On September 24, militants shot 40-year-old Mohammad Shafi Teeli in his head at Nowpora of Jammu and Kashmir’s Baramulla district. Gravely injured Shafi succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. Two weeks before that, on September 10, militants sprayed bullets on Ghulam Mohammad Yattoo as he came out of a mosque after the evening prayers at Palhalan village in the same Baramulla district.
Shafi and Yattoo were no ordinary civilians in Jammu and Kashmir. Both were elected heads of Panchayats —the most basic institution of governance in the state. Both were among the hundreds of brave men who had defied the militant threats to become a part of New Delhi’s project aiming at improving governance in the state’s villages.
In fact, the preceding months since the April 2011 Panchayat elections have seen eight Panchayat members being killed by the militants. This terror campaign has further resulted in the resignation of over 60 Panchayat members — with each Panch pasting a hand-written poster in his village declaring, “I had taken part in panchayat elections by mistake, I resign today from panchayat posts. From now onwards we have no affiliation with any political party or Panchayat Raj system.”
Bravado has its own place in politics. However, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s defence on September 26 that the situation in the state is far better than Bihar and other Naxalite-affected states, where the Panchayat members face similar threat from the left-wing extremists, appeared to be poorly timed.
There is no denying the fact that Jammu and Kashmir has vastly improved from the dark days of militancy. Till September 23, 70 fatalities have been recorded in the state, including those of 11 civilians and 12 security forces. If the trend continues for another three months, the state could record the lowest ever militancy-related fatalities since 1989.
The state has around 4,128 Panchayats, with 29,719 panches and 4,130 sarpanches. So eight killings and 60 resignations may not yet spell doom for its future. At the same time, however, to remain oblivious to what could be a tactical campaign to obliterate the most basic symbols of governance would be strategically suicidal. Even as civilian and security forces killings have dipped, this strategy in coming months could nibble at the gains made thus far in this state.
Moreover, these killings are a manifestation of the untamed militant capacity to wreak havoc in the state. Official sources indicate that “the terrorist infrastructure across the borders remains intact” and hence in spite of the reduction in “terrorist-related incidents and their residual strength”, the “threat remains real”. It is possible that the unimpeded threat potential could now be transforming itself into real danger. Data on two trends — infiltration as well as militant activities — underline this contention.
First, data on the level of terrorist infiltration from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) indicates that during the first seven months of 2012, cross-border infiltration by terror groups has increased by 100 per cent. Compared to barely 26 such cases in the first seven months of 2011, 67 incidents of successful infiltration were noted till July 2012. Compared to 93 Pakistani militants who attempted to cross over last year, 193 militants have already infiltrated this year. The strategy of pushing in small groups of three to four terrorists is beginning to become a priority area for their handlers.
Second, a survey of the terrorist-related incidents in the past nine months indicate that the terrorists have succeeded in not only in setting up arms dumps in what could be described as the state’s interior areas, but also carried out a number of precise spectacular attacks on security forces in the heart of Jammu and Kashmir’s urban centres. These attacks may not have resulted in large number of fatalities yet. But to assume that the prevailing peace would last for ever could be an entirely erroneous conclusion.
A day after Shafi was gunned down in Baramulla, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari reiterated in the United Nations that Pakistan “will continue to support the right of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to peacefully choose their destiny”. It is unmistakable that the more Pakistan’s civilian government comes under pressure for its derisory existence, the more inclined it will be to fall back on the old tactic — raking up the issue of Kashmir. Far from being innocent calls for ‘justice’ in Jammu and Kashmir, such speeches could prove to be clarion calls to re-initiate the campaign of terror in this troubled state.
It is now clearly up to New Delhi to recognise the danger and ponder whether its peace project with Pakistan can co-exist with the latter’s wilful design to up the ante in Jammu and Kashmir.
This article was published by New Indian Express and reprinted with permission.