Fear Factor: J&K Happy, But Alert
11 April 2005
The Times of India
Srinagar: The dust on Jhelum Valley road has subsided and traffic is back to the daily crawl of rickety local buses. The thunderous applause and cheers that welcomed the Muzaffarabad connection has died down. What remains is a comforting feel in Kashmir - about a rebuff to militancy and the lull in violence. But beneath the surface, trouble could still be brewing and security experts warn celebrations about a victory against terrorism may be premature. The success of the bus launch and the quick trot the pace of India-Pakistan talks has picked up could provoke the militants into more acts of desperation and involve violence that targets Kashmiri civilians. The attack on Srinagar's Tourist Reception Centre, despite the wall-to-wall security cover, showed suicide attackers aren't going to let any opportunity pass and will strike with force. As the mountain passes begin to thaw and snow on the Pir Panjals melts, militant groups will make a fresh attempt to push in fighters and replenish losses to their cadres. While the 650-km fencing along part of the Line of Control has made things tougher, the barrier has been damaged at places due to heavy snowfalls this winter and this may have created gaps, Army officers said. Intelligence estimates say that there are about 930 militant fighters still in Kashmir Valley and this alone could cause sleepless nights. 'Over and above, we have information that 400 more are waiting for the passes to clear so they can sneak in,' said a senior BSF official. Militant strikes are fewer because intercept of wireless chatter indicates that groups are low on ammunition and weaponry following big seizures in recent months by security forces. 'They are desperate to replenish their stocks too,' the BSF officer said. Even as they brush off confetti from the bus celebrations, Kashmiri politicians realise there still is real danger, says Mehbooba Mufti, MP and president of the ruling People's Democratic Party. 'We have seen that whenever the involvement of people becomes positive, militants tend to increase their attacks and carry out their threats,' she said in an interview to TOI. The civic polls were an example of that. The more people came out to vote for local councillors, the more active militants became in trying to cow people into staying away from polling booths. 'But even after two councillors had been killed, voting in many areas remained above 70%,' Mufti said. Kashmir's most vocal pro-Pakistani leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani refuses to believe that the launch of the bus service was a slap in the face of the separatist movement. He says people are falling prey to government propaganda and he doesn't think there's any need to rethink his anti-India campaign. That's clear indication that Geelani, who refuses to condemn acts of terror against the Kashmiri people, will continue to offer at least tacit support to the militant groups. Some intelligence officials worry that the positive change in the mood in Kashmir could be read with too much optimism by policy-makers in New Delhi and warn against any hasty pullback of troops. The military de-induction and the plans to pull the Border Security Force out of the conflict zone and replace it with the CRPF should be reviewed lest it undo the hard-fought military successes against militancy.