Jammu and Kashmir Assessment - Year 2000
The State of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) is, unequivocally, the most troubled area in the South Asian region. While the region is percieved, within India, as a theatre for Pakistan's proxy war, Kashmir is increasingly perceived by Western analysts as a potential flashpoint for a future nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan. The emphasis laid on this issue during the South Asian visit of the US President Bill Clinton, in March 2000, only served to heighten this perception.
Year 2000 has simultaneously seen hopes of peace being assaulted by senseless acts of violence. Three phases stand out which enforces the conclusion that freedom from terror is an elusive goal for the people of the State. These three landmarks for the year were the Clinton visit in March, the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen ceasefire in July-August and the government cease-fire in November.
Taking the inititative, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced on November 19 that security forces were being directed to cease all offensive operations against terrorists in the State during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Several Islamic leaders of India had called for such a step, including the Shahi Imam of Delhi, before the Prime Minister decided to announce the unilateral cease-fire. The reactions were mixed. Even before the cease-fire could take effect, terrorists reponded with two massacres on November 21 and November 24 in Doda district. Most terrorist outfits that operate under the facade of 'jihad' have rejected the offer. In contrast, a wide spectrum of political leaders advocating seccession of the State have wecomed the announcement.
A negtive response from terrorist outfits, particularly those which comprise foreign mercenaries, to any intitative for peace has become the standard. Just as hopes of normalcy were rising after the unilateral offer of a cease-fire by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, incidentally the largest among the terrorist outfits operating in the State, in July 2000, was speedily accepted by the Union government, other terrorist organisations indulged in a series of massacres on August 1-2, which left an estimated 100 civilians and security forces dead.
In the month of September and the first week of October, security forces notched up some successes in their fight against terrorists purpoting to be fighting a jihad in the State.The deputy commander of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, one of the most ruthless terrorist outfits, was killed on October 5. On the previous day, the chief of the 'Pir Panjal Regiment', the most active unit of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, was killed. Marking another success, security forces in Poonch district killed 25 terrorists in different encounters on September 16 and 18.
Earlier, in the aftermath of the US President's visit, in March 2000, there has been increasing speculation of possible talks to end the insurgency in J&K. Initially, media attention was focused on a possible dialogue between the Union government and the All Party Hurriyat Conference to address the crisis. A new dimension was added when the "chief commander (Operations)" of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, Abdul Majeed Dar made a conditional offer of cease-fire at a press conference in Srinagar on July 24. The endorsement of this offer by the group's supremo, Syed Salauddin alias Pir Sahib, followed at a press conference, in Islamabad, on July 25. This is the second instance when a terrorist outfit in Kashmir has declared a cease-fire, after the Yasin Malik faction of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) did so in 1994. Unlike the cease-fire declared by the JKLF, which still holds, the Hizb withdrew its cease-fire on August 8, on the ground that the Indian government had not taken any intitative to involve Pakistan in the dialogue on the Kashmir issue.
A substantial gap continues to exist between the minimum expectations held by the government and secessionist forces in the State, which has to be covered before a dialogue can be initiated. While the Union government has repeatedly stressed that any discussion would have to be within the framework of the Indian Constitution, the Hurriyat has rejected such a pre-condition and has insisted on the inclusion of Pakistan in any proposed dialogue. Speculation on the proposed talks began after the government released all major Hurriyat leaders in May 2000, after detaining them for over six months.
Even as former adversaries, now committed to negotiating a way out of the impasse, are trying to narrow the gap between their stands, other terrorist forces inimical to any peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue have been stressing on raising the level of terror within the State. The Muttahida Jihad Council, an umbrella body for 14 Pakistan-based terrorist outfits operating in Kashmir, had dissassociated itself from the Hizb's peace initiative. Repeated threats (of violent actions, masked in the term jihad) by these recalcitrant terrorit groups were ultimately carried out on the intervening night of August 1-2.
Meanwhile, the ruling National Conference has raised the issue of a return to the pre-1953 situation whereby the Union government was permitted authority only over the subjects of Defence, Currency and Foreign Policy; all other issues coming under the exclusive jurisdiction of the State Legislative Assembly. An Autonomy Resolution to this effect was passed by the State Legislature on June 26, 2000. The Union Cabinet has rejected this proposal and the stalemate continues.
The year 2000 opened on a sombre note, with a continuous escalation of terrorist violence over the preceding six months after Pakistans armed intrusion in, and subsequent expulsion from, the Kargil sector in the north of the J&K. According to official figures, in the first seven months of 2000 (until July 27), 1,667 persons were killed in terrorism related incidents. As compared to the previous two years, this marks a substantially higher death toll (figures for casualties in the period January-July 1998 and January-July 1999 were 1101 and 1156 respectively). This trend is likely to continue as the toll on the first two days in August indicates. The only redeeming feature in this trend is that the 1,667 persons killed in January-July 2000 include 923 terrorists as compared to 501 civilians and 243 security forces personnel. Between April and mid-July 2000, an estimated 62 foreign mercenaries were killed.
Another distinct trend visible in 2000 is that any signigificant efforts at addressing the problem of terrorism in J&K is invariably accompanied by sensational instances of violence. Just as the August 1-2, 2000 massacres coincides with the first contacts between the government and the Hizb-ul Mujahideen (bureaucrats from the Home Ministry were reported to have contacted a Hizb representative on August 1), the Chattisinghpora incident occurred during the visit to India of the US President, Bill Clinton, in March 2000. Indian intelligence agencies' predictions of an escalation in violence by terrorists to draw the attention of the US President and international media came true on March 20 when terrorists massacred 35 Sikhs in cold blood even as the President was on his way to New Delhi from Dacca. The perpetrators of this massacre was a joint group from the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hizb-ul Mujahideen outfits.
In all these massacres, the primary targets have been Hindus leading to the government's perception that these incidents are part of the ethnic cleansing drive launched by Islamic fundamentalist groups active in J&K.
In the aftermath of the Chattisinghpora massacre, security forces in the State have sharpened their response as witnessed by the induction of helicopter gun-ships in the fight against terrorists which were first used on March 28. A new dimension was added to the insurgency when three ballistic missiles were recovered from a terrorist hide-out in Rajouri district on April 8. This is for the first time that such a weapon has been discovered with terrorists in J&K. Three major seizures of RDX explosives have been reported in Srinagar on June 13 and July 17, which security forces suspect, is intended to target prominent political personalities of J&K.
An unfortunate consequence of the Chattisinghpora massacre has been the civil turmoil that ensued after five persons, suspected of participating in the massacre were shot dead on March 25. The State police claim that the five were killed in an encounter in Pathri Bal, Anantnag district. This version has been contested by locals in Panchalthan-Pathribal area of the district who assert that that the five killed were innocent residents of the area, picked up by joint team of army and police personnel. A week long phase of public protest demonstrations culminated in another tragedy where police firing on demonstrators at Barakpora on April 3 left seven dead and 10 injured. Strengthening the allegation of the villagers is the fact that the son of one of the five missing persons, who was a prime witness in the case, was also killed in this firing. Two inquiries have been ordered by the State government into the alleged 'encounter' and the subsequent firing on the protesters. This episode marks an otherwise favourable trend in the fight against insurgency in J&K.
The hijack on Christmas eve 1999, of the Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 from Kathmandu to New Delhi, with 184 passengers on board captured the attention of the world media for almost eight days, before its eventual resolution at the Kandahar airport in Afghanistan on the eve of the New Millennium. Three terrorists incarcerated in Indian prisons Maulana Masood Azhar, Ahmad Umar Syed Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar for their activities in J&K were released in a negotiated deal for the lives of 161 passengers who remained hostage till the end of the drama at Kandahar. The release of the terrorists had been strongly opposed by the States Chief Minister, who feared escalation in terrorist violence if the government was seen to capitulate in the face of a terrorist threat. The Indian Government has released some evidence that the five hijackers were backed by Pakistans Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Pakistan has rejected the claim. The presence of two of the released terrorists in Pakistan has been documented both by the Pakistani and international media. Among much fanfare, Masood Azhar announced the launching of yet another terrorist outfit, the Jaish-e-Mohammad.
The trend of a continuos escalation in terrorist violence is to be expected. The declaration of intent, in 2000, came in the form of an attack on an Army camp at Surankote in Poonch district, 200 kilometres North of Jammu in the early hours on January 1, 2000. In a separate attack on the same day and in the same district, a police station at Gurusia was also destroyed. January 3 witnessed a bomb blast in a crowded vegetable market in Srinagar, in which 16 persons, including 3 security personnel were killed. The violence has been sustained at a high level since. Two members of a Lashkar-e-Toiba suicide squad shot their way into the local BSF headquarters in Natipora, on the outskirts of Srinagar, on March 21.
A total of 22,616 (1988-99) lives has been lost in a terrorist campaign that has been sustained for 12 years. Of these 9933 were terrorists, 9648 were civilians and 2041 were security forces personnel. Despite the campaign of ethnic cleansing, an overwhelming proportion of civilian casualties were Muslims, the majority community in the State. 8196 or 84.95% of cvilians killed between 1988-July 1999 were Muslims (total civilians killed during this period was 9937.
The first half of 1999 witnessed a continuous downward trend in terrorist violence (see table) that had commenced in 1994, the year in which the death count had peaked at 2,899 (averaging over 241 deaths per month). This declined steadily to an average of roughly 185 persons per month (2,261 deaths in the year) in 1998 and 188 in 1999.
Monthly Trend of Casualties in 1999-2000
Early in May 1999, however, the intrusion of Pakistani regulars and mercenaries into Indian territory was noticed by the Indian Army in the Kargil sector. A vicious local, albeit undeclared, war, in harsh mountain terrain, ensued after India launched Operation Vijay on May 26, 1999, to recover the estimated 1,500 kilometres of Indian territory in which the Pakistani forces had established control and built defences on critical heights. The fighting continued till July 27, when the last of the intruders withdrew under increasing military pressure and a build up of international opinion against Pakistan. Some 750 Pakistani soldiers and mercenaries / irregulars were killed in the conflict, while about 500 Indian soldiers also lost their lives.
The Kargil skirmishes also created a cover for increased infiltration of terrorists into the Valley, and, even as the withdrawal of Pakistani forces was underway in the northern sectors, a radical shift in the strategy and the character of militancy in the State emerged. On July 31, terrorists attacked a Border Security Force camp at Bandiporathe first terrorist attack in J&K directed against a major security forces establishmentkilling 5 personnel, including a Deputy Inspector General of the Force. There have been several other attacks on heavily guarded security forces establishments since then, including the 15 Corps Headquarters at Badamibagh on September 12, the Army Headquarters at Baramulla, and the J&K Police Special Operations Group (SOG) Headquarters at Srinagar. Two attacks have also been carried out on the centre of governance, the State Secretariat, at Srinagar in 1999.
These attacks represent the increasing firepower and greater experience and training of the new generation of terrorists that has been inducted into J&K. A majority of these are foreign mercenaries, most of whom have seen significant action in Afghanistan. An estimated 60 per cent of all terrorists operating in the State are of foreign origin, a majority drawn from Pakistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Afghanistan, but with others coming from another 11 countries . There has also been a visible improvement in the firepower available to the terrorists. The Kalashnikov is now virtually standard issue for the terrorists and increasing numbers of rocket launchers are available and have been used in all major attacks. Arms seizures also register missile launchers, anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, and a significant number of flame throwers, in addition to thousands of kilograms of explosives and a variety of sophisticated triggering mechanisms . Mounting terrorist successes are also, at least in part, the consequence of a thinning out of security forces in the wake of the Kargil war, and their partial replacement by fresh troops who have yet to establish the necessary familiarity with the region.
The leadership of the terrorist movement in the State has, in the late nineties, clearly passed out of the hands of the groupings that dominated the earlier phases of militancy, such as the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and the over ground political coalition of separatist forces, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), and squarely into the hands of Pakistan-based groupings such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahiddeen (HuM, the rechristened version of Harkat-ul-Ansar-HuA) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The JKLF-APHC orientation seeks the independence of Kashmir, while the Pakistan-based groupings seek amalgamation with that country under an inchoate Pan-Islamic ideology. There is increasing evidenceincluding frequent statements by its leadershipof the direct involvement and authority of the same religious organisations based in Pakistansuch as the Markaz-e-Dawat-ul-Irshadthat created the Taliban in Afghanistan, and also of Osama Bin Ladens interest and initiative in supporting subversive forces in the J&K State.
Despite escalating violence, Parliamentary elections were held in the State in October 1999. There was a blanket call by terrorist organisations for a boycott, and a number of political leaders were attacked and killed in the run up to the Elections. These included an abortive grenade attack at the residence of the Minister of State for Revenue, Safdar Ali Beigh at Anantnag, the killing of Ghulam Hyder Noorani, the BJP nominee from Anantnag, and attacks on two other candidates, Mufti Mohammad Syed and Maqbool Dar during electioneering. Nevertheless, the voter turnout exceeded 37 per cent.
In the meanwhile, over 400,000 Kashmiri Panditsout of an original population in the Kashmir Valley of 425,000 prior to 1989continue to be displaced. Some 216,820 of them live as migrants and in makeshift camps at Jammu, another 143,000 at Delhi and thousands of others are now dispersed across the country . There has been little effort to facilitate their return to the Valley over the past year (1999), as earlier attempts were neutralised by brutal campaigns of selective murder, including the killing of 7 Pandits at Sangrama in Budgam District in March 1997, 3 at Gul in Udhampur District in June 1997, 23 in the massacre at Wandhama in Srinagar District in January 1998, and 26 at Prankote in Udhampur District in April 1998. The possibility of reversing the terrorists ethnic cleansing of the Valley remains remote.
General Parvez Musharrafs military coup in Pakistan has increased the pressure of militancy in J&K and there is evidence of a broadening support from the ISI and from fundamentalist groups in that country to terrorism, not only in this State, but in various theatres of conflict throughout India. This is necessitated not only by the ideological Pan-Islamic mandate and ambitions of these organisations, but equally by the pressure of internal politics in Pakistan, which demands the spectacle of an aggressive anti-India policy from any incumbent government. The control of the ISI, in terms of checking or containing the activities of the various fundamentalist groups operating from Pakistan, also appears to be loosening, as the latter pursue their own autonomous ends. To the extent that these presently coincide with those of the ruling clique, their impact will deepen. However, the ability of any future regime to actually suppress the export of terrorism from bases in Pakistan is now highly suspect.
The US presidential visit revived calls from separatist forces within J&K and Pakistan for mediation in the conflict. While the US President rejected the idea of mediation unless asked for by all parties involved in the conflict, he stressed the need for ending violence, respecting the Line of Control, renewing negotiations and reducing tensions. While this theme was repeated in Islamabad it is yet to have an impact on the insurgency scenario of Kashmir.
It is also evident that the Indian government is yet to put in place a coherent strategy of response to terrorism. Indeed, most institutions of civil governance in the State have suffered a complete breakdown in the face of the terrorist onslaught. This includes the judiciary, which, after more than ten years of terrorist strife, is yet to pronounce a conviction in even a single case of terrorist crime.