Militancy in Rajouri and Poonch
75 per cent of the total population of 520,000 distributed over 559 villages is Muslim; some 15,000 are Sikhs and the rest Hindu The Muslim population is further divided into groups of Rajput, Gujjar, Bakerwal and Kashmiri origin. The people of these districts, especially the Muslim population, are linguistically, ethnically and culturally similar to those residing across the Line of Control [in PoK]. This is in marked difference to the Muslims of the Kashmir Valley, who, apart from their religion, have very little in common with the inhabitants of PoK.
The important sub-divisions of the Muslims of this area are Duli, Gakkhar, Jaral, Maldial, Malik, Manhas, Sudhan and Tezal.3 Of these, the Sudhans need a special mention as they took very active part in the 1947 disturbances. The Sudhanoti tehsil of the old Poonch jagir is the home of the Sudhans, although they are found in Haveli, Bagh and Kotli tehsils as well.
The general conversion to Islam from Hinduism is supposed to have taken place towards the end of the thirteenth or early in the fourteenth Century AD. The Mohammaden conquests undoubtedly accelerated this change of religion, but the preaching of several renowned Sufi saints, especially Baba Farid of Pak Pattan whose eloquence drew large numbers to hear him, helped considerably to this end.4 The conversion resulted in imbalances in the religious distribution of the population which created new bases of internal conflict.
This region and its people have been shaped, both by geography and by the changing tides of history, into a complex cultural and communal mosaic, details of which cannot be ignored by strategic thinkers and analysts who seek to confront and effectively contain the present turmoil in the state. Some measure of familiarity with the broad movements of history in this area is essential before we can move on to address the sphere of contemporary conflicts.
RAJOURI: The renowned Chinese traveler Huein Tsang visited Rajouri in 630 AD and has recorded it as part of the kingdom of Kashmir. During the 10th Centruy AD, this area emerged as an independent principality under the name of Rajapuri and was ruled by the Paul Kings till 1194 AD when reins of power passed over to the Jaral Muslim Rajas. They ruled till 1846, when Rajouri was taken over by Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu from Raja Rahim Ullah Khan pursuant to the Amritsar Treaty between Gulab Singh and the British. Rajouri remained part of Bhimber tehsil till 1904 AD when it was affiliated with the Reasi district. After Independence, Rajouri became a tehsil of the Poonch district. On January 1, 1968, Rajouri emerged as a new district on the map of the state. Presently it comprises 382 villages and six tehsils: Rajouri, Nowshera, Budhal, Thanamandi, Kalakote and Sunderbani.5
POONCH: Poonch was also part of the Kashmir Kingdom during Huein Tsangs travels. It became a separate principality under Nara, who made his capital at Lohar Kote [Loran], in 850 AD. The area was ruled by a succession of Hindu rulers till 1452, when Zain-ul-Abidin of Kashmir established his control. It remained part of the Kashmir Kingdom till 1596, when the Mughals established their dominion in this area. The actual governance, however, was conducted by a series of Muslim Kings, most famous amongst whom was Raja Rustam Khan [1760-1787]. Maharaja Ranjit Singhs forces conquered the Poonch principality in 1819 AD, and in 1827, he gave Poonch as a jagir to his Prime Minister Raja Dhian Singh, the younger brother of Maharaja Gulab Singh. At that time, the Poonch jagir comprised Poonch City and areas of Mandi, Surankote, Mendhar, Bagh and Palandari.6
After the 1846 Amritsar Treaty, by which time Dhian Singh had also died, a dispute arose between Maharaja Gulab Singh and Mian Jawahar Singh and Moti Singh, the two surviving sons of Dhian Singh. The dispute was settled by Sir Frederick Curries judgement of May 12, 1848, which decreed, "The Mian Sahibs will have no power or authority to dispose of in their own holding any important matter without personal consultation and advise of Maharaja (Gulab Singh) Sahib Bahadur." Jawahar Singh and Moti Singh quarreled in 1852, when the matter was again referred to the Punjab Government who awarded Poonch to Moti Singh as his exclusive jagir.7 From that time on, till 1947, Poonch was ruled by the descendants of Moti Singh. However, in 1939, after the death of Jagat Dev Singh, his son Raja Shiv Rattan Dev Singh became the titular ruler. Being very young, the effective control of the administration was taken over by the Governor appointed by the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, and the position remained so till 1947.
During the 1947 disturbances followed by the first Indo-Pak war, tehsil Bagh, tehsil Sudhanoti and half of tehsil Poonch went under the illegal possession of Pakistan and are now part of PoK. The remaining part of the Poonch jagir and Rajouri area were joined into the Poonch district. Rajouri was subsequently constituted as a separate district in 1968. Poonch presently comprises 178 villages in the three tehsils of Mendhar, Surankote and Haveli (Poonch).
THE WARS AFTER INDEPENDENCE: The circumstances of Kashmirs accession to India are well known. Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Jammu & Kashmir had not taken a decision on joining either of the dominions of India or Pakistan on the August 14/15, 1947. However, the subsequent sequence of events unfolded in quick succession as a result of a conspiracy hatched at the highest quarters in Pakistan to gain control of the Kashmir Valley and the Muslim-majority areas of the rest of the state. In the Rajouri-Poonch sector, the Poonch jagir became a centre of disturbances master-minded by Sardar Mohammad Ibrahim Khan, who organised underground activities against the Maharaja. He was encouraged and assisted by the Pakistan Government. His task was further facilitated by about 75,000 ex-servicemen of the area who had served in the British Indian Army and most of whom had been de-mobilised after the Second World War. The pro-Pakistan leanings of some Muslim Conference leaders of Mirpur further complicated the situation. With easy availability of arms, ammunition and money from Pakistan, they became a formidable force against the scattered posts of the State Army. The situation deteriorated dramatically with the arrival of thousands of frontier fribesmen sent in by the Pakistan Government. They started large scale disturbances and the plunder, murder and rape of non-Muslims all along the Rajouri Poonch border with Pakistan, swiftly moving deeper towards the east. By October most of Bagh and Palandari and parts of Poonch wre under the control of the raiders and on October 26, 1947, S. Ibrahim Khan declared the formation of the Azad Government with its capital at Palandari.8 Immediately thereafter, Poonch city was put under siege by the raiders.
With the accession of the state to India on October 26, 1947, the way was cleared for the arrival of the Indian Army, and this stemmed further ingress and the accompanying depredations by the raiders. However, till the ceasefire of January 1, 1949, large areas comprising almost the entire Mirpur district and almost two-and-a-half tehsils of the Poonch jagir including the important towns of Bagh, Palandari, Kotli, Mirpur and Bhimber had been occupied by Pakistan. During this period the struggle for Nowshera and Jhangar, the fall and the recapture of Rajouri and the breach of the siege of Poonch were the three main operations fought by the Indian Army. In Jhangar, the Indian Army suffered the highest ranking casualty of Brigadier Usman on July 4, 1948.
Till September 1947, Rajouri was a town with a population of 5,000. By early November, this number had swelled to over 40,000, with Hindu and Sikh refugees streaming in from the west. On November 10, the Pakistani raiders accompanied by rebels from Poonch, attacked Rajouri, wiped out the small state force post and subjected the town to the worst kind of slaughter, loot and rapine. After three days of bloody carnage, only a few hundred survived. The Indian Army, in its counter attack, recaptured Rajouri on April 13, 1948. When the forces entered the town, "we found the grotesque sight of dead and dying huddled in dark corners, men in heaps, women trembling in mute appeal, and the undernourished children. Some of the women had committed suicide by throwing themselves into the wells rather than suffer the ordeal. Cases were reported of young girls who were lucky enough to escape, more dead than alive, who had been assaulted by ten, twenty, thirty or more men. Others, we were told, had been dragged away screaming or unconscious."9
Like Rajouri, Poonch town had also received a huge number of Hindu and Sikh refugees escaping from the raiders. As a result, the population of the town swelled from 10,000 to almost 50,000. Determined and repeated efforts by the raiders to capture Poonch were foiled by the remarkable courage of the Indian Army and State Forces, admirably backed up by a gallant civilian population. They were, in great measure, helped by Prime Minister Nehru insisting that Poonch should not be evacuated. Nehru was absolutely firm that for political reasons there must be no withdrawal from Poonch.10 The breaking of the siege of Poonch on November 20, 1948, almost exactly after one year of its beginning, was one of the most important and outstanding achievements of the Indian forces during the war.
In 1965, Pakistan sought to repeat this performance in an attempt to gain control of the Valley and the Muslim majority areas of Rajouri-Poonch. Large scale infiltration into the state, backed by the Pakistan Army, was launched in the beginning of August 1965 under Operation Gibraltar. However, the infiltration by armed men was detected in the Uri sector of Kashmir on August 4, 1965 by a gujjar Mohammad Din, who reported to the police station at Tangmarg; a spirited and decisive reaction by the security forces resulted. "A similar incident took place about 50 miles further south in a forest near Galuthi in the Mendhar sector of Poonch district. At this place a villager, Wazir Mohammad was similarly accosted by some of the intruders and his reaction was the same. That illustrates how the infiltration came to the notice of the unsuspecting Muslim citizens and the same reporting promptly to the police authorities led to preventive action."12 The most important action in this sector that took place during the Indo-Pak war that ensued in September 1965 was the capture of the Haji-Pir Pass by the Indian Forces. Unfortunately, this hard fought and strategically critical gain was reversed under the Tashkent Agreement, and the pass was restored to Pakistan.
During the 1971 Indo-Pak War, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh, only holding operations were carried out in the Rajouri-Poonch Sector, and nothing of great military significance occurred. All the same, the war left a profound positive impact on the minds of the local population who were well aware of the atrocities perpetrated by the Pakistan forces on their eastern Muslim brethren.
INSURGENCY & RESPONSE: Having failed in its two earlier attempts in 1947 and 1965, and drawing lessons from its experience, Pakistan renewed its attempts with changed strategies in the mid-Eighties. Instead of using armed men from outside the State to infiltrate and create disturbances, this time efforts were concentrated on misleading the Muslim youth of the state to spawn internal disturbances and militancy. According to Pakistans plans, this was to be followed by active involvement of its Army under a well-conceived plan, Operation Topac12. Although the groundwork of misleading the youth and appealing to the Islamic sentiments of the local population, and the creation of cells of activists and sympathisers started well in advance, the visible manifestations of this sinister design surfaced pointedly and unmistakably in 1989.
During that year a number of targeted killings of National Conference activists and important members of the minority Kashmiri Pandit community were carried out in the Valley. The latter included Tika Lal Taploo, State Vice-President of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), N K Ganjoo, Retired Sessions Judge who had presided over the trial of Mohammad Maqbool Butt, and Prem Nath Bhat, a leading advocate of Anantnag. During the first seven months of 1990, 89 members of the minority (Hindu) community were killed. This resulted in a large scale migration of Kashmiri Pandits out of the Valley. Simultaneously, ISI operators and sympathisers whipped up pro-independence sentiments to frenzied heights. Hundred of Muslim youth were motivated, cajoled, bribed and threatened to cross over to PoK and Pakistan, to receive arms training and to return as militants. As part of the over-all plan, similar efforts, though on a lesser scale, were made in Rajouri-Poonch districts with a view to enlarge the arc of operations, as also to strike deep in the south of the Pir Panjal in order to open up an enveloping second front.
In the initial phase, the people who masterminded and controlled terrorist activities in the state primarily concentrated on the Valley, with the developments in Rajouri-Poonch relegated to a supporting role. All activities which were carried out in and for the Valley were also repeated, at a reduced scale, in this area. Motivators were identified and activated, cells of volunteers and sympathisers were created and persons taken to PoK for armed training. During the winter of 1989-90, over 100 youth from villages of the Mendhar-Surankote-Poonch belt crossed over into PoK for training. The process of their return from training camps, along with arms, ammunition and explosives, started in January, 1990. On January 26, 1990, a blast took place in Surankote and, for the first time, some black flags found place on poles and tree tops. The beginnings of militant activities in Rajouri-Poonch coincided with the escalation of terrorist activities in the Valley. But the limited number of trained militants, a better vigil on the border by security forces and efficacy of the police and civil administration forced the extremists, who by now had a separate Area Commander for this region, to lie low and concentrate more on organisational work rather than overt activities. However, the local population could not remain indifferent to the presence of these elements. Minorities and persons of known secular views had started feeling apprehensive.
These, then, were the ground conditions when a post of Special Commissioner and Special Deputy Inspector General of Police, with Headquarters at Rajouri, was created by the State Government for these two districts. Their task was to ensure effective coordination with the security forces with a view to ensure optimum utilisation of the resources available for anti-militancy operations and to maintain peace and public order. The Special Commissioner was also required to give an impetus to the developmental efforts in the region, and to make local administration effective and responsive to the needs of the people so as to wean them away from the influence of the anti-national elements. The two officers assumed duties in the month of April 1990.
This was the time when militant activity was almost at its peak in the Valley, and its spill-over was expected to manifest itself in this areas as well. Fortunately, the instruments of the State had not been blunted, and the civil administration responded to proddings and controls. It was decided to go flat-out after the militant elements and, as far as possible, to keep the initiative with the administration. Intensive touring was undertaken with a view to meet a cross-section of the population and instill confidence in them, as well as to mobilize the administrative machinery for the purpose of increasing developmental activities and to create an atmosphere of normalcy.13
Public support is of great significance in insurgent movements. Mass support among the local population is essential to offset the advantage of the authorities by virtue of their control of the military and administrative machinery. The active support of the people increases as the authorities fail to control violence and resort to repressive measures.17 The counter-militancy strategy adopted in Rajouri-Poonch districts by the combined efforts of the state administration and security forces aimed, on the one hand, at eliminating armed militancy and, on the other, at winning local populations through development activities. The latter, implemented at a considerably accelerated phase, worked as a force-multiplier to the anti-militancy measures.
Coordination between various agencies engaged in executing this two pronged strategy was institutionalised instead of leaving it solely to the inter-personal relationship between individual senior officers. Coordination Committees were set up in the month of May 1990 at the regional and district levels by the office of the Special Commissioner. The apex body consisted of the General Officer Commanding, Special Commissioner, Special DIG Police and DIG, Border Security Force (BSF), Rajouri Sector. At the district level district Coordination Committees were set up with the Deputy Commissioner (DC) as the Chairman and the district Superintendent of Police (SP) as well as Army and BSF representatives as members. These Committees met on an as required basis, but at least once a month. The experiment proved of immense value, as all outstanding issues were sorted out in such meetings, and joint strategies worked out for execution based on a collective appreciation of the emerging situation as well as long term forecasts and objectives. The discussions were never restrictive or compartmentalised. Each officer felt free to discuss any issue which was thought to be of common interest.
Fortunately, the cutting-edge levels of the law and order machinery, the tehsils (Administrative sub-divisions) and thanas [police stations/posts] were in a reasonable state of disuse. With some effort these were revived and made functional. These agencies provided critical two-way contact points between the common man and security agencies, and were used extensively by both. For example, even though the army and BSF had been delegated with powers of search and seizure in the border belt, all searches by these forces were made with the help of the police. This measure reassured the local population. Also, as a gesture of goodwill, members of the families of confirmed or suspected militants were left free to lead a normal life.
Despite Pakistani efforts to fan militancy, the local population, by and large, was not hostile. The armed forces had, over decades of their presence, created a fund of goodwill among the locals. However, by the beginning of 1990, the mood of the public was apprehensive and sullen as exaggerated reports and rumours about the happening in the Valley started circulating. The process of winning their confidence had to be taken in hand almost all over again.
One of the basic reasons for disaffection and worry amongst the local population is normally the lack of information about the whereabouts of person(s) picked up in connection with a case or for questioning. In the absence of such information, the worst is suspected by relatives and neighbours. A certain amount of openness was introduced in such cases. Whenever a person was apprehended, for whatever reasons, his whereabouts were made known to the relations and, as soon as possible, an opportunity given to meet him. This one measure alone went a long way in securing the confidence of the locals.
All efforts were made to ensure that no excesses were committed on any member of the public. Whenever a complaint of harassment was made by the locals, it was investigated by the civil administration and the officers of the concerned organisation. If found that a particular person had exceeded his authority, effective action was taken against him in each and every case and it was ensured that such action was also seen to have been taken. Thus the promise that no harassment would be caused to the local population was translated into the common practice and earned renewed respect for the security forces.
The redressal of grievances was another area where conscious and concerted efforts were made by the senior officers of the government. In addition to the usual methods of monitoring of applications, extensive touring by the officers sought to improve the efficacy of this process.
The experience in Rajouri-Poonch had been that the local police station [thana] was one of the most important elements in anti-terrorist operations. Normally, in such a scenario, the predominance of security forces both the army and para-military forces is such that the local police is invariably relegated to the role of a poor and distant cousin. The accompanying neglect of the thanas by the state Governments accentuates this feeling.
In Rajouri-Poonch, however, it was a firmly held belief that a properly trained, equipped and motivated local police combines the role of intelligence and security forces very effectively. A great deal of effort, consequently, went into the task of making the thana more effective. Training of personnel, and upgradation of equipment, transport and weaponry, as well as the maintenance of morale and motivation at the thana level received due attention. A system of rewards and punishments was instituted. The advantage of these measures was eventually and amply demonstrated.14
Important developmental projects were regularly monitored at the level of the Special Commissioner and DCs. The pace of development was accelerated and more funds released from the state Government, while measures were simultaneously taken to ensure that the money was utilised in a productive manner. Special emphasis was laid on completion and execution of short-term schemes so that their impact was perceptibly felt by the local population within a short span of time. Significant impetus was given to sericulture and horticulture based activities for which the agro-climatic conditions of the area are ideally suited.
Educated unemployed youth were normally the most susceptible to the influence of the militants. To keep this segment of the population out of the militants reach was a major thrust area for the administration. The recruitment process was, consequently, expedited and efforts made to ensure that the selection of candidates for government jobs was fair and based on merit, subject, of course, to the usual reservations. A determined effort was also made to give a fillip to various self-employment schemes of the Government.
The exertions of the local police and security forces in continuously maintaining pressure and raiding the suspected hide-outs of the militants paid off when three Pak-trained militants were apprehended in the Surankote areas during the first week of May 1990. Another lucky break followed within ten days. Based on information that a group of militants had gone to Bombay to evade arrest and lie low for the time being, a police party was dispatched to Bombay. With the help of local police, this party was able to arrest five trained militants. The police personnel involved in these two operations were quickly rewarded.
But even as things appeared to be going well for the administration, the militants struck. In a well timed and calculated act, they looted and killed a Hindu trader in a village in the Mendhar valley. The intention behind this crime appeared to be to terrorise the local minority population and provoke their migration from the area, with the expectation that once such a trickle began in one area, it could easily develop into a regular stream as people from other areas panicked and followed suit. In addition, if security forces reacted excessively, some of the local Muslims could be motivated to cross the border to the training camps in Pakistan. It was a sinister move. But quick and concerted action by security forces and the administration in providing and assuring adequate protection to the minorities as well as the absence of harassment of the local population defeated these designs. With the arrest of the main accused from Rajouri within a fortnight, apprehensions of a fallout of this unfortunate incident came to an end.15
As a result of a constant vigil and coordinated action by all agencies, the use of this border by Kashmiri militants received a severe set- back when, in mid-July 1990, 33 militants were killed and 10 captured in an encounter with security forces. At this point the initiative had unmistakably been seized by a determined administration.
As early as mid-May 1990, when the process of arrests of militants had started, the civil administration and security forces started getting feelers that some misguided youth would be willing to surrender before the authorities and lay down their arms if assured of decent treatment. On taking up the matter with the State Government, the policy of surrenders was not only approved, but even encouraged. It was expected that by mid-June the first batch of militants would surrender. But this did not take place due to some other developments. However, on August 2, a group of 5 Pakistan-trained militants, along with arms and ammunition, surrendered at Surankote police station. These were the first ever surrenders in the ongoing militancy, and they set a trend which later picked up in the Kashmir Valley as well.
In addition to purposeful surveillance on the borders by conventional methods, such as establishing Border Posts, coupled with laying of ambushes and effective patrolling, a multi-tiered, in-depth grid system of deployment was put into operation. The positive as well as preventive results of this co-ordinated deployment and monitoring were very encouraging.16
The cumulative effect of all these measures in the Rajouri-Poonch districts during 1990 and 1991 produced positive results. By the beginning of 1992, when the post of Special Commissioner was abolished by the Government, the administration had a complete grip over the situation in this area and militancy had practically been wiped out. The effective deployment of the army on the border coupled with the security grid established in the rear areas, close coordination effected between various government agencies, a fillip to developmental activities and the redressal of public grievances proved very effective responses to the efforts of the ISI-backed elements. This was achieved at a time when militancy and disturbed conditions were peaking in the adjoining Kashmir Valley. With the Valley in persistent turmoil, and sporadic but constant efforts by the ISI and its agents to disturb conditions in other parts of Jammu Division, it was imperative that there was no let up in Rajouri-Poonch. Unfortunately, with the withdrawal of the Special Commissioner in January 1992, an important link in the close-knit team was broken.
With the slackening of co-ordinated operations by various arms of the security forces and the support activities of the civil administration in Rajouri-Poonch, the ISI agencies were quick to realise the renewed opportunity and increased their efforts for new recruitment and destabilistion. Simultaneously, certain ominous developments were taking place in other parts of the state. In the Valley, the contours of a new phase of militancy were emerging. The pro-independence elements and the local militant leadership were being marginalised, with die-hard pro-Pakistan organisations like the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the Harkat-ul-Ansar, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, gaining ascendancy. Another potent and vicious element came in the form of foreign mercenaries, commonly referred to as Afghanis (though not all were Afghan nationals). In fact, the leadership of the militants passed on from the local commanders to the outsiders. During this period, the Doda district of Jammu Division was also infested by militants making their way over the Pir Panjal passes from Ananatnag and parts of Pulwama districts of the Valley. Rajouri-Poonch was thus caught up between increasing pressures from the west, the north and the east. The situation began to deteriorate steadily, and the signs were unmistakable to a perceptive mind. As a former Director General of Police noted at that time, "Poonch-Rajouri bears a veneer of deceptive calm. Underneath, it is in deep ferment. The stepped up militant activity backed by perpetual tension on the LOC through intermittent firing by Pak troops represents the visible manifestation of a gathering storm . (The) twin districts have a history of rivalry and confrontation between two major castes amongst the Muslims . ISI has been quick to recognise the favourable climate generated in the area." He went on to caution, "Poonch-Rajouri is important for the ISI for sustaining and extending the on-going militant onslaught in Doda which is being spearheaded and co-ordinated by foreign mercenaries."17
As the efforts of the ISI increased in Rajouri-Poonch, the arc of militancy was further extended to the Gool Gulabgarh area of Udhampur district, a Muslim-majority pocket south of the Pir Panjal, and strategically located between Doda and Rajouri districts. It was a clear game-plan to engulf the entire area adjacent to the valley and south of the Pir Panjal range, making it even more difficult for the Indian security forces to respond effectively to this pincer onslaught. However, before much damage could be done, the security forces in the Valley started tightening their grip over militant activities and succeeded in wresting the initiative during 1994. At the same time the Government of India also began hinting at elections in the State and the re-installation of a popular Government.
By the beginning of 1995, plans to conduct elections were unmistakably afoot. Since peaceful conditions and a blunting of the militants capacity for mischief were the most important pre-requisites for the elections, an all-out and concerted effort was launched in this direction. The sustained exertions of the security forces, state Police and the administration also had a salutary impact in the Rajouri-Poonch districts, and kept emerging trouble-makers effectively in check. Consequently, apart from minor and unrelated incidents, no major militancy-related problems were created in this area till the Parliamentary and State Assembly elections had been conducted in May and September 1996, respectively.
Before and during the Parliamentary and Assembly elections, Pakistan, since it had failed on the ground, stepped up its media efforts to the maximum in order to run down, denigrate and, if possible, subvert the electoral process in the State. The peaceful conduct of elections, coupled with the very enthusiastic response of the entire population of the state, thwarted all such efforts and gave an unambiguous message to Pakistan that the people of the state were fed up with the militancy and yearned for the return of normalcy. The clear victory of a single party, the National Conference, in all three regions of the state, further pre-empted the Pakistan propaganda machinerys efforts to label the new Government as not being truly representatives of the people of the state, especially the Kashmiris.
Having thus failed to disrupt or at least put a mark of doubt on the electoral process or the legitimacy of the democratically elected government, the next logical course for the ISI was to increase militant activity to the greatest extent possible in order to discredit the popular government. This they attempted in all militancy effected areas, but especially in the Rajouri-Poonch sector where such efforts met with greater success than ever before.
There were a number of reasons for their renewed exertions in this area where their operatives had failed earlier. Just after the elections, the thinning of security forces deployment, especially from the interior areas where these were deployed only for election duties, had taken place, leaving large gaps in the security cover. The successful conduct of elections had also given rise to an all-round euphoria, and there was a general relaxation, indeed, an air of complacency, everywhere. This was compounded by the reduced level of coordination between the civil administration and the security forces. Moreover, due to certain political and administrative developments, the polarisation between gujjars and non-gujjar muslims, as well as between gujjars themselves, had become sharper.
By the beginning of March 1997, the escalation in militancy-related activities in Rajouri-Poonch was visible, as a local daily from Jammu observed, "there are disturbing reports of accelerated militant activity in the border districts of Rajouri and Poonch. The fast developing situation in these districts has security and politico-economic dimensions."18
Two most disturbing developments took place in Rajouri during September 1997. In a significant departure from their usual hit-and-run tactics, in an emphatic display of defiance, the militants directly engaged with army positions around Thanamandi by occupying the heights of Rattan Pir hills. They used a wide range of arms, including mortars. It took the army seven days of sustained efforts to clear the area. In the resulting encounters over a score of militants were killed, while the army lost one Major, one JCO and a jawan.19 In another gruesome incident the militants struck in a big way in Swari village of Budhal tehsil of Rajouri, killing eight persons from the minority community, and wounding another four.
The activities of the militants showed a similar trend in Poonch as well. They were particularly active in the Surankote area, where foreign mercenaries specially targeted police stations, in addition to unarmed civilians, with increased intensity. By October-end, the General Officer-Commanding (GOC) of the Rajouri-Poonch sector told newspersons, "Pakistan has launched the third stage of Operation TOPAC the militants have fanned into the twin border districts. This exercise was aimed at increasing the domain of their operations "20
The IGP, Jammu, added further (in a press conference in January 1998), that the state police and security forces had killed 102 militants in the Rajouri-Poonch districts during 1997, out of 182 for the entire Jammu region, in 118 encounters. It was also highlighted that the encounters in Poonch increased to 65 as compared to 22 during 1996. A similar trend was noticeable in Rajouri. However, the IGP ascribed increased clashes with the militants to the initiative of the security forces and police. It was also disclosed that the government had sanctioned 1800 posts of Special Police Officers (SPOs) besides 480 ex-servicemen absorbed in the police in these districts.21
Despite the increased activity by the security forces and the local police, the trends in militancy did not significantly decelerate. The militants remained particularly active in the Surankote area of Poonch district and Budhal tehsil of Rajouri. The Union Home Minister has taken cognizance of the seriousness of the situation. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Defence, as well as the state government, have held a series of meetings to prepare and execute an action plan to effectively deal with militancy in the state. The stage appears to be set to initiate short- and long-term measures encompassing security, administrative, developmental and financial initiatives.
Pakistan supported militancy in the Rajouri-Poonch region, in conjunction with similar activities in the Valley and the Doda district, have, over the past decade, followed a cyclical pattern. In 1990 and 1991, the militants and their sponsors were effectively checkmated by a multi-pronged strategy sustained and coordinated by various organs of the government. However, the scourge could not be completely eradicated, and the dying embers of militancy have resurfaced time and again, till the latest and most serious conflagration that in early 1998. The state has taken longer than necessary to effectively respond to this new challenge posed to its authority by the militants. The earlier successes amply demonstrate that nothing short of a total and coordinated effort by all state and central agencies involved, can achieve the desired results. Appropriate changes in the administrative and the command and control structures must now be worked out and implemented.
The mood of the people, as has repeatedly been demonstrated over the last few years, is decidedly in favour of peace and a complete return of normalcy. The drive against the militants and anti national elements must now enter a decisive phase with bold and imaginative initiatives and countermeasures. We must strive to roll back and systematically destroy the forces that have been threatening the stability of the state and integrity of the nation. It is imperative that success is achieved early so as to enable the nationalist forces to completely reassert their efficacy and herald the end of the turmoil and the misery that has been inflicted upon the people of the state by the militants and their mentors across the border.
Notes & References
* Dr. Sudhir S. Bloeria, IAS, served as Special Commissioner, Rajouri & Poonch, between 1990 and 1992. He is presently Principal Secretary, Health & Medical Education, Government of J&K.