Kashmir unrest: Heightened security, expanding footprint of forces in Valley are throwback to 1990s
The forces' footprint and installations have increased considerably in last few months in entire South Kashmir.
When Mohammad Shafi Wani went to purchase groceries from the market on Tuesday morning, he was surprised to find dozens of small tents erected on a piece of barren land, a few hundred meters from his home in Naghisharan area of Shopian district – which was declared a militancy free area almost ten years back. A garrison removed some years ago from the area had been relocated overnight.
"Everyone was taken back by the tents erected in our vicinity. Overnight, they had turned the area into a garrison," Wani told Firstpost.
"There have been no reports of militant activity from this area but still the Army installed a camp out here," he added.
The forces' footprint and installations have increased considerably in last few months in entire South Kashmir, which has been the epicentre of the latest unrest in the Valley. The security forces' camps are back in the area and so is frisking and checking of vehicles on almost every road leading to the four volatile districts of South Kashmir.
The heightened security presence is a throwback to the early nineties, with security checkpoints after every few kilometres. But, the situation is different now as the number of militants reported in the area is way lesser than in the early nineties.
"It is about showing your presence through area domination and making sure that when you get information (about militants), you reach in time. You will see a presence of more army personnel in coming days, both in the south and north of Kashmir," a GoC rank officer of the India Army told Firstpost, on conditions of anonymity.
"The chances of fighting back terrorists, who are more in number in North Kashmir, improve. So you don't want to miss the time in getting to a particular spot," he added.
Residents of Baramulla town in North Kashmir were surprised when the army started deploying its soldiers on the cement bridge in the area round the clock.
"Sometimes, if they wish to, they will check your identity card or start frisking. It's all done randomly. We were coming out of these times but it seems they are here to stay," Ali Mohammad, a shopkeeper in the main town of Baramulla, said. "It is not good."
The stationary army bunker style vehicles are back even in Srinagar city, where demilitarisation was taking place since the last decade. These vehicles were also seen in Anantnag town, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam, where the footprint of the troops deployed in the main markets has seen an increase in last few months.
According to officials, more than 2,000 personnel drawn from various security agencies have been deployed in the four districts of South Kashmir, as part of an area domination exercise aimed to restore normalcy in the Valley.
More than ten militants have been killed in the first twenty days of this month in the towns and villages of Kashmir, excluding the Line of Control. And the counterinsurgency grid in the Valley has also intensified its efforts to take out militants from these South Kashmir areas. These efforts were prompted by an audacious attack by the militants earlier this month, in which six Jammu and Kashmir police personnel were killed.
But the increased footprint of the soldiers on the streets in going to create more problem than it solves, especially for the beleaguered state chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
The reduction of the footprint of the troops was one of the points of the Agenda of Alliance (AoA) framework of the BJP-PDP coalition government.
Lieutenant-General DS Hooda, former chief of the strategically-critical Northern Command in Jammu and Kashmir, told Firstpost recently in an interview that the army's footprint in the Valley is based on the existing security situation.
"For example, as the situation improved in the Jammu region, the army presence reduced significantly and a large number of troops were pulled out. Can it be reduced in the Kashmir Valley? In the current environment, the short answer is 'no'," he said.
In 2010, former chief minister Omar Abdullah said in the state Legislative Assembly that over 35,000 troops were removed from civilian areas in Jammu and Kashmir. "Without creating a hype, we have reduced 35,000 troops and also decreased the number of central paramilitary forces from internal duty," Abdullah had said.
The largest opposition party at that time, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was campaigning for troop reduction as they argued that the presence of the army in Kashmir was intruding in the day-to-day lives of people and was also a reason for gross human rights abuses.
However, since the PDP-BJP coalition government has come to power, and following the civilian unrest that broke out last year after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, the footprint of the troops has only increased.
After the Centre refused to return power projects owned by NHPC in Jammu and Kashmir to the state government, which was also a part of the AoA, and now with the re-militarisation of civilian areas, it seems that the coalition's agenda is falling apart. How long the coalition will survive is anyone's guess.
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The heart of the conflict is an unresolved border issue — a 164.6-kilometre long inter-state border, which separates Assam and Mizoram. This border is shared by three districts of South Assam — Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj — and three districts of Mizoram — Kolasib, Mamit and Aizawl