Jammu: Away from the ideological foundation of the Bhartiya Janta Party, one of the biggest promises behind decommissioning of Article 370 was to create an enabling atmosphere to deal with militant and terrorist violence, and on this count event the worse critics of August 5, 2019, actions have endorsed improvement in the security situation.
While major regional political leaders including former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have hesitantly confirmed in their routine media interactions that incidents of militant violence have significantly come down, the regional press and independent analysts are also in great appreciation of street normalcy, particularly in the Kashmir valley.
It is hugely significant for the government when an endorsement of its claims on security comes from an organisation which is looking at the situation purely from human rights perspective.
The Forum for Human Rights, a credible organisation formed by informal group concerned citizens of high standing released its annual report titled ‘Five Years Without an Elected Administration: Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir’ at the Constitution Club in New Delhi on August 3. The Forum for Human Rights with Prof Radha Kumar and former Home Secretary Gopal Pillai as co-chairs has some former judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, former Army General, civil servants, diplomats, academicians and journalists as its members. The Forum was formed in direct response to August 5, 2019, events to regularly monitor political, security and human rights conditions in Jammu and Kashmir.
A heavily footnoted report, otherwise critical of Government’s handling of Jammu and Kashmir and the delay in holding Assembly elections, has a detailed chapter on the security situation which confirms the government’s claims of improvement. For the purpose of narrative, the security analysis has been put into three phases: the interregnum years (2012-15), the PDP-BJP years (2015-19) and the post 2019 years.
Based on a comprehensive data analysis, the report confirms significant improvement in the security environment post 2019 as compared to earlier four years. The latest report is primarily annual dealing with period from August 2022 to July 2023 but has also used the comparative data and analysis from the previous years to give a comprehensive view of the change.
Below is excerpt from the report’s security related chapter along with footnotes:
Government as well as independent figures suggest that the overall security situation has improved over the past year. Total deaths due to militant attacks and counter- insurgency operations have more than halved from 182 between August 2021-June 2022 to 74 between August 2022-July 14, 2023. Civilian deaths have reduced from 43 to 28, security forces’ lives lost have come down from 44 to 19, and the number of militants or terrorists killed has fallen from 208 to 87.53
Looked at over the past four years, 2019-2023, the figures show a rising trend of violence between 2019-2020, when total deaths due to militant attacks and counter-insurgency operations were reported to be 52 in August-December 2019, rising to 321 in 2020, followed by a declining trend, when the number fell to 274 in 2021, 253 in 2022 and 51 in January-July 14, 2023.
When compared to the interregnum years of 2012-2015, however, the figures for civilian deaths between August 2022-July 2023 remain significantly higher than during 2012- 2015, when they fell below 20 in four of the five years (it was 28 in 2013). Moreover, between August 2019-July 2023, 128 civilians died in militant attacks and counter- insurgency operations, compared to 85 in 2012-2015 (January-December).54 Attacks on police personnel too were more numerous, at 88 in 2019-2023, with 48 deaths, against 65 attacks in 2012-2015, with 47 deaths. Similarly, seven special police officers were killed in 2019-2023, while five were killed in 2012-2015 and nine in the four years preceding August 2019, between 2015-2018.
Attacks on the CRPF also increased sharply: there were 50 attacks in the four years between August 2019-July 2022 (data for 2023 is not given), as against 27 in the four years between 2012-2015. While 15 CRPF personnel were killed between 2012-2015, and 35 in the four years preceding August 2019, 36 died between 2019-2022.55
A similarly mixed pattern can be seen in the data on arms, explosions and arrests. The number of arms recoveries fell from 219 in August 2021-July 2022 to 153 in August 2022- July 2023, as did arms explosions, from 68 explosions leaving 13 dead and 157 injured, to 19 explosions leaving 10 dead and 21 injured. In comparison to 2012-2015, however, arms recoveries rose from 420 to 685 in August 2019-July 2023, indicating either that recoveries were more efficient from 2019 onwards, or that the flow of arms had increased during the same period, or both. The number of explosions too rose from 102 between 2012-2015 to 167 between 2019-2023.56
In 2023, it was found that Jammu and Kashmir had the largest number of licensed gun holders amongst union territories (and the highest per capita amongst states as well as union territories), at 500,105 in June 2023, or four in a hundred people (taking the 2011 census’ population figures). In December 2016, the last available data, there were 369,191 licence holders. Between 2016 and 2018, after which the issuing of gun licenses was banned, and January-June 2023, when the issuing of gun licenses was renewed, 130,914 fresh licenses were issued.57
Taken together, the data suggests that while the security situation might have improved from 2019, it is considerably worse than it was prior to 2019, especially during the interregnum years of 2012-2015. Moreover, Jammu division has seen a deterioration in security, especially in areas bordering the line of control with Pakistan.
Resurgence of cross-border militancy in Jammu
Security analysts have warned over the past two years that, after decades of relative peace, Jammu division is once again providing loci of militancy, with a rising graph of armed attacks in Poonch and Rajouri districts, in particular Poonch’s Surankote tehsil and the areas of Rajouri bordering it.
In mid-July 2023, the security forces shot four militants in a joint cordon and search operation, after receiving intelligence inputs on their location. Two militants were killed attempting to enter Krishna Ghati in Poonch district from across the Line of Control; three had died in a similar attempt at the same place on June 24. On May 31, three local militants were arrested trying to smuggle arms and drugs from across the Line of Control; on May 5, five soldiers were killed in the Rajouri forests, and on April 20, armed militants ambushed an Indian army truck in Bhimber Gali in Poonch, killing five soldiers and severely injuring a sixth. On August 11, 2022, militants attacked an army camp in Rajouri district, killing five soldiers. Two militants were shot while trying to exit the camp. 58.
According to Director General Jammu and Kashmir Police, Dilbag Singh, there are between nine and twelve foreign fighters in the area, and they have local support.59
A civilian named Manzoor Lone, a father of a two-month child, was killed during a counter-terror operation in, Kashmir, and a soldier was injured.60 He later succumbed to his injuries in the hospital on August 5, 2022. The bodies of two local residents, Shalinder Kumar and Kamal Kishore, were found outside an Army camp in Rajouri’s Falyana area on December 16, 2022.61 Residents accuse an army sentry of opening fire on the victims, who worked as porters in the camp.
Suspected militants killed seven civilians, including two minors, and grievously injured ten people in two separate attacks carried out within 12 hours in Rajouri district on January 1, 2023.62 Deepak Kumar, Satish Kumar, Pritam Lal, Prince Sharma and Shiv Pal were shot in the Dangri locality. Unidentified police sources and eyewitnesses claimed that the victims were targeted: according to one source, ‘(i)t seems they have checked the identity cards of some of the victims before firing at them.’63 Four-year-old Vihan Sharma and 16-year-old Samiksha Sharma, cousins, died in an IED blast in the same locality.
The revival of village defence committees in 2022, renamed village defence guards, added further to insecurity through the proliferation of small arms. It was tried in 2002 by then home minister L.K. Advani, and found to be counter-productive.
Escalating threat to Kashmiri Pandits
Targeted killings of the Kashmiri Pandit minority in Kashmir and their exodus, as reported in the Forum’s 2022 report64, continue. Sunil Kumar Bhat and Pintu Kumar, two Kashmiri Pandit brothers, were shot at in an apple orchard at Shopian on August 16, 2022.65 Sunil succumbed to his injuries. This was the second attack on the members of the community within 24 hours: earlier, Karan Kumar Singh was injured when terrorists lobbed a grenade at a ‘minority habitation’ in Budgam.66 Puran Krishan Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit orchardist, was shot dead on October 15, 2022.67
In protest, hundreds of Kashmiri Pandit employees in the prime minister’s return and rehabilitation scheme blocked the Jammu-Akhnoor road, demanding that they be transferred to Jammu.68
Armed groups declared the intent of ethnic cleansing. In December 2022, the Resistance Front posted a list of 56 Kashmiri Pandits working in the PM’s scheme on their blog ‘Kashmir Fight’, claiming that they would turn the transit accommodation for them into graveyards.71 Militants shot dead Sanjay Sharma, a Kashmiri Pandit working as an ATM guard in Achan, Pulwama, on February 26, 2023.72 The Jammu and Kashmir Freedom Fighters (JKFF, see NIA section below) took responsibility for the attack.73
A second wave of exodus, of Pandit families that had remained in the valley through decades of conflict, joined the first wave69 that began in May 2022 and continued through June.70
Despite the clear atmosphere of fear and intimidation74, the Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir responded to Pandit demands for transfer by imposing biometric clock-ins for all employees 75 , resulting in the cessation of salary payments to protesting employees who had relocated to Jammu. After 300 days, protesting employees were forced to called off their strike and return to the valley, as they were unable to sustain themselves financially.76 ‘We are not safe here; it is our helplessness that has made us come back to the Valley. Here, the situation is such that we do not even go to the office every day. We just go twice a week. We are also refraining from conversing much with anyone. Every time we step out of the house, we are scared’, said Amit Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit employed under the PM’s scheme.
Attacks on migrant workers continue
Attacks on migrant workers, an issue highlighted in the Forum’s 2022 report, have continued over the past year. Mohammad Mumtaz was killed on August 4, 2022, when suspected militants lobbed a grenade at a migrant workers’ tent at Gadoora village in Pulwama, injuring two others.77 Seven days later, militants shot dead 19-year old Mohammed Amrez from Madhepura, Bihar, on August 11, 2022 in Soadnara, Bandipora.78 Sarpanch Abdul Majid said that the village had not witnessed such violence for two decades.
On November 3, 2022, suspected militants shot at and grievously injured Vikram from Bihar and Bahadur from Nepal, inside the Sabir Abdullah Public School premises in Wanihama area of Anantnag district.79 About a week later, Chhotu Prasad and Govind from Uttar Pradesh were shot at in Anantnag by suspected militants, sustaining leg injuries.80 Muneerul Islam from West Bengal was shot at by unidentified militants in Ugergun Newa of Pulwama district on September 2, 2022, where he was employed.81 Monish Kumar and Ram Sagar, migrant workers from Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh, were killed in a grenade attack in Hermain village of Shopian district on October 18, 2022, the night before they planned to return home.82 A Lashkar-e-Taiba member was arrested in connection with the attack.
Again in Anantnag, militants killed Deepak Kumar from Udhampur, who worked at an amusement park, on May 29, 2023. The JKFF claimed responsibility for the attack, as they did for the Kashmiri Pandit killing.83
53. South Asia Terrorism Portal, Datasheets: Jammu And Kashmir, Fatalities Between 2000-2023, Yearly Fatalities, Monthly Fatalities Yearwise, https://Www.Satp.Org/Datasheet-Terrorist- Attack/Fatalities/India-Jammukashmir.
54. South Asia Terrorism Portal, Datasheets: Jammu and Kashmir, Fatalities Between 1988 and 2000, https://www.satp.org/datasheet-terrorist-attack/india-jammukashmir/J-and-K-Fatalities-1988-2000; Datasheet- Terrorist attacks, Jammu and Kashmir, 2000-2023, https://www.satp.org/datasheet-terrorist-attack/fatalities/india-jammukashmir.
55. South Asia Terrorism Portal, Security Forces Data: Attacks on Police Personnel, Jammu & Kashmir, https://www.satp.org/security-force-data-details/Police/india-jammukashmir; Security Forces Data: Attacks on Special Police Officers (SPOs), Jammu & Kashmir, https://www.satp.org/security-force-data- details/SPO/india-jammukashmir; Security Forces Data: Attacks on CRPF Personnel, Jammu & Kashmir, https://www.satp.org/security-force-data-details/CRPF/india-jammukashmir.
56 South Asia Terrorism Portal, Datasheets: Jammu and Kashmir, Yearly Arms Recovery, Monthly Arms Recovery, 2000-2023, https://www.satp.org/datasheet-terrorist-attack/recovery-of-arms/india- jammukashmir; Datasheets: Jammu and Kashmir, Yearly Explosions, Monthly Explosions, 2000-2023, https://www.satp.org/datasheet-terrorist-attack/explosions/india-jammukashmir.
57. Yakut Ali, ‘Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir Lead the Country in Gun Licences’, The Wire, July 5, 2023. Figures provided by the ministry of home affairs in response to a right to information query.
59. Yogesh, ‘Poonch attack carried out with active local support; steel coated bullets, IED used to blow army vehicles: DGP Dilbagh Singh’, SNS Kashmir, April 29, 2023.
60 NDTV News Desk, Civilian killed during anti-terror operation in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kulgam, NDTV, August 5, 2022. Available at: https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/civilian-killed-during-anti- terror-operation-in-jammu-and-kashmirs-kulgam-3229590.
58 Express News Service, ‘4 militants killed in encounter with security forces in J&K’s Poonch’, The Indian Express, July 18, 2023; Nirupama Subramaniam, ‘The challenge in Poonch: A new terror push in Jammu, likely alienation of Gujjar-Bakerwals, The Indian Express, April 27, 2023.
61 Jehangir Ali, “Outrage as 2 Civilians Found Dead Outside Rajouri Army Camp, J&K Police Begins Probe,” The Wire, December 16, 2022, https://thewire.in/security/jammu-kashmir-rajouri-civilians- army-death.
62 Outlook Web Desk, “J&K’s Rajouri Village’s Death Toll Rises to Six as Child Succumbs to Injuries, Village Holds Tearful Cremation,” Outlook India, January 3, 2023, https://www.outlookindia.com/national/j-and-k-rajouri-village-death-toll-rises-to-six-as-child- succumbs-to-injuries-village-holds-tearful-cremation-news-250547.
63 Anees Zargar, “Five Killed, near Dozen Injured in Back to Back Attacks in Rajouri Village,” NewsClick, January 2, 2023, https://www.newsclick.in/Five-Killed-Near-Dozen-Injured-Back-Back- Attacks-Rajouri-Village.
64 FHRJK 2022, op. cit., 4: Kashmiri Pandits, Delhi: The Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, 19-27; Peerzada Ashiq, ‘Kashmiri Pandits flee Kashmir Valley’, The Hindu, June 3, 2022.
65 Mir Ehsan, ‘Kashmiri Pandit Shot Dead, Brother Injured in J&K, 2nd Attack in Two Days’, The Hindustan Times, August 16, 2022.
66 PTI, ‘Two Persons Injured in Grenade Attacks in Kashmir’, The Economic Times, August 15, 2022. 67 Nazir Masoodi, ‘Another Kashmiri Pandit Shot Dead by Terrorists in Latest Targeted Killing’,
NDTV.com, October 15, 2022.
68 PTI, ‘Angry Kashmiri Pandits Block Jammu Road to Protest Latest Target’, The Tribune India, October 15, 2022.
69 Fayaz Wani, ‘Targeted killings trigger fear, Kashmiri Pandits leave Valley’, The New Indian Express, October 26, 2022; Nazir Masoodi, ‘Last Kashmiri Pandit In Terror-Hit Village , A Woman, Migrates To Jammu’, NDTV.com, October 28, 2022.
70 FHRJK 2022, op. cit.; Peerzada Ashiq, ‘Kashmiri Pandits flee Kashmir Valley’, The Hindu, June 3, 2022. 71 Sunil Bhat, ‘”Will Turn Transit Colonies to Graveyard’: Kashmir Fight’s Fresh Threat to Kashmiri
Pandits’, India Today, December 19, 2022.
72 PTI, ‘Kashmiri Pandit Sanjay Sharma Shot Dead by Terrorists Was Cremated in Pulwama District’,
The Telegraph, February 28, 2023.
73 Peerzada Ashiq, ‘Militants Gun down Kashmiri Pandit, New Terror Outfit Claims Hand in Killing’, The Hindu, February 27, 2023.
74 Tribune News Service, “Terror Outfit Lists 56 Kashmiri Pandits, Vows to Continue Attacks,” The Tribune, December 5, 2022.
75 Hrishi Raj Anand, ‘Protest by Kashmiri Pandits under PM Employee Package Completes 240 Days, No Sign of Relocation’, NewsClick.com, January 7, 2023.
76 Sunil Bhat, ‘Kashmiri Pandit Govt Employees Suspend Agitation after Administration Fails to Address Issues’, India Today, March 4, 2023.
77 The Wire Staff, ‘Terrorists kill migrant worker in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama’, The Wire, August 5, 2022.
78Jehangir Ali, ‘Bandipora: Killing of migrant worker sparks a fresh wave of fear in this quiet village’, The Wire, August 12, 2022.