By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On October 5, 2015, following inputs about movement of terrorists in the Hafruda Forest near the Line of Control (LoC) in the Handwara area of Kupwara District in the preceding days, Security Forces (SFs) launched a search operation in the area. On seeing the Army personnel, the terrorists opened heavy fire, triggering an exchange that resulted in the death of four Army personnel, while the terrorists managed to escape. Reports indicate that the terrorists had infiltrated from across the border three days earlier.
On October 7, 2015, a Police officer was killed in a gun battle in the Gund Dachin area of Bandipora District. Acting on information, a Police team headed by Sub-Inspector (SI), Altaf Ahmed Dar chased a vehicle in which terrorists, including a ‘divisional commander’ of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Abu Qasim, were travelling to receive a group of terrorists in the area. As the Police team opened fire and tried to intercept the vehicle, the terrorists retaliated, triggering a brief gun battle. During the encounter, SI Ahmad sustained injuries and later died. The terrorists, however, managed to escape leaving behind the vehicle. Abu Qasim was wanted by National Investigating Agency (NIA) and carries a head money of INR one million.
On October 8, 2015, an encounter took place between SFs and terrorists in the Koungnoo area of Shopian District. Acting on information regarding the presence of three terrorists, SFs had cordoned off the area. On seeing the troops, the terrorists opened fire, triggering an encounter. No casualty was reported from either side, but the terrorists managed to escape taking advantage of the dense vegetation.
These are only the most recent incidents of offensive engagement between Pakistan-backed terrorists and SFs. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the State has recorded 35 SF fatalities during the current year (data till October 11, 2015), as compared to 31 such deaths during the corresponding period of 2014. The number of terrorists killed in SF operation has also increased from 131 to 140 in the same period, while civilian fatalities have remained more or less at the same level, with 19 in 2015 as against 18 in 2014.
Despite Pakistan’s persistent efforts to create an environment of turmoil, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has managed to sustain the relative peace achieved after a protracted period of turmoil. While terrorism-related fatalities have registered marginal increases since 2013, after a sustained decline since 2002 onwards, indices of violence are only at tiny fractions of the intensity that was recorded between 1990 and 2006, when a high intensity conflict raged in the State, with fatalities over the 1,000 mark each year. At peak, the State recorded 4,507 fatalities (1,067 civilians, 590 SF personnel, 2,850 terrorists) in 2001.
The number of violations of the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) of 2003 from across the border has, however, soared enormously. In the current year alone, Pakistan has violated the CFA on at least 327 occasions. Through 2014, 583 CFA violations were recorded against Pakistan. In 2011, the number of such violations stood at 62, which increased to 114 in 2012 and further to 347 in 2013. Meanwhile, on October 5, 2015, the State Government informed the Assembly, “In the year 2014, the number of civilians killed was 14 and during the current year up to September 22, same number of civilians lost their lives in border firing. In these incidents, four security force personnel died in the year 2014, while six lost their lives in 2015.”
However, according to an October 8, 2015, report, while 65 terrorists had succeeded in infiltrating from across the border through 2014, only 10 terrorists were believed to have successfully crossed the border in the current year, till September 2015. This is primarily because several measures have been taken by SFs to create a robust counter-infiltration grid.
Out of 195 terrorists killed in J&K since January 2014, 89 (almost 46 per cent) were identified as being of Pakistani origin. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), 80 terrorists of Pakistani origin were killed between January 1, 2014, and April 19, 2015, and at least another nine Pakistani militants have been killed since April 20, 2015, according to SATP data. Most recently, an LeT ‘commander’ identified as Usman Tada, was killed in an encounter between terrorists and SFs in the Darpora forest area of Lolab in Kupwara District on October 5, 2015. Usman Tada, a Pakistani national, had been active in the area for the past two years. Two of his accomplices managed to escape.
In addition, at least four Pakistani terrorists were arrested by the SFs between January 1, 2014, and April 19, 2015, and at least another two since then. These include LeT terrorist Mohammad Naveed aka Usman, involved in the attack on a Border Security Force (BSF) convoy in Udhampur (Udhampur District) on August 5, 2015, (Usman was arrested on the same day); and Sajjad Ahmed, who was arrested on August 27, 2015, following an over-night encounter near the LoC in the Rafiabad area of Baramulla District, in which four Pakistani terrorists were killed. Usman, who underwent a polygraph test on August 18, 2015, reportedly revealed that the Pakistani Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) train LeT recruits. Incontrovertible evidence, including the testimony of his father from Faisalabad in Pakistan as well as Usman’s own confessional statement, confirmed Usman’s Pakistani identity, but Islamabad continues with its policy of bare faced denial. Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) on August 6, 2015, a day after Usman’s arrest, officially stated that Usman was not a Pakistani national.
And while its support to campaigns of terrorism in J&K continues, Islamabad is also becoming more assertive in its support for ‘Kashmir cause’. Thus, on August 14, 2015, Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, stated, “Aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir could neither be ignored nor put on the back burner. No matter how much more time their legitimate struggle takes, Pakistan will never abandon Kashmiris and their cause.” Similarly, Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif, who had described Kashmir as “Pakistan’s jugular vein”, reiterated, on October 2, 2015, that Kashmir was the “unfinished agenda of Partition”. Following the annual ritual of raising the Kashmir issue at the United Nations, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, on October 1, 2015, told the UN General Assembly (UNGA) that “since 1947, the Kashmir dispute has remained unresolved”, and proposed a four point ‘new peace initiative with India’:
“One, we propose that Pakistan and India formalize and respect the 2003 understanding for a complete ceasefire on the Line of Control in Kashmir. For this purpose, we call for UNMOGIP’s expansion to monitor the observance of the ceasefire.
Two, we propose, that Pakistan and India reaffirm that they will not resort to the use or the threat of use of force under any circumstances. This is a central element of the UN Charter.
Three, steps be taken to demilitarize Kashmir.
Four, agree to an unconditional mutual withdrawal from Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battleground.”
India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted soon after, “To de-militarize Kashmir is not the answer, to de-terrorize Pakistan is”; and again, “Pakistan is not primary victim of terrorism but of its own policies. It is in fact the prime sponsor of terrorism.”
India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, addressing the UNGA on October 2, 2015, declared, “Yesterday the Prime Minister of Pakistan proposed what he termed as a four-point new peace initiative. I would like to respond. We do not need four points, we need just one – give up terrorism and let us sit down and talk.”
Meanwhile, turbulence within Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK), which has always been prevalent, appears to have seen a spike. Undeclared censorship is enforced on the region, but reports of escalating unrest have begun to filter out. A September 29, 2015, report, backed by video feeds, indicates that regular and massive protests are taking place in PaK, including areas of Muzaffarabad, Gilgit and Kotli, against regular Pakistan Armed Forces engineered incursions. Some of the slogans raised included Pakistani faujiyo Kashmir hamara chor do (Pakistani military leave our Kashmir); Pakistan se lenge Azadi (We will get freedom from Pakistan)”. Islamabad has resorted to a brutal crackdown and ordered the detention of nearly 200 hundred protesters in major towns of Muzaffarabad, Gilgit and Kotli. Unsurprisingly, according to the report, the Pakistan Government asserted, “Video shown on CNN-IBN is doctored. We don’t control the media in PoK.”
The Indian Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jitendra Singh, responding to Pakistan Army Chief Raheel Sharif’s statement that Kashmir is an “unfinished agenda of Partition” asserted, on September 7, 2015, “If there is any subject related to Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan, it is how the parts of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) can be again included in India. That means the area, which after 65-66 years, even after being part of Jammu and Kashmir, is under illegal possession of Pakistan.” In its pursuit to counter Pakistan at international forums, India has begun to highlight the issue of PaK more vigorously, after long years of a misconceived silence.
On the domestic front, the gains in J&K have been extraordinary, and security successes have been reflected in a deepening consolidation of democracy as demonstrated in successive and successful elections witnessing large voter turnouts. Improvements in the security grid along the border have been effective in pushing down infiltration rates, and improvements in the State Police have resulted in augmented flows of intelligence and a widening counter-insurgency role for local Police Forces. Unfortunately, a measure of neglect could easily put these great and cumulative gains at risk. Indeed, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India Report laid on the table of the State Legislature Assembly on March 27, 2015, noted,
18 out of total 195 police stations and 103 out of total 192 police posts were operating without own buildings… Basic equipment (like bomb disposal equipment) had not been provided to the majority of the police stations. The life saving equipment viz., Body Protectors and Bullet Proof Vests were not available with 64 police stations…”
Pakistan’s objectives and commitment to support terrorism and separatism in J&K shows no signs of waning. The visible slackness on the part of the Central and State Governments in J&K will prove detrimental in the long run, even as the increasing perversity of the political discourse polarizes communities and creates conditions for further destabilization.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management