J&K security forces never lost focus from eliminating terrorists; more efforts needed to prevent local recruitment
The key to the winning formula is to neutralise far more terrorists than can be recruited in Jammu and Kashmir. That, coupled with effective outreach and quality governance, will ensure a peaceful future in the Valley.
The 50 Rashtriya Rifles is one of the most prolific units of the Indian Army deployed in a crucial part of the counter-terror grid in South-Central Kashmir. It is responsible for the security of the corridor along the Nowgam-Pulwama Road between Pampore and the airport, extending to the east of the national highway. Here, in its area of responsibility — a veritable hell-hole as far as terrorist concentration is concerned — Naveed Jatt was reported to be hiding.
A swift operation conducted in coordination with the Jammu and Kashmir Police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) ensured that two terrorists were killed at Chattergam in Budgam district, including Jatt.
Who is Naweed Jatt? A top Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander who has been operating in the Valley since 2012, he shot to prominence after his daring escape from the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Civil Hospital in Srinagar on 6 February, 2018, where he had been taken for medical treatment under police escort after his arrest in 2014. But much more importantly, Jatt was identified as the man who, after his escape, led the hit squad that gunned down prominent journalist and chief editor of Rising Kashmir, Shujaat Bukhari, on 14 June.
Security forces, with some excellent coordination between the Rashtriya Rifles, the Special Operations Group of the state police and the CRPF, have eliminated as many as 222 terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir this year. This was not by any new strategy but a continuation of the basics in a far more refined and coordinated manner. Operation All Out, which commenced last year, set a high in the joint strategy of the security forces. The 222 figure is the best security forces came to in the past decade in the Valley.
For interest, it is good to know that in 13 days since 15 November, 22 terrorists have been neutralised in Jammu and Kashmir. In the same month in 1999, a total of 45 terrorists had been gunned down in the same areas of South Kashmir. However, to the credit of the current campaign, the strength of terrorists in the Valley is estimated to be not more than 300 to 350, with the majority of them in South Kashmir. In 1999, their strength was anywhere between 2,000 to 3,000 terrorists.
The creditable aspect here is the fact that security forces did not lose their focus from eliminating terrorist leaders with regularity. On 27 November, Shakir Hassan Dar, deputy to high-profile terrorist Zakir Musa, who is the head of al Qaeda-affiliate Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, was killed at the core centre of terror in Kashmir, Pulwama district's Tral sector. Elimination of terrorist leaders puts the cadres in a quandary as most of them are greenhorns who do not have much idea about planning and executing such operations. They become easy prey to the operations of the security forces.
In 2011, one of the longest-surviving LeT terrorist leaders, Abdulla Uni, was killed in a focused operation in Sopore, in which a joint team had tracked him for some time. His elimination created a major flux in terrorist ranks, as did the killing of 18 other leaders that year, leading terrorist leaders to make desperate attempts to infiltrate the Valley. Many of them were eliminated in counter-infiltration operations along the LoC. Security forces have used the same strategy most effectively the past two years with good results.
The high achievement in terms of anti-terrorist operations could not have been possible without the continuous flow of actionable intelligence. To offset such exchange of information, terror groups initiated a campaign to target Special Police Officers (SPO), most of whom live in villages and are the eyes and ears of the Jammu and Kashmir Police — the main intelligence provider because of its connect with local residents. A large number of SPOs and former SPOs were abducted and killed to create a fear psychosis in the police ranks. When this did not entirely succeed, the terror groups, in the past couple of weeks, switched their focus on the local youth, who they suspect have been instrumental in the flow of intelligence. It is to the credit of the local youth that despite intimidation attempts through social media video posts of abducted youth being executed, the flow of intelligence has not dried up. The recent successes in anti-terror operations are a result of these intelligence sources.
In the dynamic environment of the security situation in Kashmir, terrorists, under the guidance of their handlers across the LoC, change their strategy from time to time, but they don't lose their initiative. However, if the coordination and cooperation between security forces is of a high order, counter-measures are usually speedily adopted. Since 2015, the phenomenon most noticeable has been the attempt to intimidate security forces once they are informed about the presence of a terrorist hideout. To prevent the forces from closing in on the target hideout, mobs are gathered through social media and the forces are subjected to stone-pelting. The CRPF handles this attempt at intimidation and has become proficient in it.
It is also good to be aware that in nearly all operations, the terrorists are given a chance to surrender before the forces begin their process of neutralisation. In a recent operation in Kulgam, a young local terrorist was convinced to surrender, even as the Pakistani terrorist holed up with him refused to do so and was killed.
While these operations are achieving significant results, it must be remembered that more efforts need to be made to prevent local recruitment. As many as 164 local youth picked up the gun this year. Coupled with some successful infiltration from across the LoC, the vacuum created by the 222 terrorists killed has nearly been filled, thus allowing the terror movement to continue. The key to the winning formula is to neutralise far more than can be recruited or infiltrated into Kashmir. That, coupled with effective outreach and quality governance, will ensure a peaceful future in Jammu and Kashmir.
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