Lt. General (retd.) Syed Ata Hasnain was the GOC of 15 Corps in Jammu and Kashmir from 2010 to 2012. He launched the Hearts Doctrine, which focussed on people as the centre in Kashmir. Excerpts from an interview:
Jammu is seeing fresh militancy. What is your reading of the situation?
By 2010, terrorist activity south of Pir Panjal was considerably reduced due to Army operations that reinforced the grid after 2001, the year of the highest terrorist activity on record. The terrorists shifted focus to the Valley. There were one off incidents such as Pulwama or Uri but the frequency was largely limited.
After August 2019 (when Article 370 was revoked), the counter-terror grid became stronger in the Valley, terrorist leaders were targeted, and outreach efforts were increased.
The proxy war sponsors, to stay relevant, had to undertake operations somewhere. The terrain south of the Pir Panjal is broken, forested, and rocky, rising to 14,000 feet on the Pir Panjal range. There are enough areas for hideouts. Infiltration is also easier. Troop density in the Rajouri-Poonch area has considerably reduced, with formations/units relocated to the LAC in Ladakh and other resources having returned years ago.
The revival of terrorism here appears to be with an eye to coordinate it with potential Khalistani activities in North Punjab and spread into the Kathua-Samba-Akhnoor-Udhampur area. There is anticipation of a surge in terror activity. However, a large number of networks have been neutralised and it will not be easy to re-establish these.
In at least three recent encounters, militants have attacked the Army and escaped unscathed. Is there local support for them?
It’s not so much local support as the nature of terrain and the lower density of troops. The Army will rebalance its deployment between Ladakh, Kashmir and Jammu divisions. However, it would be very helpful if all steps to dilute the counter terrorism grid are retracted. The most important is to ensure that the deployment of Rashtriya Rifles is not further disturbed.
“Local support is of two types. The first are those who are in it for a quick buck. The second are ideologically afflicted and would like to see an Islamic orientation to governance and they support separatism.”
Of late, villagers on the LoC have been arrested on cross-border narco-terrorism charges. How do you view this?
In border areas, there is temptation to make a quick buck from illegal trans-border supply. The networks of finance, weapons, and terror often get morphed and it’s difficult to distinguish between them. Efforts have been made to expand the Punjab narco networks into J&K in the hope of creating a society dependent on drugs, as in Punjab.
Operation Sadbhavana played a key role in winning hearts and countering radical propaganda despite flaws in implementation. But it has been reduced considerably. Why?
Operation Sadbhavana was part of Military Civic Action (MCA), meant to reinforce the civil administration. MCA is necessary to help the populace with basic needs, and to allow a degree of fraternisation to heal the wounds of violence.
With improvement in the situation, the civil administration does not need the type of support the Army provided since 1997. Operation Sadbhavana has acquired a different dimension.
Local support is of two types. The first are those who are in it for a quick buck. The second are ideologically afflicted and would like to see an Islamic orientation to governance and they support separatism. We have run counter radicalisation programmes, but clearly these are a drop in the ocean. Without taking the Muslim clergy on board such programmes remain limited in effectiveness.