Resurgent Menace In J&K

Resurgent Menace In J&K

28 January 2014
Eurasia Review
Ajit Kumar Singh

New Delhi: The measured stride towards lasting peace in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was disturbed in 2013 by Pakistan’s Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI, Pakistan’s external intelligence agency) both directly, through an escalating campaign of ceasefire violations, and through their various proxies – both terrorist and separatist. The trend of a sustained decline in terrorism-related fatalities since the year 2001, was reversed in 2013, with J&K recording 181 fatalities, as compared to 117 in 2012, a steep rise of 54.70 per cent. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, 2013 witnessed the death of a total of 20 civilians, as against 16 in 2012, and 61 Security Force (SF) personnel, as against 17 in the preceding year. Civilian fatalities thus increased by 25 percent, and SF fatalities recorded a whopping rise of 258.82 per cent. According to State Director General of Police (DGP) Ashok Prasad, the “militants have started targeting SFs as part of their changed strategy to increase the violence graph” without jeopardizing the people’s support. The number of militants killed stood at 100 in 2013, as against 84 in 2012, an increase of 19.04 per cent. Incidents involving killing increased from 70 in 2012 to 87 in 2013. Further, out of the 87 killing incidents in 2013, 22 were major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) as against 10 in 2012. A day ahead of Prime Minister (PM) Manmohan Singh’s visit to the State, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) terrorists ambushed an Army convoy in the Hyderpora area of Srinagar, J&K’s summer capital, killing eight Army personnel and injuring 11, on June 24, 2013. The attack was the deadliest in the State in the last almost five years; on July 19, 2008, 10 soldiers were killed and another 18 were injured when HM terrorists destroyed an SF bus in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack at Narbal Crossing on the outskirts of Srinagar. Worryingly, after a long hiatus suicide attacks haunted the State in 2013. As many as three such incidents, resulting in 20 fatalities, were executed through the year, as against none in 2012. In fact, the last suicide attack in J&K occurred on January 6, 2010, when terrorists had hit a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp at Lal Chowk in Srinagar, killing a Policeman and injuring nine persons, including one CRPF trooper. Terrorist attacks occurred across a widening arc of the State through 2013, with fatalities reported from 14 of the State’s 22 Districts, as against 13 Districts in 2012. While civilian fatalities were reported from eight of these 14 Districts (seven Districts recorded civilian fatalities in 2012), 11 Districts recorded SF fatalities (eight Districts recorded SF fatalities in 2012). Kupwara accounted for the maximum number of fatalities, 67; followed by Srinagar, 24; Pulwama, 20; Baramulla, 17; Poonch, 12; Samba, 8; Rajouri and Shopian, 7 each, and Kathua, 6. In 2012, Kupwara had recorded highest number of fatalities, 34; followed by Baramulla, 32 and Srinagar, 8. Notably, by end of 2011, the State Home Ministry had declared at least seven Districts in the J&K completely free of terrorism, including five of ten Districts in the Jammu Division – Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Reasi and Doda – apart from Leh and Kargil, which had never seen significant militancy. However, in 2013, two of the three suicide attacks took place in Jammu Division which had witnessed the last major attack by the militants on May 8, 2009, when the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) militants had shot dead three persons at Bandara village in the Gulabgarh area of Reasi District. Moreover, the orchestrated disorders that had been contained to a large extent over the preceding two years, after they had assumed disturbing proportions in 2010, when at least 112 protesters were killed in SF action against violent demonstrators, returned to troubling levels again. As against two incidents resulting in two fatalities in 2012, year 2013 recorded seven such incidents resulting in 12 deaths. Significantly, as many as 198 persons were injured in 20 incidents of stone pelting in 2013, as against 25 persons injured in 12 such incidents in 2012. Indeed, the separatists led by various factions of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), who seemed to have lost the ground over the last many years as their diktats failed to deter people from participating in elections and, more importantly, failed to provoke people to participate in campaigns of violent protest, discovered a window of opportunity in the aftermath of Omar Abdullah’s Government failure to aptly handle the situation after the execution of 2001 Parliament Attack case convict Afzal Guru in Tihar Jail in New Delhi, on February 9, 2013. However, emerging internal conflicts between separatist leaders, despite the ISI’s constant efforts to secure their unity, neutralized the threat to a large extent. Indeed in January 2014, the Mirwaiz Maulvi Umar Farooq faction of the APHC split down the middle, when Democratic Freedom Party President Shabir Ahmad Shah, National Front Chairman Nayeem Ahmad Khan and Mahaz-e-Azadi chief Azam Inqalibi announced the formation of a third faction of the Hurriyat Conference, calling it the “Real Hurriyat”. The split reportedly came after Mirwaiz had addressed a letter to the Convener of APHC in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), Yousuf Naseem, asking him not to entertain these leaders as part of the Hurriyat. This was the second split in APHC, following the first division in September 2003. The APHC was formed in March 1993. The State also saw some communal and sectarian clashes in 2013. On August 9, 2013, two persons were killed and several others were injured in clashes between two communities that erupted soon after Eid prayers in Kishtwar Town (Kishtwar District). It took almost a fortnight to bring the situation to normalcy after the tension spread to other adjoining areas as well. Further, incidents of arson were recorded during sectarian violence in Budgam District July 2013. Indeed, in November 2012, DGP Ashok Prasad, while disclosing that “not more than 250-300 militants are active in the State”, observed that the biggest concern was that “all of them [militants] have to show their performance. If some are fighting against the security forces, others try to prove their mettle in creating disturbance by using fault lines like religion, caste…” Meanwhile, in addition to active terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), HM, and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), long dormant outfits including Al Umar Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA), showed some indications of reviving their activities. Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, ‘chief’ of Al Umar Mujahideen announced the decision to revive “armed struggle” in J&K while using PoK as the base for his organization. Similarly, HuA declared it was ‘resuming’ operations under a new name, Jabbar-ul-Mujahideen (JuM), drawing its cadres from LeT, JeM and HM. JuM is said to have close links with the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network of extremists operating in Afghanistan. It is pertinent that, through 2013, al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) reiterated their intentions to target Kashmir in particular and India at large. It is Islamabad’s renewed misadventures in J&K that has provided the impetus for these adverse developments. This was demonstrated by an escalating campaign of ceasefire violations by Pakistan’s Army, with at least 195 violations recorded through 2013, with 10 SF personnel killed, as against 93 in 2012, resulting in three SF deaths. At least 43 attempts at infiltration were made from across the border in 2013, as against 34 in 2012. At least 51 terrorists were killed during these attempts, as against 22 in 2012. Clearly, buoyed by the prospects of the US drawdown from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Pakistan has once again revived its objectives to provoke instability in J&K. The ‘intrusion’ into the Shala Bhata village along the Line of Control (LoC) in the Keran Sector of Kupwara District in September 2013, was a glaring example of Pakistan’s intentions, with “division sized forces” intruding across “hundreds of kilometres”. Further, according to an August 9, 2013, Government report, there was evidence that Pakistan was still running 22 terrorist training camps for India-centric operations. Most of these terror camps were located in and around Manshera in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province of Pakistan, while a few were situated near Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK. An unnamed security official stated, “In the last review, it was found that Pakistan security establishment was running around 40 terror camps but they were not organised. Whenever Pakistani intelligence agency ISI and its terror progenies like LeT or HM found 15 to 20 recruits, they would house them in a room anywhere in the PoK and start training them. But now, the camps are more organised and run in a systematic manner with more resources at their disposal.” According to media reports, nearly 2,500 terrorists are being held in readiness for operations in J&K, in camps in PoK and Pakistan. These are ominous signs for Kashmir. It is not mere coincidence that this escalation of terror overlaps with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s assumption of office in Pakistan in June 2013. Significantly, after June 5, 2013, the day Sharif assumed power, J&K recorded 144 fatalities, including 10 civilians, 43 SF personnel and 91 terrorists (data till January 26, 2014). Seven of these fatalities, six terrorists and one SF trooper, have taken place in 2014. Conspicuously, Sharif has sought to project himself as a messiah of peace, but his rhetoric on improving relations with India clearly failed to match up with developments on the ground. In this context, it is useful to re-examine his past misadventures as well as present overtures towards terrorist formations. Indian intelligence officials have reportedly submitted an assessment to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs stating that, pressurized by the ISI to ‘act’ on Kashmir, the Nawaz Sharif Government cleared a new ‘Kashmir strategy’ and set up a ‘Kashmir Cell’ in his office. The purpose of the cell is to keep track of ‘developments’ in J&K. It is clearly imperative that New Delhi reorient its Kashmir policy. Instead of misdirected efforts to buy peace, extreme costs – diplomatic, political, economic or military – need to be inflicted on Pakistan for its continuing misadventures in India. On the home front, the biggest challenge will be to hold peaceful Parliamentary and Assembly Elections scheduled this year, in a safe and secure environment. Ajit Kumar Singh Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management