The alienated youth with no fear of death is the biggest challenge we are facing today in Jammu and Kashmir. The 15 December encounter in Sirnoo village of Pulwama district, in which three terrorists, a soldier and seven civilian protesters were killed and two dozen civilian protesters wounded, is a typical example of the trend we have witnessed since 2016.
Security forces can eliminate terrorists, they can control conventional mobs of enraged people with minimum force, but they cannot control young protesters with little or no fear of death. Sooner than later, the circumstance or panic leads to disproportionate “indiscriminate firing” and large number of deaths, further deepening the divide between the Valley and the rest of the country.
Let there be no doubt that Jammu and Kashmir will always remain an integral part of the country. The moot question, however, is whether we seem resigned to controlling a territory without the soul of its people?
Counter-terrorist operation pattern
Most terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir today are locals and operate from villages, particularly in winters. The Army, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Jammu & Kashmir Police (JKP) jointly launch counter-terrorist operations based on specific intelligence. The CRPF and the JKP establish the outer cordon to keep the protesters at bay using police methods while the Army establishes the inner cordon to eliminate the terrorists. The intent is to complete the operation as soon as possible and move out of the area before the mobs get together.
The young supporters of the terrorists are also well-organised. They use spotters to report the movement of the security forces and sound an alarm, preemptively or when surprised after the first sound of firing, via social media and by using the loudspeakers of mosques. Armed with sacks of stones, the young boys rush to the encounter site from all directions to interfere with the operation and facilitate the escape of the terrorists or to quickly retrieve the bodies, which are then displayed to gather crowds. Mass funeral processions are organised and the burial is carried out with terrorists giving gun salutes.
The strategy of the terrorists is to invite disproportionate response from the security forces to highlight the ‘Kashmir under the jackboot’ propaganda and motivate the youth to join them.
When confronted by mobs, the CRPF/JKP fire warning shots, as per police methods, to deter the protesters and as a last resort use minimum force to disperse them. At times, individual soldiers or small teams get cornered by the mobs. When lynching looks imminent, they open fire, which under tense circumstances can lead to disproportionate use of force. In such situations, training, discipline, strict rules of engagement, better tactics and even modern crowd-control methods can only reduce the margin of error, no more.