J & K: Escalating Failures

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By Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management

At 6.40am on September 26, 2013, three terrorists of a fidayeen (suicide) squad, dressed in combat fatigues, commandeered an autorickshaw and drove up to the Hiranagar Police Station in Kathua District. They first shot two Policemen dead at the entrance, thereafter they killed a shopkeeper outside the Police Station, and injured the auto driver. Another two Policemen were killed inside the Police Station.

The three terrorists then hijacked a truck, killing its helper, and reached an Army Camp at Mesar in the neighboring Samba District, after travelling some 20 kilometers on the Jammu-Pathankot Highway. Four Army personnel, including the Second-in-command of the 16th Cavalry combat unit located there, Lieutenant Colonel Bikramjeet Singh, were killed. The commanding officer, Colonel Avin Uthaiya, was injured, along with another four Army men. The truck driver, Mohammad Ashraf Khan, is being questioned by the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the State Police. Sami-ul-Haq, ‘spokesperson’ of a little-known terrorist outfit, Shuhada (Martyrs) Brigade, has claimed responsibility for the attack. According to preliminary reports, the heavily armed suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists (operating under the identity of the Shuhada Brigade), had crossed the Chhappri rivulet and reached a graveyard in Jhandi village, close to the international border (IB), in the early hours of September 26. The same Shuhada Brigade has taken responsibility for the attack on an Army convoy in Srinagar on September 28, 2013, in which a civilian was injured in the crossfire between the Army and the militants.

The daring attack ended with all three militants killed by the Army after a 9-hour clash. Reports said that choppers were used to bring Army Commandos from nearby location, while tanks were used to provide safety cover to troops engaged in the operation. Indeed, the attack has necessitated a serious investigation into the failure of the Security Forces (SFs), who have been caught unaware and apparently unprepared on several occasions in the recent past. The terrorists have already killed a total of 53 SF personnel in 2013 (data till September 29, 2013), the highest in a year since 2010, when 69 SF personnel were killed, with three months still to go in the current year.

The last major attack (involving three or more killings) by terrorists in Samba District had taken place more than five years ago, on May 11, 2008. Two LeT terrorists, wearing Army uniforms, had intruded into the house of Hoshiar Singh, General Secretary of the Indian National Democratic Party, in Samba town at 5.58am, and killed Hoshiar Singh and his wife on the spot. The terrorists subsequently moved towards the Kaili Mandi area and took three women and two children hostage. At about 5pm, the SFs stormed the house where the terrorists were hiding and shot both of them dead. One of the hostage women and Ashok Sodhi, Chief Photographer of The Daily Excelsior, were also killed in the crossfire. 16 SF personnel and two women were injured in the day-long gun-battle.

There had been no such attack in Kathua District prior to the September 26 attack.

In fact, the last major attack by the militants in the entire Jammu Division had taken place on May 8, 2009, when the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) militants had shot dead three persons at Bandara village in the Gulabgarh area of Reasi District. In the last fidayeen (suicide squad) attack in the Jammu Division, 11 persons, including three Army soldiers, five civilians and three terrorists, were killed and another six, including three soldiers, two civilians and a woman, were injured in Jammu District on August 27, 2008. Three fidayeen terrorists, who had infiltrated in the early hours of August 27 from the Kanachak Sector, managed to hijack a truck at Gadla and travelled more than 15 kilometers before taking shelter in a house at Chinore on the old Jammu-Akhnoor Road, taking nine persons hostage. The operation which started at about 7am concluded after approximately 18 hours.

The Jammu Division had, however, witnessed a major violation of ceasefire on August 6, 2013, when personnel of Pakistan Army’s Border Action Team (BAT), along with a group of 20 heavily armed terrorists, entered 450-metres deep into Indian Territory along the Line of Control (LoC) in the Poonch Sector and killed five Indian soldiers.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Jammu Division has witnessed a total of 30 killings, including five civilians, 13 SFs and 12 terrorists, in 2013 (all data till September 29, 2013) as compared to 14 killings, including one civilian, one SF trooper and 12 terrorists, in the corresponding period of 2012, indicating a visible spurt in violence. Overall fatalities across the State have also more than doubled during this period. As compared to 73 killings, including 11 civilians, 11 SF personnel and 51 terrorists in 2012 (till September 29), the current year has witnessed 156 fatalities, including 19 civilians, 53 SF personnel and 84 terrorists.

While the steep rise in overall fatalities is a matter of grave concern, what is more worrisome is the widening arc of terror in the State in recent past. Significantly, by end of 2011, the State Home Ministry had declared at least seven Districts in the J&K completely free of terrorism, including five of ten Districts in the Jammu Division – Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Reasi and Doda – apart from Leh and Kargil, which had never seen significant militancy. Further, of the 13 Districts that had reported terrorism related incidents ‘in single digits’ in 2011, six belonged to the Jammu Division – Ramban, Doda, Poonch, Rajouri, Udhampur, Kishtwar and Jammu (Jammu recorded just one incident in the year, though it had been declared ‘terrorism free’). The State of Jammu and Kashmir comprises three Divisions – Jammu Division, Kashmir Valley Division and Ladakh Division. The Jammu Division has 10 Districts; the Kashmir Valley has 10 Districts; and Ladakh has two Districts.

It is not mere coincidence that this escalation of terror overlaps with the ‘messenger of peace’ Nawaz Sharif assuming power in Pakistan in June this year. Despite ever-mounting evidence of intentional Pakistani malfeasance since Sharif assumed power, the Indian Government, in its incessant attempts to ‘buy peace’, has constantly changed its terms of engagement with Pakistan. Indeed, India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, on August 6, 2013 (soon after the killing of five Indian soldiers in a ceasefire violation), had stressed that “there was no point in even discussing holding talks with Pakistan till the situation at the border becomes totally normal”, adding that “any dialogue would be possible only after normalisation of circumstances.” There is no visible improvement in the situation on the ground. In fact, a total another 34 ceasefire violations have occurred since then, with the total number of such violations in 2013 standing at 100 [tillSeptember 29], as compared to 93 through 2012. Despite this, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on a trip to the US to participate in the UN General Assembly, soon after the September 26 attack, while conceding that "this is one more in a series of provocations and barbaric actions by the enemies of peace," without referring to Pakistan, in an incomprehensible inversion of logic, stressed, "such attacks will not deter us and will not succeed in derailing our efforts to find a resolution to all problems through a process of dialogue." In his subsequent meeting with US President Barak Obama on September 27, he once again argued, "I look forward to meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif even though the expectations have to be toned down given the terror arm which is still active in our subcontinent."

New Delhi’s incoherent approach to Pakistani state backed terrorism has had an adverse impact on the security scenario in J&K, which had witnessed a deepening peace not long ago. With the deadline for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan now rapidly approaching, it is inevitable that Pakistan will gamble even more recklessly in its terrorist ventures across the region. The complete absence of any costs – diplomatic, political, economic or military – for its continuing misadventures in India, and, indeed, the diplomatic validation that a dialogue process with this rogue state provides, ensure that Pakistan will continue with its ongoing gambit. Each terrorist ‘success’ will only add to the incentives and determination to continue with this covert war. It is unlikely that the present regime at New Delhi will suddenly acquire a working spine. It is, once again, India’s SFs who will have to carry the tragic burdens inflicted by political cowardice, vacillation and failure

[Source: SATP]

JULY 2018

Vol. 12 - No. 12


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