Kashmir: Will it be normal again?

With prolonged shutdowns and sudden escalation of violence, there is a tectonic shift in situation in the Valley

By Author   |   Published: 8th Apr 2018   12:00 am

The latest spiral of violence that gripped the Kashmir Valley after the killing of 13 militants in the multiple ‘coordinated’ attacks by security forces could as well go down in the recent history of militancy as a milestone, in view of the groundswell of support from all sections of Kashmiri society. In addition to 13 militants of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), four civilians and three personnel of the Indian Army were also killed in the April 1 coordinated operations taken up in Anantnag and Shopian areas of Jammu and Kashmir.

The security forces had a reason to rejoice after carrying out these operations. They managed to kill Rayees Thokar and Ishfaq Malik of Hizbul Mujahideen, who were believed to have abducted and killed an Indian Army lieutenant Fayyaz, in May last. “We have avenged his death,” General Officer Commanding, 15 Corps, Lt Gen AK Bhatt told mediapersons later. But what followed after these coordinated attacks was something the security policymakers in New Delhi could not have anticipated.

Spontaneous Protests

Even as the coordinated operations were on, spontaneous protests erupted all over the Valley. As groups of people clashed with security forces, use of force was resorted to quell the riotous mobs leading to the death of four civilians and injuries to hundreds of protesters. With the security forces using pellet guns, many sustained pellet injuries in their eyes and they now risk losing their eyesight.

Soon, there were allegations against the Indian Army of using civilians as ‘human shields’. Though the Army immediately denied this charge, given the surcharged atmosphere prevailing in the Valley, the veracity of the charge is almost next to impossible to verify.

As is their wont, the Hurriyat and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) called for a shutdown of the Valley, even as the security forces imposed curbs on movement leading to curfew-like situations in many areas in the Valley. The most significant aspect of the Kashmiri response to these operations is what appears to be the total involvement of students, especially those of the University of Kashmir.

Volatile Again

Why is the situation in Kashmir turning more volatile by the day? There was indeed a time when violence took a backseat though there were sporadic outbursts of armed clashes between militants/terrorists and the security forces.

The April 1 turn-about in the situation is now billed as the biggest milestone after the killing of Burhan Wani, the young and charismatic militant gunned down by security forces in July 2016. What followed after Wani’s killing was phenomenal. For the next three to four months, the situation in the Valley appeared to be spinning out of control, with violent protests continuing unabated for the next five months or so.

More than 76 civilians were killed and hundreds wounded in ‘street violence’, in which stone-pelting, a tactic usually associated with unruly mobs, took a dangerous turn. Stone-hurling, a routine tactic of venting ire at police in many of the protests seen and reported from different parts of the country, was fine-tuned to become one of the best strategies, which the security forces with all their might at their command could not control.

The use of pellet guns to quell these stone-hurling youngsters led to injuries in eyes and many lost their eyesight, attracting unbridled criticism of the security forces. Perhaps, that was what was wanted by the terror outfits, which carefully coordinated the protests from across the border.

Surgical Strikes

Even as the security forces continued to gloat over the killing of Burhan Wani, came another milestone event in the militant history of Kashmir. The daredevil terrorist attack on the Indian Army unit at Uri on September 18, 2016, in which 17 jawans were killed and 19 injured. Though it was not stated to be a retaliation to the killing of Burhan Wani, the fatalities of security forces in the Uri attack had indeed put New Delhi in a tight spot.

The militancy in the Valley was slipping out of control and Army units were the targets of attack instead of the routine ambush of military patrols or stealthy grenade attacks or jihadi attacks on army posts along the roads. The strategies were clearly worked out with the aim of hitting the ‘enemy’ in their strongholds.

An alarmed New Delhi responded quietly with the surgical strikes some ten days after the Uri attacks. Special commando units of the Indian Army crossed the borders in a seek-and-destroy mission in which an unspecified number of terrorists were neutralised.

Understandably, Pakistan never acknowledged that the Indian forces infiltrated into its territory and killed anyone. But for India, the euphoria was to wear off quickly. Despite a strong message delivered to the terror masterminds on the other side of the borders, the situation did not ease in the Valley.

Increasing Violence

If one were to retrospect, the killing of Burhan Wani led to a sort of reunification of fragmented factions of militant and/or separatist outfits and post the surgical strikes across the border, there is a tectonic shift in situation in the Valley. The prolonged shutdowns, sudden escalation of violence point to the fact that normalcy that returned to the Valley just about three or four years ago was only fleeting in nature.

If one were to look at the statistics provided to the Lok Sabha by the Centre, it is clear that the number of incidents of terrorist violence reported from Jammu & Kashmir has steadily increased from 2015 onwards. There were 208 incidents in 2015, which rose to 322 (2016) and 342 (2017). So far in 2018, there have been 60 incidents up to March.

But if one were to look at the fatalities of the security forces and terrorists killed by security forces, a clear pattern emerges. As many as 216 personnel of security forces lost their lives in the continuing conflict from 2015 to 2018 (up to March 4), whereas the number of terrorists killed stood at 488 for the same corresponding period.

Losing Hearts

One way of looking at the insurgency problem in Jammu & Kashmir is through the prism of statistics. In such a scenario, the ‘kill-ratio’ (number of terrorists killed as against the number of fatalities of security forces) works out to 2.25. If one were to take a complete military angle, the kill-ratio could speak of a high military success in dealing with the terrorist activity in the Valley.

But this militaristic approach itself could be flawed because of the deep and indelible scars such a continuing military adventure would impose on the collective psyche of the Kashmiri. Such a negative impact would also work out against the realistic and intended outcome of all counter-insurgency campaigns, whose ultimate goal is to defeat the terrorists, while not alienating the masses, whose support is crucial for a functional democracy.

But looking at the continuation of the violence graph and apparent strategy that is being employed wittingly or unwittingly by the Centre, it appears as though success can be claimed only in a military perspective, while the outcome of all such operations could border on a total failure with respect to winning the hearts and minds of the stakeholders – a sureshot recipe for success of any counter-insurgency strategy.