J&K: A Deepening Peace

Last Updated: Mon, Feb 04, 2013 13:37 hrs

Prospects of an enduring peace in the State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) gained further momentum through 2012, with a steep decline in terrorism-related fatalities, from 183 in 2011 to 117 in 2012. The year also witnessed fewer terrorism-related incidents: 118 in 2012 as compared to 195 in 2011. Crucially, this was achieved in spite of the Inter-Services Intelligence's (ISI, Pakistan's external intelligence agency) relentless efforts to derail the peace through its various proxies - both terrorist and separatist.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal database, as many as 16 civilians, 17 Security Force (SF) personnel and 84 militants were killed in 70 incidents of killing in 2012; as against 34 civilian, 30 SF personnel and 119 militants in 122 incidents of killing in 2011. Thus, civilian, SF and terrorist fatalities recorded a decline of 52.94 per cent, 43.33 per cent and 29.41 per cent, respectively.

Fatalities in 2012 were reported from 13 of the State´s 22 Districts, with Kupwara recording the highest number of (34); followed by Baramulla (32); Srinagar, Ganderbal and Kishtwar (eight each); Pulwama and Poonch (seven each); Kulgam (six); Anantnag (two); and Bandipora, Samba and Ramban (one each). While civilian fatalities were recorded from seven of these 13 Districts, with Srinagar registering the maximum number (six), eight Districts witnessed the killing of SF personnel [the highest was Kupwara, with seven]. Terrorist fatalities were reported from 10 Districts, with both Baramulla and Kupwara recording the highest number, at 27 each.

In 2011, fatalities had been recorded in 17 Districts, with Kupwara recording the highest number (48), followed by Baramulla (31). The highest civilian fatalities (13) were recorded in Baramulla, while Kupwara accounted for the maximum number of both terrorist and SF fatalities, at 36 and 9 respectively.

Consolidating these broad stabilisation trends, State Home Ministry data indicates, the number of strikes sponsored by extremists and separatists continued to decline. As against 22 strikes in 2011, the 2012 witnessed 17. Similarly, the State recorded eight processions and demonstrations by separatists in 2012, as compared to 13 in 2011. There were 132 strikes and 135 demonstrations in 2010.

Significantly, on December 3, 2012, defying extremist threats, nearly 96 per cent (almost 32,000 out of 33,540) Gram Panchayat (village level local self Government institution) members exercised their right to franchise to four seats in the State Legislative Council (State´s Upper House) from the Gram Panchayat quota. These posts had remained vacant for as long as 32 years.

The improved security scenario also resulted in dramatic increases in the arrival of tourists. In 2011, an estimated one million tourists had visited the State; 2012 recorded 1.5 million tourists. Significantly, on November 6, 2012, the United Kingdom´s High Commissioner to New Delhi, Sir James Bevan, lifting UK´s nearly two-decade-old advisory to its nationals to avoid travelling to Srinagar, Jammu and Ladakh, in a letter to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, observed: "The improvement in the security situation has led us (the UK) to lift the advisory against UK citizens travelling to both the cities of Jammu and Srinagar and travel between these two cities on the Jammu-Srinagar highway."

There are indications, moreover, that public sentiment is changing, with the enthusiasm for the secessionist cause, and in favour of Pakistan, diminishing sharply. Nevertheless, lingering irritants persist.

In November 2012, Ashok Prasad, Director General of Police, J&K, while disclosing that "not more than 250-300 militants are active in the State", observed that the biggest concern was that "all of them [militants] have to show their performance. If some are fighting against the security forces, others try to prove their mettle in creating disturbance by using fault lines like religion, caste..." Reports further suggest that the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), over the past two years, since the 2010 ´stone pelting´ campaign, has managed to rope in nearly 70 recruits -- mostly in the age group of 20 to 25. Media reports suggest, further, that the Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA) is ´resuming´ operations under a new name, Jabbar-ul-Mujahideen (JuM), drawing its cadres from LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM). The JuM was formally established in a meeting at Lahore (Pakistan) on July 10, 2012, and is led by its ´commander-in-chief´ Shah Chand Khan. It is said to have close links with the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network that is fighting against US-led NATO Forces and the Afghan Government in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, nearly 2,500 terrorists, training in 42 camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Pakistan, are being held in readiness, even as border disturbances to cover infiltration attempts escalate. Not less than 92 incidents of border firing took place along the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) in 2012, as against 62 cases in 2011. The number of militants who successfully infiltrated from across the border more than doubled to 118 in 2012, up from 52 in 2011. The interrogation of militants arrested after their infiltration into J&K as well as communication intercepts also confirm that some of the materials used by the Pakistan Army in areas in the Siachen Glacier have been passed on to terrorist formations such as LeT and JeM.

Pakistani malfeasance escalated to a gruesome atrocity when Pakistani troopers and ISI-backed terrorists breached the LoC in the Mankot sector in Mendhar tehsil (revenue unit) of Poonch District on January 8, 2013, ambushed an Indian Army patrol, and killed and mutilated two Indian troopers, identified as Lance Naik Hem Raj and Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh. They decapitated Lance Naik Hem Raj and carried his head away while fleeing back into PoK territory. Giving details of the incident, India´s Military Intelligence disclosed that the beheading was done by one Anwar Khan, a local guide who runs a shop in Barmoch Gali in PoK. Anwar was rewarded with PKR 500,000 by ISI Colonel Siddiqui, and was part of a group of 15 terrorists, 10 from LeT and five from JeM.

The continuous and cumulative failures of the separatists within J&K through the past two years, to revive a 2010 type ´uprising´, have once again provoked them to seek direct help from their Pakistani patrons. Seven separatist leaders, led by chairman of All Party Hurriyat Conference-Mirwaiz (APHC-M) Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, met with ISI chief Lieutenant General Zaheer ul Islam as well chiefs of LeT and HM, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and Mohammad Yusuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin, respectively, in Pakistan, in December 2012. According to reports, Saeed and Shah told the delegation that armed militancy would revive in the Kashmir Valley in 2014, in the aftermath of the expected drawdown of US Forces from Afghanistan in 2014. Similar visits had also been organized for the separatist leadership in 2008, and quickly resulted in an escalation of street protests over the Amarnath Land Allocation controversy, and recurrent street mobilization over a range of ´issues´ and ´codes of conduct´, thereafter.

The complicity of some Policemen in militancy-related activities has also emerged as a major concern, as terrorist modules operating with the help or participation of Policemen have been particularly difficult to identify and neutralize. Further, media reports indicate that some former militants have also been appointed to senior government posts in the State, after qualifying the State Administrative, Police or Judicial Services examinations.

In another worrying development, terrorists targeted Gram Panchayat members in their bid to derail the strengthening of grass-root level democracy through which key programmes for the development of the militancy affected region are implemented. At least six Gram Panchayat members have been killed since Gram Panchayat elections were conducted in 2011. Worried over the attacks on Panchayat members, the Union Government rushed an additional 7,000 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel to the State in October 2012, raising CRPF strength to a total of 75,000 personnel. In August, as part of an effort to reduce the presence of paramilitary forces in the State, the Government had withdrawn some 2,000 personnel, reducing the CRPF´s presence to 68,000 personnel.

The controversy over the application of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the State resurfaced repeatedly through 2012, with ambivalent positions taken by establishment political parties as well. Nevertheless, the Centre made it abundantly clear that AFSPA could not be removed as long as the security situation in the State required the presence of the Army and Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs) in the State. On October 14, 2012, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde clarified, "There is marked improvement in the security situation in the State (J&K). With further improvements, AFSPA can be revoked partially, but it wouldn´t be wise to take any chances at the moment."

There is, moreover, a crisis of Governance in the State, with political ineptitude and mischief immensely compounded by a severe deficit of administrative capacity. There is, at present, a severe shortage of officers and public service providers at the ground level, with at least 73,000 posts - 11,292 in the gazetted cadre, 45,588 in non-gazetted cadre and 16,009 in the class-IV category - in the civil administration currently vacant. Unless these deficits are addressed, the delivery of various Government programmes, and the presence and effectiveness of administration on the ground, will remain deficient, sustaining existing spaces for a politics of brinkmanship and extremism.

Evidently, demands such as the withdrawal of AFSPA as well as measures such as the removal of troops and bunkers in the State, though theoretically desirable, presently remain premature. The past years have, of course, seen a continuous decline in terrorism (and significant declines in the visible presence of Security Forces as well), but there have been cycles of abrupt militant resurgence, and the relative peace in J&K is far from assured. Before a permanent peace can be declared, Pakistan-backed extremism, terrorism and separatism will have to be brought to a complete end, even as Governments, both in New Delhi and Srinagar, take intensive measures to strengthen civil administration and reenergise the Police Force, to infuse a greater confidence in the people. Prophylactic security measures must also be envisaged to counter the Pakistani and extremist intent to take advantage of emerging opportunities after the drawdown of US and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Afghanistan in 2014. The tentative, hard-won and imperfect peace of J&K remains vulnerable to the disruptive machinations of inimical powers and extremist formations, and great political sagacity, as well as sustained effort on the part of the SFs and the administration will be necessary over the coming years, before clear victory can be declared.

(The writer Ajit Kumar Singh is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management)

(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)

More from Sify: