Indian Army may kill terrorists but can't stop youth from taking up arms: Why Kashmir's cycle of violence will continue

By all accounts, Sunday was an extraordinary day for Indian security forces. In a coordinated, pre-dawn crackdown in three different locations in south Kashmir, forces neutralised 13 terrorists and managed to catch one alive. Two among those killed were involved in last year's kidnap and murder of Kashmiri army officer Lieutenant Umar Fayaz. This was apparently one of the biggest counter-insurgency operations jointly carried out by the army, Jammu and Kashmir Police and central paramilitary forces.

No anti-terrorist operation, certainly not on this scale, can be conducted without any collateral damage. The difficulty level is higher in Kashmir given the close synergy between terrorists and their over-ground workers/civilian sympathisers. Flash mobs rushing to encounter sites, pelting stones to distract security forces, trying to give trapped terrorists a safe passage and in the process falling prey to bullets and pellets have become tragically commonplace.

On Sunday too, two civilians were killed in the encounter while trying to shield terrorists. Two others died later in the day during anti-India protests that predictably turned violent. The Indian Express reports of "fierce clashes" in parts of south Kashmir between thousands of civilians and security forces in which "more than 70" were reportedly injured.

Three jawans also laid down their lives. However, from credibility of intelligence inputs to the planning and simultaneous execution of such a challenging search-and-cordon operation spanning three different locations (Dragad and Kachhdora villages in Shopian and Brenti Dyalgam in Anantnag), the hot pursuit qualifies as a major success.

 Indian Army may kill terrorists but cant stop youth from taking up arms: Why Kashmirs cycle of violence will continue

Security personnel patrol a deserted street during restrictions imposed after clashes which erupted in Shopian encounters, in Srinagar. PTI

Security forces aren't a monolithic unit working under a central command. The success of the operation was incumbent on various factors — including intelligence sharing between military and local policemen, close synergy between field commanders of the Indian Army, paramilitary and Jammu and Kashmir Police Special Operations Group (SOG) and the teamwork of all three agencies. They also benefited from a stroke of luck.

According to police, seven terrorists were killed at Dragad and five at Kachhdora in Shopian, while one more was liquidated in Anantnag. Terrorists groups rarely place operatives in large numbers in one location to minimise damage. The fact that seven were located in one spot and five in another points to complacency within their ranks.

Beyond the obvious, the operation also owes its success to the army's recent change in tactics. A greater deployment of mobile vehicle check posts (MVCP) have made intelligence gathering easier. These, in turn, are being led by non-commissioned officers due to a recent decentralisation of command structure. This facilitates greater mobility and leaves officers free to plan and undertake more operations. This tactical change has seen the neutralisation of 45 terrorists in the state this year.

More than 200 terrorists were killed by security forces in anti-terror operations in 2017, the highest since 2010. In 2016, the number was 165, with a high personnel-to-terrorist ratio. Yet, for all the recent success of armed forces in cleaning up terrorists, the cycle of violence continues unabated. The reasons are many. Chief among them is fact that much of the insurgency in Kashmir is now home-grown. While the security forces have become smarter in isolating and eliminating terrorists, they have not been able to stop more and more young Kashmiris from taking up arms against the state.

According to Lt General A K Bhatt, General Officer Commanding, 15 Corps, who has been instrumental in leading the clean-up operation, nearly half of the 250 terrorists currently operating in the Valley are "local". About 120 of these are believed to be active in south Kashmir.

Col Bhatt has issued an appeal to parents to urge their children not to join militancy but it is unfair to blame the army if Kashmiri youth are getting radicalised. The army can man the gates, guard the frontiers, hold on to the land, clean up jihadists and even run 'sadbhavna campaigns'.

The political and civil administration in Kashmir has failed to use the opening provided by security forces in engaging the youth and offering a counter-narrative to the one peddled by Pakistan and its operatives within Kashmir. The governments at the Centre and state appear clueless about the nature of the problem, leave alone providing a solution. There is no common ground between the various administrative arms — central, state and local — on whether the problem in Kashmir is social, political or religious.Caught between the twin stools of BJP and PDP's divergent political compulsions, Kashmir is rapidly sliding down the radicalisation slope.

There is now a very real fear that beleaguered Islamic State in its global retreat may choose Kashmir as its battleground for turnaround. The ground for such an eventuality is fertile. In his piece Islamic States's Growing Presence and Violence In Kashmir, Nazir Masoodi writes, "two recent encounters have a frightening message. Radicalised youth influenced by the Jihadi syndicate in India and Pakistan are turning their attention and efforts to Kashmir. At Balhama, among the three jihadis killed two weeks ago was Abu Hamas, a Pakistani national who crossed the LoC a year ago as a Lashkar operative but switched to the Al-Qaeda-affiliate in Kashmir. In Anantnag, Mohammad Taufeeq from Telangana was killed along with Eisa Fazili, a local Islamic State 'poster-boy' during a fierce encounter… Taufeeq was radicalised into Islamic State ideology through online chat rooms and then travelled to Kashmir to participate in Islamic State attacks."

The reality of Islamic State's growing presence should make the administration sit up and take notice but in the dystopian nightmare of Kashmir, the administration is interested more in political survival than administrative duties. Mehbooba Mufti has gone so far down the denial road that when Haseeb Drabu, a heavyweight minister in her own Cabinet suggested that Kashmir problem is social, not political, she promptly booted him out of finance ministry.

Drabu's fault was that at a recent conclave in New Delhi, he had held that "Kashmir should not be seen as a conflict state or a political problem but as a society with social issues". Interestingly, Drabu's statement evoked sharp criticism from the opposition National Conference and separatist leader Yasin Malik. And as it turn out, from the J&K chief minister as well. A minister within Mufti's Cabinet told Firstpost: "He (Drabu) never presented himself as our man in BJP, but BJP's man in PDP."

In this surreal alignment of political interests in Kashmir, little wonder that anyone has any interest in arresting the Valley's slide into jihadism. As long as that is the case, the army and terrorists will remain locked in a vicious cycle of violence, come summer or winter.

Updated Date: Apr 02, 2018 19:46:33 IST