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Jammu and Kashmir panchayat polls, growing threats to security personnel make for tough two months ahead

A single action on the Line of Control (LoC) or International Border (IB) need not always be something of concern. However, anything small and tactical always has the scope of going strategic in a matter of moments. That is why an early assessment is always necessary when taking stock of other events in the same environment and within the same bracketed time proximity. The tactical mistakes, forced errors or deliberate acts always have lessons that need to be absorbed to avoid negative effects.

The first context here is the unfortunate death of BSF head constable Narendra Kumar, who along with seven other BSF men had gone to defoliate a piece of ground ahead of the anti-infiltration fence in the Ramgarh sector of the IB near Jammu (Pakistan calls it the working boundary or WB). Kumar was reportedly shot and went missing. Pakistani troops denied the BSF a safe return to the spot to search. Subsequently, when the body was discovered, the throat had been slit. Without vilifying the BSF, it needs to be pointed out that the clearing of the field of fire is a routine task in defence; the basic teaching is that it must be done with adequate firepower tactically deployed to respond if the adversary or terrorists attempt to sneak in and take potshots.

The second basic that cannot be forgotten is that all such tasks are performed while grouped as buddy pairs, so that in the event of a contingency, one man knows exactly where his buddy is. A soldier/constable being abducted then becomes extremely unlikely. In all probability, a Pakistani Border Action Team (BAT) observed the pattern of the BSF men, analysed the weaknesses and carried out the operation. The abducted head constable was shot and captured; his throat was slit but no decapitation of the head was done to avoid the kind of impact of the not-too-distant past.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Cut to the Reasi operation, where three Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists were killed on 13 September. Investigations by the police revealed that they had infiltrated through the Jammu IB sector and were attempting to get to the Valley in a truck provided by an over ground worker (OGW). They were intercepted and after a series of contacts, finally neutralised. There has been criticism regarding the supposed ease with which infiltration took place through the Jammu IB sector. However, counter-infiltration can never guarantee — nor should it ever be expected to do so — that there will be zero infiltration in any sector. The contingencies for troops deployed on the ground are just far too many to cater to every possible attempt; leakages have taken place in the past and will continue despite state-of-the-art border management instruments that are in the offing and a sample of that was just inaugurated. What is heartening is that there was a good intelligence grid that managed to trace the infiltrated terrorists and did not allow them to melt away.

In the Kashmir Valley, more terrorists were killed in Sopore and at the LoC in the Keran sector. Equally important is that a video emerged from the Hizbul Mujahideen stable, threatening all Kashmiri personnel in the security forces and giving them four days to resign from their positions. They were asked to upload their resignations on the internet, purportedly to create greater panic and allow the few resignations that may occur to have a viral effect. With doubts about the local bodies' polls having been laid to rest last week and the two mainstream local political parties pulling out from the polls on grounds of the Article 35A controversy, the political and security scene for the next two months is set. Add to it the UN General Assembly (UNGA) session that began in New York on Tuesday and will be addressed by Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj on 29 September.

When all events are viewed collectively many pictures emerge.

First, with the mutually-agreed ceasefire at the LoC and IB sector, is the Pakistani establishment viewing an advantage in a breakdown of the ceasefire yet again? If not, could the BAT action against the BSF men have been the handiwork of terror groups working alone; not likely given the dragnet Pakistan has at its border and the fact that the Pakistan Rangers took no action to enable the BSF to undertake a response. A fairer assessment would point towards a risk being taken as a contributory factor towards escalation to eventually contribute cumulatively to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir that Pakistan attempts to project to the world, timed with the UNGA session.

Second, for the Pakistan establishment and the separatists, any potential success of the local bodies' polls would be a setback. In 2011, the huge turnout in these polls contributed to the stabilisation of the situation. Sarpanches and panches were then targeted to offset the advantage gained by India’s democratic stamp. It is another thing that India shot itself in the foot by not empowering the local elected representatives and not sufficiently securing them (16 were killed and 30 injured since 2011). The creation of an environment projecting chaos, lack of control and general mayhem helps keep away voters. Already on the first day of registration for the polls, only four potential candidates registered themselves.

Third, the threat against security personnel is not new, although a fresh angle is introduced every time. Having experienced the fact that the Jammu and Kashmir Police remained a force multiplier through the turbulence of 2008-10, it was pointedly targeted in 2016 in multiple ways, including the burning of individual policemen's homes and the destruction of police stations. The new ploy of mass targeting is a generic attempt to obtain large size resignations. Some Special Police Officers (SPOs), who are temporary and poorly paid have already resigned and joined labour gangs.

It needs to be recalled that the separatists and the Pakistan establishment (deep state) has a habit of sometimes attempting to bite off more than it can chew.

In 2010, it was the disastrous attempt by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, to give a call for mass sit-ins around Army camps. The Army’s strong warning sent the Separatists into face saving mode. Perhaps the call to all Kashmiri security men to resign en masse could be considered a step too far, given Kashmir's realities in terms of unemployment and the past history of the Jammu and Kashmir Police's loyalty. This is where social media must be harnessed by the state government to run a powerful counter-campaign to keep policemen motivated.

In the calendar of the next two months, pinprick low-risk activities at the border/LoC will probably continue with greater chances of success but insufficient to cause high alarm in India. With a reported upward jump in terrorist numbers, their seeking contact through targeting of security forces may be the norm with higher casualty rates imposed upon the forces. Infiltration attempts all along the LoC in the Jammu and Kashmir divisions will continue and probably taper off after the panchayat polls, unless there is a delayed winter. It's a tough two months ahead needing 'all hands on deck'.


Updated Date: Sep 20, 2018 09:50 AM

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