October 2001 News

Neglected Gujjars join militant ranks

27 October 2001
The Hindu
Luv Puri

POONCH (Rajouri): The insurgency in the hilly areas of Rajouri, Poonch and Doda of Jammu region has its own web of complexities It would not be an over-statement to say that in many ways there is no connection between this and the militancy in the Kashmir region A whole lot of political and non-political reasons makes the militancy in this region unique Devoid of militancy till 1998, the Jammu region has become one of the hot- beds of militancy - 567 militants have been shot this year Casualty on the security forces side is also high . What are the reasons? The Gujjars (nomadic people), once considered the most loyal community towards India, have been the new recruits to militants. Local leaders cite the political non- representation of the community as a factor for the alienation of the community. The number of seats the Gujjars winning for years were lost to non-gujjars in the 1996 elections. Some say that the Central Government, as part of its larger Kashmir policy ensured the victory of the candidates picked by it, thereby ignoring the due share of Gujjars in the political system. Also, these people were denied representation in the State Cabinet. Though an addition in the from of one Cabinet member was made recently, it was not from the Jammu region. Surankote in Poonch is known to be the highway for militants to travel to Doda. The geographical location of this area makes it an important place for militant operations all over the State. In the past few years, there has been a quantum increase in Gujjars joining the militant ranks. Army officers admit that the battle against militancy is one of the toughest in this region. Several factors go against them in these areas. Col. Mahavir of 3 Kumaon Regiment says that the biggest enemy here is the hilly terrain unlike in the Kashmir valley. Even a handful of militants can keep the whole company engaged if they occupy the heights. Another factor is the local support in the form of intelligence. Captain Mahajan, an officer deployed in the field says: ''By the time we come to know of the hideouts of the militants, they are gone to the next. The proximity to Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) is a factor. Militants based in this area talk with the other side almost at their will with sophisticated wireless sets for directions. The most backward areas of the State, poverty makes the locals help the militant directly or indirectly who have large amount at their disposal.'' Another factor going against the security agencies is that people coming from Pakistan are from the PoK. Culturally, they are the same as the people on this side. They speak the same language. Militants coming from across the border can easily mix with the locals without any risk of being identified. This is not the case in Kashmir where the Pakistani militants face problem because of the totally alien environment. With the exception of religion, they have no commonality in language, and other aspects of Kashmiri culture. Locals say that some time ago, they used to cross over to the PoK to canvass for leaders in the elections on the other side. Mr. Rajinder Singh Charkha, journalist, recalls: ''When Mr. Sikandar Hayat was contesting elections in the PoK, hundreds crossed over to the other side illegally - irrespective of religion - to campaign in support of him. The cultural bonding for the other side is much stronger here. The whole political leadership has gone underground. The elected sarpanchs in the recently-conducted panchayat elections are still to start functioning. The civil administration is dormant. The Army has undertaken a number of activities to strike a rapport with the local populace. Sadbhavana is one such project. But it is no substitute for filling the political vacuum in the area. The Army has taken some steps which have also angered the locals. For instance, it has imposed rationing of goods purchased by the locals. The Army feels that the people buy goods in excess and pass on some of them to the militants who have a large amount of money at their disposal. But Army officers admit that even rationing cannot make sure that the goods do not reach the militants. The only effective counter-insurgency measure will be for the civil administration, political leadership and the security agencies to work in tandem.

 

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