Interview with XV Corps Commander S.S. Dhillon.
As the dialogue process on Jammu and Kashmir gathers momentum, policymakers in New Delhi have been struggling to balance calls for a softening of India's counter-terrorism posture in the State and the need to contain jehadi violence. In an exclusive interview to Praveen Swami, Lieutenant-General S.S. Dhillon, an officer who has long experience in the State and commands the Srinagar-based XV Corps, offered a candid assessment of the situation in the State, and the continued threat from across the Line of Control (LoC). Excerpts:
A number of people have been calling for a ceasefire within Jammu and Kashmir. Is this something that you see as a viable option at this stage?
Well, there has been a great deal of deliberation about this. Both the Army Commander and the Chief of the Army Staff have noted that our two past experiences of a ceasefire were not very happy. The way we see it is that if the situation in the Kashmir Valley has to improve, the violence levels have to come down. If there is to be any kind of ceasefire, we would have to work on a lot of issues before it could actually be put in place. While the talk about a ceasefire does reflect the people's yearning for peace, rather than the will of the terrorists, there are many things to be worked on before we can go down this road.
A number of larger-than-normal sized groups of terrorists have attempted to infiltrate across the LoC this year. How do you account for this development?
It is a source of concern. Gurez, where most of these large groups have tried to cross the LoC, has traditionally seen larger-than-normal infiltration attempts. This is possibly because the terrain means terrorists take a long time to reach their reception areas, and thus need larger numbers for sustenance. In 1994-95, for example, a group of 120 tried to cross the LoC. But, yes, now we see that the size of infiltrating groups is somewhat larger in all areas than in the past. Now, my explanation for this is that last year infiltration was low, and an effort is being made to compensate for that now.
There have also been a number of attempts to breach the LoC fence, and it has been noted that a number of infiltrators now carry fence-breaching equipment. Does this mean the fence is no longer a serious impediment to infiltration?
With due training and thought, any obstacle can be crossed. Last year there was a sharp drop in infiltration because they faced the fence for the first time. This year, they've had time to have a look at the fence and to study its design and alignment. Some of the fences we have built have been recreated in the training camps on the other side of the LoC to train terrorists in how to breach them. Second, it took us some time to repair the damage to the fences caused during the winter. Until June-July, when the repairs were complete, there were gaps that could be exploited.
Since 2002, violence in Jammu and Kashmir has been in decline - but the number of terrorists being killed has also fallen. So why are terrorist groups trying so hard to push in these large numbers?
According to most assessments, the number of terrorists active in the Kashmir Valley had fallen some 40 per cent below its peak levels by 2004. So attrition was very much an issue for the terrorist groups - they need to push in more people. Then, it is not just a question of men. They need money, weapons, ammunition and explosives. In just the past two or three weeks, we've recovered 270 tonnes of explosives, which is a huge amount.
Pakistani forces traditionally supported infiltration by providing covering fire. Since 2003, though, there has been a ceasefire. Is it your belief that infiltrating groups are now coming through independently, as some Pakistani commentators argue, or is the military still providing them support?
I do not believe there is any way such large-scale infiltration could go on without the knowledge of the Pakistani authorities, whether the Inter-Services Intelligence or the regular army. Just a few days ago, we had a fire exchange on the LoC in Nowgam, where infiltrators were trying to get across the mountain at the base of a Pakistani post. There is no way the Army post would not have known what was happening.