows of funds to terrorists and subversive fronts have been recorded, both within India and internationally. The then Acting Director General of Police K. Rajendra noted, on June 11, 2102, that various channels were being exploited for terrorist funding, including money transfers, the depositing of money into the accounts of Over Ground Workers (OGWs) from third countries, hawala, etc. "Other banking channels of funding militancy are also being used", he added. The LoC trade was also being used to fund militancy in the State, he observed, with the under-invoicing of goods emerging as the principal modus operandi. He disclosed that six cases had been registered in the funding of militancy through LoC trade routes of Uri and Poonch, though he did not define the period during which these cases were registered.
On May 24, 2012, the final report – ‘A New Compact with The People of Jammu and Kashmir’ of the Group of Interlocutors for J&K was released. The Central Government-appointed Interlocutors favoured setting up a Constitutional Committee to review all Central Acts and Articles of the Constitution of India to the State extended after 1952. It also called for making Article 370 of the Constitution as a special provision of the State by deleting the word temporary from the Constitution. The report ruled out a return to the pre-1953 position, a major demand of the ruling NC. The report also made no mention of the PDP’s self rule proposals or any other ‘vision document’ of diverse separatist formations and leaders. The Interlocutors – Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari – had submitted their report in October 2011. They were appointed by the MHA in October 2010. Expectedly, however, the report has widely been ridiculed as ‘old wine in a new bottle’, with all the principal parties rejecting its proposals.
In the meanwhile, the Governments, both at the Centre and in the State, continue to push forward a range of counterproductive measures which could well prove detrimental to the consolidating peace at a time when, as Lt. Gen. Hasnain expressed it, “the fast evolving geo-strategic environment in the region has the potential to reignite militancy in Kashmir post-2014 US exit from Afghanistan”. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has directly and repeatedly brought up the issue of the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from at least five Districts of the State, including Srinagar, often at times of significant public tension. The State Government has already de-inducted three Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) battalions and removed 43 Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs) bunkers from Srinagar. This was in addition to 80 bunkers, mostly from Srinagar, removed in 2011. Another 25 bunkers are to be removed in 2012. As many as 12 battalions of BSF and CRPF have been withdrawn from the State since 2009. Indeed, Lieutenant General Syed Atta Hasnain, the then Corps Commander, 15 Corps, on June 8, 2012, observed that the dilution of security presence was already fuelling terrorist efforts to regroup: "We have reduced the night patrolling in the areas of South Kashmir and this may be the reason that militancy has been revived to some extent in South Kashmir especially in the Pulwama District." Further, casting some doubts over the proclaimed ‘successes’ of the State’s Rehabilitation Policy for terrorists announced on November 23, 2010, reports indicated that some of the militants who returned after the Policy announcement had rejoined the militancy.
A reduction of the military and paramilitary footprint in J&K, and the surrender and rehabilitation of militants is, of course, always desirable. Nevertheless, premature steps in these directions can have significant adverse consequences, and the approach to ‘normalization’ in the terror-wracked State should be cautious and rooted in the realities of the ground. The tremendous gains of the past years, secured at great cost in blood and suffering, remain tentative and fragile, and can quickly be dissipated by haste and political gamesmanship.