Jammu and Kashmir Assessment - Year 2010
The gains in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) over the past eight years have been dramatic, and were consolidated even further through 2009. Nevertheless, the spurt of terrorist attacks at the fag end of 2009 and the beginning of the New Year came as a grim reminder that these successes are far from irreversible. Terrorism related fatalities in the State have declined continuously since their peak of 4,507 killed in 2001, to the 377 killed in 2009. Nevertheless, a flurry of attacks in just over a fortnight – the killing of four Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Sopore on December 30, 2009; the fidayeen (suicide squad) attack at Lal Chowk in the heart of Srinagar on January 6, 2010; the encounter in Pulwama on January 8, in Thanola on January 10, in Kulgam on January 13; and the attack on the Sopore Police Station on January 15 – made it abundantly clear that efforts to revive militancy are far from being given up. Improvements in the security situation were, however, obvious, as fatalities continued to decline, and remained well below the ‘high intensity’ mark of 1,000 per year, for the third consecutive year.
Comparative Fatalities in J&K, 2001-2009
Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal Database
In its year-end review (released on December 24), the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) stated that, during 2009 (data till November), the number of terrorism-related incidents had dropped by 27 per cent, those of killing of civilians by 17 per cent and of Security Force (SF) personnel by 19 per cent, compared to the corresponding period of 2008.
J&K Director General of Police (DGP) Kuldeep Khoda declared, "This year , we have achieved a milestone. It is for the first time in 20 years that less than 500 violent incidents took place in the State." This was the lowest level of violence in two decades in J&K, as terror-related incidents, killings of civilians and SF personnel, went plunged below the 1990 figures. Khoda drew up a scenario which was even more buoyant than the MHA’s, claiming that, "civilian killings during 2009 went down by over 42 per cent as compared to 2008 while militancy-related incidents dropped by over 35 per cent." In 2008, according to the J&K Police, there were 708 militancy-related incidents, while 147 civilians and 85 SF personnel were killed. As many as 235 militants were killed by Police and SFs during the year. Cross-border infiltration, however, increased in 2009.
Incidents and Civilian and SF Fatalities and in J&K, 2006-2009
* VDC - Village Defence Committee; SPO - Special Police Officer
Source: J&K Police
There were 29 major incidents (involving three or more fatalities) in 2009. The most significant among these, where SFs and civilians were attacked, included:
December 30: Militants shot dead four CRPF personnel at Janwari in Sopore area of Baramulla District. The troopers were part of a road opening party on Sopore-Bandipora road. Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) claimed responsibility for the attack.
September 29: Three CRPF personnel were shot dead and two civilians injured by the terrorists at Sopore Bus Stand in Baramulla District. The militants opened indiscriminate fire on a group of CRPF personnel at the bus stand injuring three CRPF personnel and two civilians, including a woman. The CRPF personnel later succumbed to their injuries.
April 21: Five persons, including a woman and a female child, were killed and seven others were wounded in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion under a vehicle at Sangla on the Surankote-Marha road in Poonch District. The Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) spokesman Abdullah Ghaznavi claimed responsibility for the blast.
The SFs suffered major setbacks with the killing of Lt. Col. V. R. Chander in Baramulla, on June 30. Three militants were also killed in the exchange of fire. Similarly, Major Akash Singh and three infiltrating militants were killed in Poonch sector on September 9. Border Security Force (BSF) Deputy Inspector General (DIG), O.P. Tanwar, died in an IED blast near the Indo-Pak border on November 16.
These setbacks notwithstanding, 53 self-styled militant ‘commanders'; from different outfits – 22 of the LeT, 23 of the HM, five from Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), one from Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HuJI) and one of Al Badr – were killed by SFs during various anti-militancy operations. HM's deputy chief of operations' in J&K, Shabir Ahmed, was eliminated on June 5 in Doda. This was followed by the killing of top 'divisional commanders' of JeM, HM and LeT – Abdula Sattar, Saquib and Yousef Gujjar, in the Poonch, Shopian and Kishtwar Districts, respectively.
The SFs launched continuous counter-insurgency (CI) operations, securing several successes:
November 14: The Army foiled an infiltration bid, killing five militants in the Uri sector of Jammu and Kashmir.
September 2: Five militants were killed in the Gurez sector of Bandipora District near the Line of Control as Army foiled a major infiltration attempt, as militants attempted to sneak into the Kashmir valley from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
August 14: Army personnel shot dead four top ranking militants of the HM in an encounter at Kund Forest under Mahore Police Station in the Reasi District.
August 10: The Army killed four militants in an encounter in the Mahore area of Reasi District
August 2: Four militants and an Army trooper were killed in an encounter in the Bangas Valley of Kupwara District. The encounter between terrorists and the SFs began on August 1, when troops noticed movement of heavily armed militants in the Bangas Valley in the Handwara.
March 25: 17 militants and eight soldiers of the Army, including Major Mohit Sharma, were killed in an encounter between LeT militants and the Army near the Line of Control (LoC) in Kupwara District, when the Army foiled a major infiltration bid.
Though militants suffered heavily in J&K, and the situation has improved gradually, there was a rise in infiltration bids by militants in 2009. The MHA’s year-end review (data till November) stated that, during 2009, 473 infiltration bids were attempted, out of which 367 were foiled. According to infiltration figures compiled by the Multi-Agency Centre (MAC), the nodal agency for all terrorism-related intelligence under the Union Home Ministry, while 93 terrorists were intercepted and neutralised during the 473 infiltration attempts, and 227 retreated into Pakistan on being intercepted, 110 terrorists managed to give the border forces a slip. Agencies see the 110 infiltrated terrorists — with an estimated 70 per cent foreign and 30per cent local component — as a threat not only to J&K but also to the rest of the country. According to communications ‘chatter’ featuring HM leaders, directions to terrorist cadres are loud and clear: "Sneak into India fast and do something big."
The J&K DGP put the infiltration-bid figure at 433, up by 91 from 2008. According to J&K Police figures 342 infiltration attempts were made from across the border in 2008, while 2007 and 2006 reported 535 and 573 such attempts respectively along the LoC and International Border (IB) in J&K. Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor, on January 14, said the infiltration level had increased, with 110 terrorists managing to sneak in, till November, in 2009, as compared to 57 in 2008.
Taking into account the overall improvement in the situation, the Union Government withdrew two Divisions of the Army (approximately 30,000 troops) from J&K. The announcement was made on December 17 by the Union Defence Minister, A. K. Antony. Earlier in the month, the Government had announced withdrawal of a 'significant' number of battalions of the Central Forces from the State in a noteworthy confidence-building measure, following the initiative to hold 'quiet' dialogue with the separatist groups. However, Antony ruled out revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from areas where the Armed Forces were deployed for counterinsurgency operations. "Already the Army, by its own initiative, has withdrawn two Divisions from Jammu and Kashmir. Last year, it withdrew one Division. This year also it withdrew another Division. So whenever we feel the situation is improving, we are willing to further reduce the visibility and presence of the Armed Forces," he said. On the AFSPA, he reiterated the stand taken by the Army Chiefs in the past, that the Armed Forces needed special powers whenever they were deployed on counter-insurgency duties. Nevertheless, he expressed the Government’s willingness to discuss changes in these powers: "Without special powers, the Army cannot operate … But, at the same time, we can have a detailed discussion about making some modification here and there."
Crucially, the lowest number of human rights violation cases was registered in 2009, as compared to the previous years. DGP Khoda emphasized, "It is for the first time that no custodial death related to militancy was recorded this year." Troops in J&K also vacated all hospitals and schools because of the improving security situation there.
The Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) election, held in the State in five phases, between April 16 and May 13, was by and large peaceful, with no major militancy-related or violent incident reported. In the first phase (Jammu-Poonch Parliamentary constituency), the polling percentage was approximately 49 per cent; the second phase (Udhampur-Doda) saw a voter turnout at 45.3 per cent. The third phase (Anantnag) had a voter turnout of 26 per cent, nearly 11 per cent higher than the 2004 Parliamentary polls. The fourth phase (Srinagar) saw the lowest voter turnout, at a mere 24 per cent, though this was also substantially higher than in the 2004 election, when only 18.6 per cent electors cast their votes. In the fifth phase, voting was held in Baramulla and Leh, and the voting percentage was 40 and 60 respectively.
Despite improvements in the situation, however, there are significant residual risks. Intelligence agencies have warned of possible attempts to take advantage of the skeletal deployment of forces in the Valley in view of the shift of the Durbar (seat of Government) to Jammu. Nearly 700 terrorists are believed to be holed up in the Valley, of which half are foreigners. Some of these are expected to attempt to adopt the modus operandi that manifested itself in the January 6 Lal Chowk attack, using small arms and grenades to inflict initial damage, before hunkering down for a protracted standoff. Significantly, intelligence sources indicate that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has set up dedicated communication towers at Tum, Nikral, Samani and Zaffarwal in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) to provide assistance to terrorists operating in the Poonch, Rajauri, Naushera and Kathua regions, respectively, of J&K. However, Army Chief General Kapoor has claimed that current troop levels in the State were sufficient to take care of the existing volume of infiltration and the estimated presence of terrorists in the State.
Underlining residual threats, a MAC assessment notes that there are 42 terror-training camps directed against India operating in Pakistan and PoK. Of these, 34 are ‘active’ and eight are ‘holding’ camps. Pakistan/Northern Areas and PoK have 17 ‘active'’ and four ‘holding or dormant’ camps each, says the MAC assessment, based on inputs from various security agencies. According to intelligence sources, "It is estimated that around 2,200 militants are housed in these camps. After 26/11, many of these camps emptied out or relocated. Some are back to their original status now, while new ones have also come up." Further, sources in the Defence Ministry revealed that some 300 militants were currently waiting across the Line of Control (LoC) in PoK, for an opportunity to infiltrate into India
Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, on October 14, 2009, stated in Srinagar, that the Centre would start a dialogue process with "every shade of political opinion" in J&K for the resolution of the Kashmir issue, but that this would be a "quiet dialogue" and "quiet diplomacy", away from the media glare, till a political solution to the problem is arrived at. He said the Centre would hold talks with mainstream political parties like the National Conference, People's Democratic Party, Congress and other smaller parties, and also "other groups", which are not organized or are referred to as extremists. However, the Home Minister declined to answer a specific question as to whether a formal invitation would be extended to separatist groups such as the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC).
In a major setback to the dialogue process between the Centre and separatists in the State, however, unidentified gunmen shot at and critically injured Fazal Haq Qureshi – a senior leader of the faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq – outside his house in the Soura locality of capital Srinagar, on December 4, 2009. A member of the decision-making Executive Committee of the Hurriyat Conference, Qureshi had played a key role in facilitating talks between the HM and the Government, following a cease-fire announced by that group in July 2000. He was also part of the Hurriyat delegation that held talks with then-Deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani in 2004. Al-Nasireen, a joint front of the LeT and HM, claimed responsibility for the attack on Qureshi.
There have already been eight infiltration bids and two ceasefire violations in 2010, so far, and Union Defence Minister A. K. Antony, on January 13, warned, "The incidents of the first week of January in the Valley are indicative of the shape of things to come." The abrupt conflagrations around the Amarnath land controversy in July-August 2008, and recurrent, though localized, efforts to provoke mass disturbances in the Valley, a sustained separatist rhetoric, and cumulative evidence of Pakistan’s unchanged intent and strategy, despite a tactical downward calibration of terrorism, indicate clearly that militancy in J&K is certainly down, but it is far from out.