With all the public focus on the LAC in Ladakh, there has hardly been any analysis of the situation in J&K even as the Union Territory approaches the first anniversary of the landmark decisions taken on August 5 last year. The decisions themselves being too well known, any recall of these may be unnecessary. It’s the progressive impact that is more important. In fact, except for the period immediately after the decisions, when much was being analysed, most of the 11 months or so have seen events and trends that have diverted public focus from the region.
Two months after the early August decisions, the seat of the government of J&K moved to Jammu and a fairly long and cold winter followed. The CAA agitation through much of winter helped divert attention and immediately thereafter, the Covid-19 pandemic followed with the lockdowns and much more. From 5 May 2020, it’s been Galwan, Pangong Tso and other less familiar landmarks of Ladakh that have ruled the roost and the airwaves.
On the security front in J&K, operations against infiltrators began in earnest in early April 2020. Thereafter it’s been an active summer, particularly in the hinterland, with 129 terrorists neutralised all over J&K in the first half of the year, comparable numbers with those of the last two years. June in particular has been extremely successful with 41 terrorists neutralised, with most operations being conducted in South Kashmir. I can recall this number exceeding 40 in a month in South Kashmir only way back in 1999 when I was coordinating operations in the sub-region and the strength of terrorists was foreboding.
At the end of 2019, it was estimated that there were approximately 250 terrorists in Kashmir; that means over half of them have been neutralised by the end of June 2020, although some fresh recruitment has taken place and a few successful infiltrations should be accepted as part of assessment. What does the security situation arising out of these figures indicate? The first observation is that most encounters are at the initiative of the security forces (SF) with very few proactive operations by terrorists. The absence of an effective terrorist leadership is evident from the fact that no counter-strategy on their part has emerged, unlike in previous years when kidnapping and assassination of police personnel and their families was rife to put the SF on the back foot.
The tight counter-infiltration grid along the LoC has disallowed the re-induction of fresh leadership or cadres in sufficient numbers to make a serious impact. The resounding success of the SF is largely due to effective intelligence provided by the J&K Police and all of it is coming from the local people. There are contributing factors here such as the lockdown that has severely curtailed the mobility and flexibility of the terrorists. Where a terrorist group would not risk a stay of more than one or two nights in a safe house, the current situation had forced them to remain seven to eight days in the same hideout, thus increasing the chances of pick-up of information. Credit needs to be given also to the partial dismantling of networks that have dominated J&K’s landscape for many years and enabled the bouncing back of anti-national elements each time some areas were cleared of terrorists.
Recall how South Kashmir had returned to a peaceful state some years ago and returned to a state of extreme turbulence when the SF’s focus shifted to North Kashmir. That is the reason why I am not in agreement with the J&K Police when it announces that Tral or Doda have been declared terrorist-free. It’s dangerous and premature to make such announcements. Terrorist neutralisation is achieved by some hard legwork by the SF, but networks are ingrained deeper and need more sustained addressing before they can be weeded out. Yet, that is not to say that overground workers (OGW), arms and ammunition, and financial networks have not been severely dented. It would be prudent to keep at it and bring a degree of permanence there.
The achievements of the intelligence agencies and J&K Police can be gauged by the fact that long-standing Hurriyat leader Ali Shah Geelani has resigned in frustration. I ascribe this also to the non-availability of finances, something that kept the separatists going for many years. There is no room for complacency on the assumption that J&K is completely under control with these recent achievements. The situation at the LAC in Ladakh demands a prudent examination of Pakistan’s potential to rekindle turbulence within.
The reading down of Articles 370 and 35A and the more voluble reiteration of India’s commitment towards reintegrating Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK placed Pakistan in quandary, but only temporarily. It has continued to follow a strategy of multiple pressure points. The LoC has been kept alive through frequent engagements and infiltration, initially directly attempted into Kashmir and now shifted more towards south of Pir Panjal. A big-ticket event was aimed through IEDs but was scuttled in time by Indian SF. The Ladakh-based turbulence at the LAC would be considered an opportunity by Pakistan. Northern Command’s attention and resources are all focused there and the PLA is seeking Pakistan’s support to assist in coercing India. Pakistan is bound to invest in this for eventual payback later.
After the security-related progressive success India has achieved in J&K, it must now translate the same into political and social success to prevent the Pakistan-backed elements from bouncing back. The Hurriyat is in disarray and also discredited. The best way to keep that situation going is to launch a massive political and social outreach on ground to bring the Kashmiri sentiment back to the mainstream. Ladakh cannot allow us the luxury of shifting disproportionate focus from J&K.
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)
Former Commander, Srinagar-based 15 Corps. Now Chancellor, Central University of Kashmir