On October 31, 2009 the General Officer Commanding in Chief (GOC-in-C) of the Army’s Northern Command, Lieutenant General B S Jaswal, described the ongoing phase of the separatist campaign in the Kashmir Valley as “agitational terrorism”. The conceptual perspective behind this formulation has not been publicly articulated by the Army top Brass, but there is certainly evidence to suggest the graduation of the terrorist movement into a more complex and comprehensive assault against state authority, with mass mobilization campaigns harnessed to compound calibrated terrorist violence on the ground.
The Special Director General of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Zone, N.K .Tripathi, on February 3, 2010, disclosed the manner in which terrorist regimes were crafting public demonstrations and protests, in conjunction with focused violence. Tripathi confided that Pakistan’s covert agencies had been hiring people in Kashmir to pelt stones on security forces: “Our officers have told us that stone throwers are being paid money. All of us know where the money is coming from. Pakistan and its security agencies, having failed in sustaining the militancy, have adopted the new technique of stoning us.” To the question, whether hawala money was being circulated for stone pelting, Tripathi responded, “perpetrators of the militancy have evolved several ways for funding and Hawala is, of course, one of them.” He disclosed, further, “During the last one and a half years, nearly 1,500 CRPF personnel have been injured while performing their duties in the State, while their vehicles have been targeted 373 times.”
Inspector General of Police (IGP), Crime Investigation Department, Kashmir, A.G. Mir, revealed another interesting dimension of the ongoing campaign, the interesting nexus between the drugs and the public protests. “There is a co-relation between addiction and stone throwing, and those addicted to prescription drugs, cannabis, or opium, find stone pelting a lucrative way to support their habit. They show bravado under the influence of drugs, they feel they are invincible. That’s why they indulge in risk taking behaviour. We have found that there are people who organize these events and mobilize people for political gains. They distribute Rs. 100 to 300 [about USD 2 to 6] to each protester.” The conflict environment is conducive to addiction, with unrelenting tension and uncertainty, and soaring unemployment rates. The young seek escapism, Mir reasons, and wants to prove its worth through deeds on the street.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has added the weight of his opinion to the contention that the street protests are an orchestrated campaign, and that ‘gangs’ of stone throwers are being paid by the forces inimical to peace in the State. The State Government, which is yet to fully recover from the “India ragdo” (rub out India) campaign in Shopian, does not appear to have any effective response to the new phenomenon of what is being dubbed ‘agitational terrorism’.
The protests against the killing of a youth, Mohammad Arif Ayub, who was hit by a tear gas shell on May 22, 2009, during one such protest and died on May 26, 2009, in a local hospital, highlights the vicious loop of self-sustaining demonstrations in the Kashmir Valley. On the other hand, the February 22, 2010, death of an eleven-day-old infant, Baby Irfan, during a scuffle between the child’s parents and a stone-throwing gang in Baramulla, exposed the nature of these protests as orchestrated campaigns rather than spontaneous outbursts. The baby’s grieving parents openly blamed the separatist leaders for forcing them to participate in their demonstration.
‘Agitational terrorism’ is a far more sophisticated phenomenon than is currently being recognized by authorities. Over-ground support structures of terrorism, including separatist and religious extremist political formations, civil rights NGO’s, media organisations, subversive elements within the Government, international organizations operating from various countries in the West, have all been cast into roles in this campaign. Public protests and hartals (strikes), have been transformed into an assault on the credibility and symbols of the state. The sheer persistence of the campaign is remarkable.
A total of 1,540 strikes have been organized in the Kashmir valley between January 1990 and December 2009, according to the State Government. 207 strikes, the highest number for any year, were organized in 1991, when militancy was at its peak. Strikes on Republic Day and Independence Day, February 11 (the day when the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front founder Mohammad Maqbool Bhat was hanged in Tihar jail in 1984), May 21 (the death anniversary of Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq), July 13 (martyrs day), October 27 (the day when troops landed for the first time in Kashmir to repulse the Pakistani attack in 1947) have been annual rituals since 1990. However, after a dramatic decline between the 2002-2007 period, the incidence, and more significantly, the scale and virulence of these demonstrations, is building up again.
Separately, 2,005 demonstrations and processions were organized through 1990-2009, with the highest number of 416 processions and demonstrations occurred in 1992.
Crucially, however, the statistics relating to hartals/strikes are an underestimate, particularly over recent years. Official figures only reflect formal hartal calls. In the present situation in the separatist central command structures in the Valley ordinarily maintain an ambiguity, with formal hartal calls only issued occasionally. Instead, ‘civil curfews’ are imposed selectively area-wise to project separatist capabilities to paralyze all aspects of activity across the Valley.
The number of strikes registered a sharp decline after 2004. This was a time when the credibility of the separatist leadership, across the spectrum, had been eroded because of rampant corruption and doubts about their integrity among common Kashmiris. There had also been a significant build-up of public resentment against such disruptive demonstrations. Succeeding years have seen strikes confined to local areas, without separatist leaders committing themselves to formal calls for wider hartals. Indeed, even through the major agitations of recent years, this pattern of a more localized and informal character of mass mobilization has been in evidence. For instance, both during the Anti-Amarnath Land Transfer Agitation in 2008 and the agitation following the alleged rape and murder of two women in Shopian District in 2009, such demonstrations were fragmented. During the Amarnath agitation, the people of Anantnag, the base camp of the Amarnath pilgrimage, demonstrated little inclination to respond to calls to march to Muzaffarabad. During the Shopian agitation, the Shopian leadership accused the Valley separatist leadership of failing to support them. However, while formal hartal calls by the separatists have decreased, selective public protests and strikes have multiplied.
Terrorist violence has been systematically employed as a prelude or aftermath to these campaigns, though such activities may occasionally coincide with the agitational phases as well. This violence serves two purposes. One, it acts as a force multiplier, adding fuel to public protests. This is often compounded by the intentional confusion that may be created in the wake of such attacks. The terrorist killing of civilians during the Shopian agitation in the Pulwama District was itself pinned at the door of the Government, provoking further public uproar. Two, while the mobilization is ordinarily over a specific local issue, it is projected as a widespread revolt against India, and is also harnessed to the broader separatist agenda of forcing the Government to initiate or advance a formal Indo-Pak dialogue on the ‘Kashmir issue’. Mass mobilization backed by calibrated violence helps preserve terrorist cadres in the State, particularly at a time when the ‘international jihad’ is focused on destabilizing Afghanistan. What is sought to be projected as an intifada (popular uprising imitating the Palestine movement) in Kashmir, serves to demoralize the state machinery, particularly when the Government response vacillates between a near-total retraction of authority, on the one hand, and heavy handed crackdowns and indefinite curfews, on the other.
The situation takes a particularly bizarre turn when the State Government appears to be flirting with both sides – the separatists and the nationalists. The entire agitation in Shopian crystallized around the death of two women – Nelofar Jan (23), wife of Shakeel Ahmad Ahangar, and her sister-in-law Asiya Jan (18) – after their alleged rape by the personnel of the State Police, on May 29, 2009. But the entire focus of the radical reaction was the Army and the Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs). As the campaigns lampooning Indian sovereignty assumed a new stridency in the State, the manifest ambiguity of the State Government’s response created a precarious situation. The decision not to hoist the National Flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day, January 26, this year, was the first time this had happened since the creation of the Republic in 1951, sending out a message, at least to the separatist constituency, that the Indian will was weakening. Crucially, this happened over a case that was an evident fraud, as the Central Bureau of Investigation determined that the vaginal swabs of the two women in the Shopian case were actually planted by the woman doctor who was examining them, and there is sufficient evidence to suggest that a case of accidental death was deliberately distorted by the separatists as one of rape and murder. The Government’s craven responses only have emboldened the planners behind the ‘agitational terrorism’. By and large, it is the state’s agencies that have accorded disproportionate political and administrative attention to these agitational maneuvers. In the Shopian case, for instance, long before investigators had been able to establish anything concrete in the case, and just a day after the bodies were recovered, a Press Conference was addressed by a State Cabinet Minister, followed shortly thereafter by another by the Chief Minister, catapulting this incident onto the national centre stage.
More recently, in the Wamiq Ahmed case (killed in teargas fire on January 31, 2010), the Director General of Police (DGP) was specially flown into Srinagar to review the security situation, while the Advisor to the Chief Minister, a State Cabinet Minister and a Minister of State, offered clarifications on the action in which the youth was killed by a teargas shell during a protest demonstration. The disproportionate political focus on such incidents demonstrates the degree to which the Government remains unprepared to deal effectively with the emerging trends in separatist mobilisation.
Ironically, while the State Government is now accepting the phenomenon of organized stone pelting campaigns at the highest level, it is still not geared up to document these campaigns for a coherent security evaluation.
A section of the Press has also become a willing dupe, and in at least some cases, partner, to these campaigns. In one case, for instance, on February 4, 2010, a local daily carried a photograph of CRPF and J&K Police personnel catching hold of a stone-pelter. The caption, however, read: “SHO Nowhatta rescuing a youth from the clutches of CRPF personnel. The youth was caught by CRPF during a protest demonstration and was being beaten by CRPF”. Separatist propaganda often finds preferential placement in several local newspapers, even as a number of high profile ‘civil right activists’ with known pro-separatist leanings issue partisan statements that are totally divorced from the realities of the ground. Such projections go virtually uncontested by the state’s agencies.
The emerging trends in ‘agitational terrorism’ can only be understood within the context of the wider security situation in the J&K. There was, for instance, a 30 per cent increase in infiltration along the International Border (IB) and the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K in 2009, as compared to 2008. There were 342 recorded incidents of infiltration in 2008 and 485 in 2009, according to official sources. The security agencies are certain that more than 300 terrorists successfully crossed over to the Indian side in these attempts – and this is a minimal assessment. According to official data (up to November 2009) 273 terrorists sneaked back to Pakistan, 93 terrorists were neutralised during infiltration, and 152 were killed across the State. According to State Government assessments, at least 600-800 terrorists are currently operating in the State, though this may well be a gross underestimate.
In the first month of 2010, there were 25 infiltration attempts by militants from across the border, backed by five incidents of ceasefire violation by Pakistani Forces. The first two months of the year have already witnessed a steep increase in encounters, grenade attacks and militancy-related deaths. According to a Government release, till February 2010, “More than 30 active militants, 2 former militants, 5 civilians and 9 security personnel, including an Army Captain, were killed in various militancy-related incidents in the State.’’ According to SATP data, till March 7, 2010, fatalities in the year had already mounted to 64, including 43 terrorists, 14 SF personnel, and seven civilians.. On January 6, militants in the Valley executed a ‘fidayeen’ attack, the first in two years, at Lal Chowk, the heart of the summer capital, Srinagar. Significantly, 30,000 troops were withdrawn from the twin border Districts of Rajouri-Poonch in 2009. SFs accept that at least 50 infiltration routes exist along this border.
It is unsurprising that the Multi Agency Centre (MAC), a conglomerate of central intelligence agencies, which recently reviewed infiltration activities on the Indo-Pak border, cautioned the Centre about the possibility of a ‘more violent summer’ ahead. The assessment was based on the premise that terrorists took about six months to settle down, and would gear up to launch attacks by summer. It is expected that such attacks would be coordinated with a rising tide of street agitations, as terrorism and public mobilization campaigns are deployed in tandem by separatist controllers.
Regrettably, even as these tactics secure increasing traction on the ground, and are widely projected through the media to demonstrate the vulnerabilities of the Indian state, the strategic and tactical response to these new maneuvers remains incoherent. If this does not change before the next wave of coordinated street and terrorist violence swells, many of the gains that have been consolidated since the democratic process was restored in J&K in 1996, would be at risk of being frittered away.
Ajaat Jamwal is an Research Associate for Institute for Conflict Management. which publishes the “South Asia Intelligence Review” of the South Asia Terrorism Portal. This article is reprinted with permission.