Kashmir : A "Hot" Winter Ahead
- Infiltration in the Jammu sector likely to pick up momentum as passes close in the Valley.
- Militants will continue strike operations during winter as sufficient numbers have been infiltrated during preceding months despite a number of notable counter infiltration success by the Army.
- Vacation of public buildings as schools and hospitals by the army before the deadline of 30 November set by the Defence Minister assuages local sentiment.
- No let up in sponsoring violence from across the LOC thus sustained vigilance essential.
- Political trends indicate increase participation by national parties including the BSP and SP in state elections in 2008. Hurriyat Conference Moderates may also participate.
- Political killings may pick up momentum.
An Army jawan was killed and two other injured in what is being described as the first major violation of the four-year-old Indo-Pak cease fire in Kashmir on the Line of Control at Langoor post in the Poonch sector on 25 November. While not specifically indicating it as cease fire violation, the army spokesperson called it as death due to, 'hostile fire'. In all likelihood this was an attempted infiltration by militants from across the Line of Control in an attempt to infiltrate, however it is not clear if the fire was from Pakistani security forces or terrorists. The trend of infiltration continued during the month with two separate bids foiled in Kupwara on 1 November killing four militants in the Machil and Keran sectors. Another bid wasfoiled killing one militant on 8 November in the Keran sector. 7 Garhwal killed three militants attempting to infiltrate in the area of Katwari Machil sector in north Kashmir on 22 November.
The last dregs of infiltration prior to closure of passes in the Valley during winters may turn attention to the Jammu sector which will continue to remain open and will see a rising trend in the months ahead.
The security situation in Jammu and Kashmir in terms of infiltration improved significantly during the past three years with the number of infiltrations from across the border standing at 499 till October. Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal, in a written reply in the Lok Sabha, said infiltration cases in 2006 and 2005 were 573 and 597, respectively. These figures include militants apprehended or killed while crossing the LoC. According to available information, more than 4,000 illegal weapons, including AK- 47 rifles, pistols, revolvers, light machine guns, rocket launchers and boosters, and a large quantity of ammunition and explosives were recovered in Jammu and Kashmir.
Reduction of infiltration by about 100 incidents so far would imply that the average strength of militants inducted would be theoretically reduced by 400 with an average of 3 - 4 militants infiltrated per incident. However as approximately 100 encounters have been reported in infiltration during the year, 100 of the 499 incidents have been unaccounted, thus implying that as many as 1200 - 1600 militants would have been infiltrated in the state so far.
Incidents of violence continued unabated. Terrorists attempted to lob grenades, and strike at security forces bunkers and in one case attempted a suicide attack in a Central Reserve Police Complex in Srinagar but with limited success. Militants continued to retaliate on cordon and search operations when cornered. Security forces launched a series of joint operations with the Special Operations Group and the army leading to a number of notable successes. Pattan, Kupwara, Lolab, Kulgam. Pulwama and Sopore were the main areas of encounters. A large number of militants killed were identified as based in Pakistan. Some of the prominent encounters were as per succeeding paragraphs.
The District commander of Al-Badr militant outfit identified as Arif Ismail Pathan of Peshawar was killed in an encounter with police at Damhal Hanjipora on 4 November. Two militants identified as Abu Osama Zeeshan alias Qasim of North Western Frontier Province, Pakistan and Abu Talha alias Janbaz Mumtaz Ullah of Peplan Pakistan, were killed in a 72 hour long gunfight in Srinagar on 11 November by the Central Reserve Police Force. The militants had gained entry into the hotel in what is purported to be a suicide attack (NewsBlaze Report). O n 12 November five militants including a deputy operational commander of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and a soldier were killed in a gunfight at Dooru in North Kashmir in an encounter with 22 Rashtriya Rifles, 2 Para and personnel of police SOG.
In Sopore, Lashkar-e-Taiba, militants attacked a CRPF patrol and forced entry into a hotel, New Light on 8 November from where they were flushed out the next day. 200 civilians in the hotel were safely evacuated. An Army major was martyred in a long-drawn encounter from 7 to 9 November in Saidpora village near Pattan. Major Verinder Singh who received a critical head injury died in hospital. Three terrorists were killed in the encounter with four army personnel martyred.
Seven militants and two soldiers were killed in different encounters in Kupwara on a single day on 17 November. Six militants and two soldiers were killed in a gunfight at Lolab by 28 Rashtriya Rifles and 18 Rashtriya Rifles. Six militants identified as Chacha Sajjad, district commander Lolab of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Shakeel, Qari Ajmal, Qari Samiullah, Tahir of Jaish-e-Mohammad and Firdous Ahmed Dar alias Zahid of Warapora, and two soldiers identified as Rajpal Singh and Adi Naryan were killed.
There was widespread protest over alleged killing of a baker, by soldiers of 9-Rashtriya Rifles in Kulgam district on 17 November. 30-year-old Reyaz Ahmad Sofi is reported to have been shot however the Army indicated that he was killed in cross fire. An 82 mm anti-tank gun with an effective firing range of 500 metres was recovered on 15 November from a forest hideout in Haphruda in Kupwara district by 31 Rashtriya Rifles. The weapon has a reported range varying from 500 metres to 1.5 km and is effective against hard as well as soft skinned vehicles. ( http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Anti-tank_gun_seized_from_militant_hideout_in_JK/articleshow/2544000.cms
There were on an average two to three incidents each day in the State which were reported in the media. This may not seem alarming given that these have been concentrated in certain key areas as Kupwara, Sopore, Pattan, Kulgam and Bandipore which are well identified. Security forces need to focus on these hot spots. There has been no change in attitude and approach of the people in these areas who continue to support the militancy. A varied political approach is necessary to gradually wean away dissidence.
Statistics - Militancy In Jammu and Kashmir
At least 66590 violent incidents were reported in Kashmir during the past 18 years of turmoil. The highest number of militancy related incidents was recorded in 1995 while the minimum violent incidents have been reported this year. According to police statistics, 6045 incidents of hurling grenades on forces took place in Kashmir. Maximum grenade attacks were reported in 1994, during which 821 incidents occurred. But after 2001, there has been a downward trend as far as hurling of grenades are concerned. 1990 witnessed 242 attacks, 1991 - 402, 1992, 509 -1993 - 678, 1994 - 821, 1995 -579, 1996 -444, 1997, 168, 1998-187, 1999 -201, 2000- 243, 2001, 373, 2002, 283, 2003- 199, 2004- 243, 2005 - 152, 2006- 226 and 2007 witnessed 98 attacks.
Police statistics reveal that 5615 Improvised Explosive IED explosions occurred. The highest number of IED blasts took place in 1990, during which 1280 blasts were reported. The lowest number of IED explosions was reported this year so far. "In 1990- 1280, 1991-275, 1992-248, 1993-327, 1994-347, 1995-366, 1996-358, 1997- 255, 1998-264, 1999-293, 2000-294, 2001-402, 2002-255, 2003-228, 2004, 157, 2005- 136, 2006, 83 and 2007 witnessed 143 IED explosions". Militant attacks on security forces have come down to a large extent. This year only 198 violent incidents occurred in the state as against 330 in the corresponding period last year. The highest militant attacks in Kashmir were witnessed in 1994 in which 2675 attacks took place. "In 1990- 732, 1991-1358, 1992- 1934, 1993-2288, 1994- 2675, 1995-2570, 1996-1473, 1997-1149, 1998- 1181, 1999-1209, 2000- 1498, 2001, 1109, 2002- 870, 2003- 683, 2004- 481, 2005-327, 2006-330 and 2007 -189 militant attacks took place". ( http://newsblaze.com/story/20071108085526kash.nb/newsblaze/KASHMIR1/Kashmir.html).
Change of Command 15 Corps - Srinagar
Lieutenant General Mukesh Sabharwal took over as the General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar-based Headquarters 15 Corps. Command of the 15 Corps is easily one of the most challenging appointments in the army with multiple operational issues of managing the line of control and militancy in the Valley against an explosive political back drop. Despite turbulence in Pakistan there are no signs of any let up in sponsoring violence in the Valley. Reports indicate 90 to 140 terrorists were killed during infiltration during the year so far. Lt General Sabharwal is a renowned professional with excellent reputation for military diligence and will be able to face these challenges with equanimity.
There were indications of violence preceding coming elections with National Conference corporator Ghulam Nabi fired at point-blank range at Khanyar on 14 November. A grenade was hurled towards the residence of Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Bandipore Usman Majeed on 21 November but the device exploded near a CRPF bunker outside the MLA`s house without causing any damage.
Killing of the NC corporator is alarming as political assassinations had not been seen in the Valley for the past two years. This may mark the beginning of a new trend especially with elections in the Valley fast approaching, focus on political killings may not be very far away.
Normalcy in Kashmir is also enabling national parties which had no presence in the State earlier as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) planning to contest the 2008 Assembly elections. BSP is planning to contest from all 87 seats in the Assembly. A big convention of the BSP workers is being planned in Srinagar in April. SP is planning to field candidates in 51 constituencies, 30 in the Valley and 20 in Jammu as well as some seats in Ladakh. [Greater Kashmir Report].
Hurriyat Conference (Moderate) has launched a process to restructure the organization and turn it into a single party. The party intends to transform from a two tiered structure to a single political party amending the constitution. There are 25 parties in the Hurriyat (Moderate) of which six are in the executive council and 19 in the general council. The aim is to merge these into a single entity. The chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had floated the idea of forming the party into a single entity.
Elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 2008 are likely to see a new beginning in the history of the state. There seem to be opening moves of Hurriyat converting into a political conglomeration and participating in the forth coming elections. This would be a good sign for politics in Kashmir as it would main stream moderate faction of the Hurriyat and thus isolate the pro Pakistan hawks led by Geelani, who are in any case in a minority. Thus increased impetus to consolidation of the Hurriyat followed by luring it to enter electoral politics seems to be the way ahead.
Given that political parties as the SP, BSP and Lok Jan Shakti who have a presence only in North Indian states as Uttar Pradesh are also eyeing elections in Kashmir is of some significance indicating that the law and order situation in the state is under control and there is growing confidence in the people of participation in the electoral process. While these parties will not be able to make a dent in Jammu and Kashmir which has five major contenders, two local, National Conference and People`s Democratic Party plus the Hurriyat M if it participates and two national, Congress and the BJP, the aim is to establish a preliminary presence and even if they gain a few seats in the case of a fractured verdict they can assume the role of a swing party. Moreover in coalition polity both at the state and the centre, they can exercise considerable influence and gain extra ordinary clout.
Human Rights Trends
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) welcomed withdrawal of Army troops from school and hospital buildings in the Kashmir Valley. The Army vacated the buildings on 29 November a day before the dead line given by the Defence Minister. Given that it had strongly rooted for demilitarization, withdrawal of forces from health institutions, schools and other public establishments has reasonably satisfied the Party. This would provide considerable advantage during the elections as it can make good political capital in the days ahead. The Congress too may gain claiming that it had implemented the proposal.
The Army took prompt action against two soldiers who were found guilty of trespass and trying to outrage the modesty of a teenage girl in Bandipore in June. The soldiers, masquerading as militants, had forced entry into a house in Kunan village of Bandipore district and tried to molest a girl. The soldiers were apprehended by villagers and paraded naked through the market in a major embarrassment to the Army.
On 1 November the Army said it had punished 85 soldiers for their involvement in human rights violations in the state since 1990, and no civilian has been killed in its custody during past one year. Then General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 15 Corps, A S Shekon told reporters on 1 November on the sidelines of a seminar organized by Victor Force to discuss human rights that during past two years only two incidents of human rights violations have come to fore one in Bandipore and the other one killing of a teacher in Kupwara. The GOC said that the soldier who fired upon a teacher Abdur Rashid Dar at Marsary in Kupwara has been arrested and court of inquiry has been ordered against him. The GOC had indicated that 800 militants were active in the Valley out of which 300 are present in south Kashmir most of whom were from Hizbul Mujahideen. ( http://www.greaterkashmir.com/full_story.asp?Date=2_11_2007&ItemID=57&cat=1)
Making Sense of Militancy
With Pakistan in a turmoil, there were differing perceptions of the impact on Kashmir militancy. Hopes were being expressed of a drop in terrorism in Kashmir. Army chief General Deepak Kapoor however indicated that, "The terrorist training camps (in Pakistan and PoK) are intact...infiltration is being calibrated. There has been a spate of infiltration bids and violent incidents in J&K over the last two months," in an exclusive interview to Times of India on 13 November. Unlike the hope in media that with heavy terrorist resistance at home, Pakistan may be induced to turn off the tap on militancy in Kashmir, reality appears to quite different. There are indications that militants could seek sanctuary in Kashmir as the Army Chief indicated, "We are concerned that if there is a strong crackdown on jihadis in Pakistan, one of the options for them could be to head towards India."
On the other hand terrorist groups as Lashkar and Jaish are sufficiently autonomous and may not look in the short term for support towards the Army or the ISI and may be able to continue sustenance of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir on their own. There are clear indications that the LeT in particular has ordered its cadres to step up attacks. This could be confirmed from the two major operations in Sopore and Pattan both areas where it has considerable interests. Thus the militancy situation will continue to be tense in the days ahead. Continued infiltration is also an indicator of no let up in the proxy war in Kashmir as the army chief indicated, "Infiltration figures are approximately at the same level as last year". The army chief said that there has been a 50% drop in violence levels in J&K this year as compared to the corresponding period last year. (Quotes of Army Chief are based on Times of India Report).
Thus a sensible strategy of maintaining vigil on the border has to continue for there are no indications of any change in the overall Pakistan policy of using terror as a leverage against India not just to settle the Kashmir issue but also to keep the situation on the boil within the country.