India: Jeopardizing Gains In Jammu And Kashmir – Analysis
By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On March 21, 2022, a civilian was killed by terrorists outside his home at Gotpora village under Narbal Tehsil (revenue unit) in Budgam District.
On March 11, 2022, terrorists shot dead a Sarpanch (head of Panchayat, village level local-self-government institution) in the Adoora area of Kulgam District.
On March 9, 2022, one person was killed and 15 others injured when a low-intensity improvised explosive device exploded outside a court complex in Slathia Chowk of Udhampur District.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has recorded a total of nine civilian fatalities in the current year, so far (data till March 27, 2022). During the corresponding period of 2021, one civilian fatality was recorded in the State. Through 2021, J&K registered 36 fatalities in the civilian category. Significantly, after reaching an 11-year high of 86 in 2018, fatalities in this category had declined to 42 in 2019 and further down to 33 in 2020, indicating another spike in violence targeting civilians.
October 2021 alone recorded 12 civilian fatalities, equaling the previous high of 12 in a month in October 2019. Of the 12 civilians killed on October 2021, six were Hindus and one, a Sikh woman. Of the six Hindus killed, four were non-local labourers. One non-local Muslim laborer was among the 12 killed. Such attacks have continued thereafter as well. Most recently, a non-local labourer, identified as Bisujeet Kumar, was shot at and injured by militants at Circular Road in the Gangoo area, Pulwama Tehsil (revenue unit), Pulwama District, on March 21, 2022. Talking about this particular challenge, J&K Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh stated, on March 22, 2022, that targeted killings would always remain a challenge in the Union Territory as long as “there is presence of gun, militants and involvement of Pakistan.”
This marginal deterioration in the security situation with regard to the civilian population has emerged despite the fact that the Security Force (SFs) have continued to maintain their supremacy against the terrorists on the ground. While the SF:terrorist kill ratio in the current year at 1:4.8 (eight SF personnel and 39 terrorists), was 1:3.75 during the corresponding period last year (eight SF personnel and 30 terrorists). The ratio was at 1:4.2 through 2021 (45 SF personnel and 193 terrorists). It was at 1:4.14 in 2020 (56 SF personnel and 232 terrorists).
The SFs also arrested 289 terrorists in 2021, in addition to 300 in 2020. 105 terrorists have already been arrested in 2022.
According to current inputs, almost all major terrorist groups, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Hizb -ul-Mujahideen (HM) and Jaish-e-Mohmmad (JeM) are facing a leadership crisis, as most of the terrorist leaders infiltrated from across the border or recruited from among the locals have been neutralized. On December 31, 2021, DGP Dilbag Singh stated that, in 100 successful operations in 2021, SFs eliminated 182 terrorists, including 20 foreign terrorists. He also disclosed that of the 182 slain terrorists, 44 were ‘commanders.’
Moreover, as SFs further tighten the anti-infiltration grid, the number of successful infiltrations has also declined. The estimated net infiltration was at 143 in 2018, 138 in 2019, 51 in 2020 and down to 34 in 2021.
In between, following scheduled talks between the Directors General of Military Operations of India and Pakistan over hotline, a Joint Statement was issued on February 25, in which both India and Pakistan agreed to the strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease fire along the Line of Control (LoC) and all other sectors with effect from midnight, 24/25 February, 2021. Official data puts the number of cease-fire agreement (CFA) violations at 2,140 in 2018, 3,479 in 2019 and 5,133 in 2020; these came down sharply to 664 in 2021 (up to June 2021). Of 664, only six were reported after February 25, 2021. SATP has recorded just one more CFA violation (in September 2021) since then (till March 27, 2022). The absence of ceasefire violations at the border has helped SFs control infiltration further, as there is substantial evidence that CFA violations in the past were used to help cover the movement of terrorists across the border, from the Pakistani side.
Within these broad trends, the marginal surge in civilian killings, more particularly in targeted killings and attacks on non-locals and non-Muslims by the terrorists, can be seen as a desperate move to reverse the trajectory in J&K.
According to government data, overall terror incidents fell from 417 in 2018 to 229 in 2021. Incidents of stone-pelting, at 1,999 in 2019, fell steeply to 255 in 2020. Though no data for 2021 has been made available, DGP Dilbag Singh asserted that 2021 was a very successful year,
There were almost negligible incidents of stone pelting, agitation, Bandh call, which have almost been forgotten. Even if few localised incidents of stone-pelting occurred, they were very tactfully and efficiently handled by the police.
According to the SATP database, there were just two incidents of stone-pelting in 2021.
Nevertheless, concerns persist. An estimated 142 youngsters joined the terrorist ranks in the J&K in 2021, in addition to 178 in 2020 and 117 in 2019. Sources indicate that at least 208 terrorists, including 128 locals and 80 foreign terrorists from Pakistan, are currently active in J&K. Moreover, at least 350 to 400 terrorists are presently located at launchpads and training camps across the border, in Pakistan controlled Kashmir (PoK).
There is also the continuing challenges from Over Ground Workers (OGWs). On December 29, 2021, DGP Singh said, “OGW is very dangerous,” as it was “very difficult to identify them.” Similarly, Inspector General of Kashmir Police Vijay Kumar noted on March 17, 2022, “OGWs don’t remain permanently so… That is a huge challenge for police. However, we have arrested 150 OGWs so far this year.”
SFs have also articulated apprehensions that sophisticated weapons abandoned by the United Sates troops in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in August 2021 “could reach Kashmir anytime,” along with Afghan war veterans. Major General Ajay Chandpuria, General Officer Commanding 19 Infantry Division stationed in Baramulla District observed, on February 19, 2022,
The Afghanistan situation has a profound impact on the security situation for our country and specially in Jammu & Kashmir. It’s no secret that the various terrorist groups which were fighting the Americans in Afghanistan are now idle. Coupled with that there are thousands of pieces of modern weaponry, night-vision devices and other modern equipment which was just left behind by the Americans. Lot of it as per the reports is getting proliferated towards Pakistan and some of it has gravitated closer to the LoC. Weapons/devices recovered from terrorists killed at LoC [in the recent past] weren’t commonly seen. These were in Afghanistan when US troops left. Our analysis – not only terrorists but weapons can also come to Kashmir.
Pakistan is also making increased use of tunnels to send militants and weapons across the LoC, as well as drones to send weapons. Indeed, DGP Singh noted, on February 26, 2022,
The militancy is dying but they [ISI] want to keep it alive. They are sending militants and consignments of weapons through tunnels, drones etc., but such attempts are being successfully thwarted.
More urgently, however, according to a March 20, 2022, report, Pakistan is “now exploiting the religious fault lines” to keep terrorism alive in J&K. An unnamed officer was quoted as stating,
Pakistan is definitely changing its subversion narrative, giving it a religious tone not only to manipulate the minds of the youth in the Valley but also to exploit the religious fault lines that exist within India. Having vitiated and radicalised the Sufi soul of the Valley for the last three decades to meet its nefarious design, the masters of destruction across the border now believe that the time is ripe to infuse religious schism into the mix and champion itself (Pakistan) as the saviour of religion.
It is imperative therefore for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union Government, which is in control of the Union Territory through its representative in the form of the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, adopt policies and initiate action to ensure that divisive politics is kept out of the Union Territory, even as efforts to restore the democratic set-up commence at the earliest. Any activities that deepen communal fault lines can only help the ISI and the terrorists to bring back turbulence to J&K.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management