Stop-gap measures cannot solve militancy problem in the Valley
The cessation of anti-militancy operations in Kashmir during Ramzan is like a lid put on the worsening situation which can get out of hand any time. The step has been taken by an otherwise indifferent Modi regime which let civilians be killed in anti-militancy operations just before Ramzan, thereby worsening the security situation in Kashmir.
Today’s Kashmir is different from that of the Nineties when militancy broke out here. The challenge for troops and government is not the militancy so much but the growing anger among the people here. No doubt the number of militants is a couple of hundreds, down from thousands in those days, but there is much anger among youth.
The military acted as a deterrent for the youth then but for the present generation, who has grown up in conflict-ridden times, it no longer scares them. These days every youngster in Kashmir with a stone in hand is more deadly than a militant, and they take on security forces to disrupt the anti-militancy operations.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his recent visit to Kashmir, acknowledged that every stone and weapon raised by ‘misguided’ youth destabilises Jammu and Kashmir and the country. “The State will have to come out of this atmosphere of instability,” he said.
Recently, six civilians and five militants were killed in a Shopian village after security forces trapped a group of militants in a house. In large numbers the youth armed with stones, without caring for their lives amid flowing bullets and bombs, attacked security forces. To eliminate six militants, the troops killed six civilians and over 50 were injured in the process.
This is not an isolated incident; this is common during every anti-militancy operation in Kashmir which has become a major challenge for the security forces and has resulted in collateral damage. The killing and injury to civilians has put the government in a dock. Under such circumstances the military approach, as has been the policy of the Modi regime, is backfiring. After all, how long can troops use force against civil population who confront them on a daily basis.
This suspension of military operations came as a change of heart on the part of the Modi government. This was followed by another olive branch by Union home minister Rajnath Singh who said that India is ready to hold talks with Hurriyat Conference. “If Hurriyat is ready to come to the table for talks, we are ready for it. However, as on date, there is no indication from them to this effect,” he said.
Singh also said that New Delhi is ready to hold talks with Pakistan if it comes forward. “To not welcome anyone who wants to talk is not the right thing,” he said.
The home minister said that the Narendra Modi-led BJP government wants to revoke FIRs against several first-time stone pelters, especially young Kashmiris, as a means to reach out to the people. “Kashmir is ours, Kashmiris are ours,” he said. “Children are misled. We refuse to look at first-time stone pelters as terrorists,” he added.
The statement from the home minister has come after Narendra Modi regime’s militarist approach to deal with Kashmir failed to bring result. It instead worsened the situation on the ground. And besides, intelligence agencies have sent reports suggesting dialogue should be resumed or otherwise it will be too late.
In the past, militancy in Kashmir was mostly run by Pakistanis who used to infiltrate through Line of Control (LC), giving credence to the government handle that militancy is Pakistan sponsored. But of late, Kashmiris are outnumbering Pakistani militants in Kashmir. Majority of the recently killed militants in South Kashmir turned out to be local Kashmiris. And tens of thousands thronged their funerals with militants appearing in the rallies to give the gun salute.
One such viral video shows slain Hizbul Mujahideen Commander, Sadam Paddar’s mother, standing on a rooftop before a chanting crowd and firing an automatic rifle in a gesture of defiance. This video has far reaching consequences where militants get parental approval, so far unheard of in Kashmir.
Another such example is a phone conversation between a militant holed up and his father during a fierce gun battle in Shopian in April this year that went viral. The conversation points to a new occurrence, where the father, instead of asking his son to surrender, is pushing him to fight.
The nearly six-minute audio clip is between local Hizbul Mujahideen militant Aetimaad Hussain Malik and his father who tells him: “I can’t ask you to surrender”. During the conversation, the militant seeks forgiveness of his father. “…I pray to God to keep you steadfast. Keep up your morale. You were God’s gift to me and now I will return you to Him,” the father tells his son before troops killed him in the encounter. Malik had completed MPhil before joining militancy in November last year.
No doubt, security forces have achieved major successes against militants by killing their top commanders but it has come at a heavy price. This year so far 146 were killed in militant violence including 34 civilians, 31 security force personnel and 81 militants. Last year, the figure for the whole year was 57 civilians, 83 security force personnel and 218 militants.
And for every killed militant there are at least three youth ready to replace him. But for these new recruits, the militant outfits have no weapons to offer. So, in the last three years militants have snatched 270 rifles from security forces to arm the new recruits, thus posing a new challenge.
The victories of security forces against militants in Kashmir are largely pyrrhic. More the killings, more is the alienation and it leads to further violence. As troops are hunting down militants, new recruits are joining them with sizeable numbers from well-to-do families. According to official data this year, 75 youth joined militancy in the first five months from Kashmir. Last year the number of local youths joining militancy in Kashmir Valley was 126; in 2016 it was 88; in 2015, the number was 66; 2014 it was 53; 2013 it was 16; 2012 it was 21; 23 in 2011 and 54 in 2010.
One of the newly recruit killed in Shopian was Dr Mohammad Rafiq Bhat, associate professor at Kashmir University. Leaving behind his lucrative job and family, he went missing from his Ganderbal home to join militancy but was killed the next day.
On the other hand, infiltration across borders continues unabated despite the government’s 2016 surgical strikes inside Pakistan which has failed to have any effect. The army says that over 250 militants are waiting for infiltration on the launch pads in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) near LC. They have killed three-four groups of infiltrators this year along the LC in North Kashmir but seven-eight groups managed to sneak in despite tight vigil.
According to official data, there were 222 ceasefire violations by Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir this year in which 22 security force personnel and 25 civilians were killed. Of late, border escalation has caused large scale destruction in Jammu region and affected around one lakh people living near the border and LC with Pakistan.
In order to safeguard lives of the people living on the border, the government has again started constructing bunkers and community shelters, as was a practice prior to 2003 Indo-Pak ceasefire along the borders. In Rajouri district alone the government has initiated the process for construction of more than 5,500 bunkers and 200 community halls as well as Border bhawans at an estimated cost of Rs 153.60 crore.
The increase in violence in Kashmir and along the LC and border is happening due to militarist approach with the engagement of separatists and Pakistan taking a backseat. This approach is leading to more uncertainty in the region.
A senior army General told FORCE that the military approach can’t be adopted every time. “We have given the government two chances since Nineties but they have failed to capitalise on it by resolving the issues politically,” he said. “How long military can be asked to fight militancy?” he wondered.
However, there seems to be a silver lining. Army Chief Bipin Rawat has hinted at the possibility of extending cessation of anti-militancy operations in Kashmir even after Eid-ul-Fitr. “The suspension of combat operations in Jammu and Kashmir can be extended further if the atmosphere of peace continues in the State, but any action by terrorists would trigger a rethink immediately,” he said.
He said that suspension is an attempt to make people realise the benefits of peace. “…It has been done to make the people believe and see how the atmosphere is when there is peace”, he said.
Rawat said Pakistan should stop sending militants into Jammu and Kashmir if it was interested in peace. “If Pakistan really wants peace, then we will want them to take the first step by stopping infiltration of terrorists into our side. The ceasefire violation mostly takes place to aid infiltration,” he said.
The Army Chief said India wants peace along the border but Pakistan was continuously violating the ceasefire, which caused loss of life and property. “When such an action takes place, we also have to respond. We cannot sit idle. If there is ceasefire violation, then there will be action from our side,” he said.
And for the first time since Modi became the Prime Minister there seems to be some change of heart. In Srinagar he said bullets are no solution to Kashmir. “The only solution is hugging and loving every Kashmiri”, he said.
Hope his words translate into deeds.