August 5, 2020 will mark the first anniversary of the abrogation of temporary provision of Article 370 of the Constitution of India. It provided special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The same day it was announced that J&K will be bifurcated into two Union Territories- J&K with a legislature and Ladakh without a legislature under the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019. These historic decisions have widely been a topic of debate and discussion for both national and international audiences. For a society subjected to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, violence, extremism, political instability and radicalisation, August 5, 2019 brought a hope of peace, development and prosperity. This article attempts to examine the changes in the security situation in J&K post August 5, 2019.
Overall Security Situation
Over the years, J&K has witnessed insurgency, cross-border terrorism, rise of extreme Salafi and Wahhabi ideologies and the recent undertones of global jihad through influence of transnational terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State or Daesh. Legislative decisions taken on August 5, 2019 with regard to J&K was another watershed moment in the history of the state. It was believed that the consequent infrastructure development, economic opportunities, better healthcare and other prospects of an improved quality of life will act as a deterrent to radicalisation, terrorism, stone-pelting and other forms of violence, amongst the local population. No large-scale protest or violence was seen immediately after August 5, 2019. However, a few non-local truck drivers and labourers were killed by terrorists in the months of October and November 2019. Statistics for the first six months of 2020 shows that compared to past years, security situation in J&K has slightly improved. An independent study on the security situation in the UT between January and June 2020 claims that there occurred 224 conflict-related fatalities, against 271 in the first six months of 2019 (10% decrease). Among the 224 fatalities, the highest, 124 were militants, against 118 in 2019 (6% increase). 66 Indian security forces, against 108 in 2019 (20% decrease), 32 civilians, against 43 in 2019 in similar timeframe (26% decrease), and 2 over-ground workers (OGWs) of terrorists, against none in 2019. Killing of operational chiefs of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Jaish-e-Moahmmad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was a huge blow to the terror ‘tanzeems’. The security forces were successful in arresting over 136 OGWs and 24 terrorists. Among the 124 terrorists killed, 54 were affiliated to Hizb-ul-mujahideēn (HM), 18 to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), 17 to Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), 14 to Al-Qaeda linked Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH), 10 to the newly floated The Resistance Front (TRF), 7 to Islamic State (ISIS), affiliation of 4 infiltrators killed at Line of Control (LC) could not be ascertained.
The Director General of J&K Police assured in June 2020 that the terrorism in South Kashmir was well under control of security forces and Doda-Kishtwar region of Jammu, earlier a terror-infested area, were on the verge of becoming terrorism-free. In July 2020, security forces declared that with killing of a top LeT Commander, no resident of Srinagar was part of terrorist ranks. The counter-terrorism (CT) operations being carried out intensively are aimed at eliminating not only individual terrorists but the entire ecosystem nurturing terrorism.
While there has been a surge in the encounters and operations by security forces, a major concern that needs special attention is local terror recruitment. There has been a significant decline in local recruitment into terrorist ranks following abrogation of Article 370 with only 14 terrorist recruitments taking place, leading to a total 110 in 2019. Also, according to the data available till May 2020, 39 Kashmiri youth have joined terror groups which is marginally less than last year’s corresponding figure of 85 local recruits. These low figures are also alarming and multifaceted strategies are being employed to prevent local terror recruitment by seeking family intervention, counselling vulnerable youths, facilitating surrender, preventing public funerals of terrorists etc.
India’s decision to change the status quo in J&K took Pakistan by surprise. It triggered anger and outrage across the Pakistani establishment and threatened their doctrine of ‘Bleed India with a Thousand Cuts’. A bemused Pakistan with the aim of sustaining terrorism in J&K has been constantly attempting to push in more terrorists into the Kashmir Valley through infiltration. In a bid to divert the attention of security forces from infiltration and arms and narcotics smuggling attempts, Ceasefire Violations (CFVs) along the LC has been increased manifold by Pakistan. There have been over 2,500 CFVs this year while the corresponding figure for last year was around 1,500 and total CFVs in the year 2019 were 3,200. Deliberately, Pakistan is targeting civilians along with Indian Army posts in these CFVs.
The above-mentioned statistical data does indicate that the security situation in J&K is well within control and has improved since last year. Attached to this is a caveat that the complete security situation in J&K cannot be established only using accessible statistical data of quantifiable parameters such as terrorists killed, counterterrorist operations, local terrorist recruitment, stone-pelting, infiltration, ceasefire violations, etc. It also requires a look at the non-quantifiable parameters like radicalisation, alienation, political disenchantment, social dissent etc. These are difficult to be determined in absolute terms due to their multifaceted dimensions. However, both these set of parameters are correlated, and the non-quantifiable parameters can be analysed in terms of terrorist attacks, stone-pelting and other forms of violence through an on-ground prolonged comprehensive research.
- Due to international pressure especially from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Pakistan is covertly trying to build a public perception that it has distanced itself from terrorism in J&K. To this end, it has spearheaded the creation of groups like The Resistance Front (TRF) and J&K Pir Panjal Peace Forum, prominent mainly on social media. These are essentially outgrowths of Pakistan based LeT and JeM. There are reports of an attempt to revive the decimated Al Badr, a banned terrorist organisation of J&K but not proscribed by the UNSC 1267 committee. With this, Pakistan is trying to rebrand terrorism in Kashmir from cross-border terrorism to an alleged indigenous resistance to avoid international scrutiny.
- ‘An alleged loss of identity with the abrogation of Article 370’ is being used as a new narrative for radicalisation and terror recruitment. Also, with the restrictions on internet and social media usage, there has been a fall in online radicalisation. Despite this, there have been cases of local terror recruits. Does this indicate that offline sources of radicalisation like role of family, peer groups, religious institutions has intensified post August 5, 2019?
- With the help of robust counter-infiltration grid, Pakistan has failed to provide operational support to terrorists in Kashmir. With lack of training and sophisticated weapons, the new terror recruits cannot withstand the Indian security forces. As said by the Northern Army Commander, “terrorists today have a very low survivability rate and do not survive beyond a month after joining any terrorist organisation.”
- Also, due to lack of proper training, sophisticated weapons and weak leadership, terrorist are unable to carry out any major attack and are largely targeting security forces, civilians, local political leaders etc., in low-intensity grenade attacks or indiscriminate firing. These are acts of desperation of the terror ‘tanzeems’ and their handlers across the border. Moreover, it seems that Pakistan has ordered the terrorists to keep a low profile to utilise this duration to strengthen former’s psychological warfare campaign against India under which it is constantly building a false narrative and maligning India as a violator of human rights in J&K, within the international community. They fear that any major act of terror may lead to a diversion of attention and cause international flak against Pakistan itself.
- Behind the success in anti-terror operations is the reinforced synergy between the security forces post abrogation of Article 370. Also, the local support for terrorism has receded significantly and human intelligence on the presence of terrorists in a particular area has improved, contrary to the earlier scenarios wherein local population would occasionally sympathise and provide shelter to terrorists and hinder the CT operations.
Based on the statistical data, it can be concluded that security situation in J&K is well within control and has slightly improved. However, it is too soon to assert if absolute peace has been achieved in the UT. In a state that has bore the brunt of insurgency, terrorism and political instability for so long, undoing the wrongs will certainly be a protracted process. Much has been recommended on the road ahead in J&K and development prospects, but the primary focus must be on empowerment of youth on a war footing and encouraging society to reject the idea of terrorism being sown from across the border.
The writer is with Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi.