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Persistent militant attacks in Kashmir puncture peace claims

Print edition : Jan 14, 2022 T+T-
The bereaved family of Rouf Ahmad Khan, who was shot dead by militants outside his home in Srinagar’s Mirjanpora area on the evening of December 22.

The bereaved family of Rouf Ahmad Khan, who was shot dead by militants outside his home in Srinagar’s Mirjanpora area on the evening of December 22.

Funeral prayers for Rameez Ahmad Baba, one of the three policemen who were killed on December 13 when the bus carrying them back from work was ambushed by militants at Zewan on Srinagar’s outskirts.

Funeral prayers for Rameez Ahmad Baba, one of the three policemen who were killed on December 13 when the bus carrying them back from work was ambushed by militants at Zewan on Srinagar’s outskirts.

This house in south Kashmir's Kulgam was damaged in a gunfight between militants and security forces on December 16.

This house in south Kashmir's Kulgam was damaged in a gunfight between militants and security forces on December 16.

Continuing terror attacks in Kashmir belie the Central government’s claim that the abrogation of Article 370 has ushered in an atmosphere of relative peace and development in the Valley.

On November 29, Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhat informed the Rajya Sabha that 177 security personnel were killed in Jammu and Kashmir in the past three years, which also witnessed as many as 1,033 militant attacks of different intensities. The numbers belie the Centre’s claim that its decision to strip the erstwhile State of its special status in August 2019 was a landmark move towards containing militancy in the conflict-marred Valley.

All important parameters for measuring militancy—number of local militant recruits, influx of foreign insurgents, and number of attacks launched on security installations or personnel—have remained steady despite the formidable surveillance machinery in the Kashmir Valley. In2019 itself, as many as 594 militant attacks were reported. Although the corresponding numbers in 2020 and 2021 are not as high, it would be wrong to heave a sigh of relief considering that the COVID pandemic severely undermined all activities, including militants’ operations. Yet, 244 terror strikes were reported in 2020 and 196 in 2021 (as on November 15).

The targeted attacks on the minorities in Kashmir in 2021 are worrying. Some security experts had apprehended that militant groups would respond to the policy of all-out elimination of combatants, including young recruits who are not battle-hardened, by going after soft targets, mostly low-ranking police officers and civilians. The targeted attacks seem to bear out that apprehension.

The casualties witnessed in the security forces’ camp is significant. According to Bhat, as many as 177 security personnel suffered fatal attacks at the hands of insurgents from 2019, with 80 of the casualties reported in 2019 itself. Sixty-two security personnel were killed in 2020 and 35 in 2021 (as on November 15).

Also read: Jammu and Kashmir’s apparatus of repression

There is a marked increase in civilian deaths as militants opt for targeted killings. Forty civilians were slain in 2021 as on November 15. This information was provided by Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai in the Lok Sabha. Most of them were either office-bearers of mainstream political parties or members of the minority communities. Hindus and Sikhs have been on the militants’ radar since October 15 leading to the returnee Kashmiri Pandits’ flight to the safe havens of Jammu.

Civilian casualties

Terrorists shot dead three civilians on October 5 in back-to-back incidents. Makhan Lal Bindroo, owner of Bindroo Medicate, was shot at his pharmacy near Iqbal Park in Srinagar. Virender Paswan, a hawker from Bihar’s Bhagalpur, was killed in the Lal Bazar area of Srinagar. Muhammad Shafi Lone was killed at Shahgund, Bandipora; he was the president of the local taxi drivers’ union.

On October 7, militants shot dead the principal and a teacher of Government Boys School, Sangam, in the Eidgah locality of Srinagar. The victims were Supinder Kour, a resident of Alochi Bagh area of Srinagar, and Deepak Chand from Jammu. On October 2, militants had gunned down Majid Ahmad Gojri, a resident of Chattabal, Srinagar, at Karan Nagar. Later that night, Mohammad Shafi Dar, another civilian and a resident of Batamaloo, was shot at SD Colony, Batamaloo.

This reporter toured the Kashmir Valley in October and November, interacting with members of the minority community. They seemed to agree that militants were perhaps targeting the minorities and trying to create a fear psychosis in order to counter the Union government’s perceived attempts to alter the region’s demography by throwing open the region to non-locals.

The Central government, however, is convinced that its iron-fisted and bureaucratic control of Kashmir has put an end to the decades-old conflict in a region that has imploded violently time and again since 1990. When Union Home Minister Amit Shah visited Jammu and Kashmir in October, he said as much. On October 25, at a well-hyped event at Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir convention centre, he said: “Today we have succeeded in replacing guns with pens even in the militancy hotbed of Pulwama and other districts of Kashmir.”

Also read: Escalation of violence in J&K leading to alienation of Kashmiri Pandits

But Kashmiri Pandits living in the Valley rebuff such a claim. Inside a poorly furnished chamber of a hotel in the Indira Nagar locality of Srinagar, now under the strict vigil of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, a sarpanch from the Kashmiri Pandit community repudiated everything Amit Shah had taken credit for. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he denied that his community’s condition had improved under Narendra Modi’s prime ministership. “That is a narrative invented by the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] and perpetuated by migrant Kashmiri Pandits whose interests are embedded with the BJP’s. They have little knowledge of the ground situation. Their raucous support for the BJP’s Hindu nationalism on prime time TV debates adds to our predicament and vulnerability,” he said. ( “Central government policies and escalation of violence in Jammu and Kashmir leading to alienation of Kashmiri Pandits”, Frontline , November 19.)

In a pointed tweet on October 7, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said: “Incidents of violence are increasing in Kashmir. Terrorism has neither stopped due to demonetisation nor after the abrogation of Article 370—the Central government has completely failed to provide security.”

Attacks on security personnel have been a constant feature in Jammu and Kashmir, notwithstanding claims to the contrary by the Centre. On December 10, two policemen, Mohammadd Sultan and Fayaz Ahmad, were shot dead by militants in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district. The attack took place when a police team was carrying out a search operation after cordoning off the Gulshan Chowk area of the district.

On December 13, the 20th anniversary of the attack on Parliament, three policemen were killed and at least 11 were injured when they were ambushed on their way back to their campus after work, at Zewan on Srinagar’s outskirts. The bus carrying the policemen came under indiscriminate firing. The three who died were Assistant Sub-inspector Ghulam Hassan and two constables, Shafique Ali and Rameez Ahmad Baba. According to Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police, Vijay Kumar, the attack, one of the deadliest in recent times, was the handiwork of Jaish-e-Mohammad’s off-shoot Kashmir Tigers.

Also read: ‘Alienation of people in Kashmir at an all-time high’

On December 21, militants riding in a vehicle sprayed bullets at a joint team of police and CRPF at a naka point in Srinagar’s Soura area where the Superintendent of Police, Hazratbal, was checking vehicles. No security personnel were injured.

On another attack on December 22, militants shot dead one civilian in old Srinagar and one policeman in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district. The Kashmir zone police tweeted: “#Terrorists fired indiscriminately & critically injured a police personnel ASI Mohd Ashraf of PS Bijbehara, #Anantnag. He has been shifted to #Srinagar based hospital for treatment. Area cordoned off. Further details shall follow. @JmuKmrPolice”.

Government in denial

Yet the government is in denial about the gravity of the situation. On December 14, Jammu and Kashmir’s Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha, while addressing a commemoration event for the upcoming birth anniversary of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, reiterated his government’s claim of ushering in an era of development in the Union Territory. “All the rights enshrined in the Constitution are being extended to the citizens, and Jammu Kashmir is now moving towards becoming a strong pillar of Aatma Nirbhar Bharat,” he said.

But the year was ending with incidents of violence. The months of August and September were also marred by terrorist incidents. On August 10, a group of militants attacked a security forces team in Shopian’s Zainapora village, leaving one CRPF jawan, Ajay Kumar of the 178 Battalion, gravely injured. On September 12, a police officer, Arshid Ahmad, was killed in a militant attack in Srinagar’s downtown area.

Also read: J&K's political parties gearing up to take on the Centre

But it is not just the numbers that are a cause of worry. Since 2018, the number of local militants killed in encounters has been surpassing the number of foreign terrorists killed. This is a departure from the past tradition when foreign combatants were killed in greater numbers. The indication is one of heightened feelings of alienation among local Kashmiri youth leading to increased recruitments by militant groups. Local young men are participating in a significant way in attacks aimed at security personnel and installations. Political observers describe this trend as a fallout of India’s muscular handling of Kashmir without room for dialogue and negotiation.

According to the data provided by the CRPF, more than 80 per cent of terrorists killed in the Kashmir Valley in 2021 were local men. Again, of the 199 militants active in Kashmir, 110 are local. Despite the government’s claims of engaging the youth and containing militancy, as many as 97 youths joined militant ranks this year. In 2020, despite the COVID lockdown and life coming to a standstill, 178 men joined terror ranks. In 2019, the corresponding figure was 117.

There are indications that with the changing geo-political landscape, and the developments in Afghanistan, some consequential militant activity may be in the offing in the near future. The Poonch encounter that lasted several days is being seen by many as something bigger than meets the eye. On October 11, five soldiers— Vaisakh H., Jaswinder Singh, Mandeep Singh, Gajjan Singh and Saraj Singh—were killed on the line of duty while trying to foil what is understood to have been a major infiltration bid. The Army had been on duty to flush out suspected terrorists and had cordoned places around Surankote, which is 10 kilometres off the Line of Control. On October 16, Subedar Ajay Singh and Naik Harendra Singh were also killed in action during search operations in Nar Khas forest in Mendhar. Although the specifics of the infiltration bid are not known, the incident underscored the possibility of concerted terror strikes from across the border. None of it really upholds the government’s narrative of normalcy in Kashmir.