Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Chief Minister Omar Abdullah interacted with the media at the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia, New Delhi, on 20 May 2013. I pointed out a pattern of renewal of Paksponsored terrorism in JK since 2012 after two very successful tourist-filled summers and building up in preparation of 2014, when US would exit from Afghanistan. I also mentioned that Hafiz Saeed had issued a threat of stepping up terrorism in the valley and that threats and attacks on sarpanches had been stepped up. Mr. Abdullah out rightly denied my contention on both counts. He dismissed what I referred to as a build-up of cross-LoC as “seasonal” and said attacks on sarpanches were nothing new or worrisome.
While attacks on sarpanches began in 2012, on April 4, 2013, Lashkar e Taiyyaba (LeT) issued fresh threats to Panches and Sarpanches that they would face dire consequences if they did not resign from their posts. A brief look at Pak-sponsored terrorism in J&K in 2012 is relevant in this context. The build-up following the melting of snow and opening of mountain passes was that from 01May to 30 June 2012, there were 48 terrorist attacks/ceasefire violations. These were against Army, para-military forces, J&K police and civil populace. A number of Pakistani terrorist leaders were killed or captured and several Pakistani terrorist hideouts and arms and ammunition dumps were destroyed by Army and security forces (SFs). Some of the captured terrorists during interrogation admitted that the Inter Services Intelligence/directors/ handlers of terrorist groups had been quite frustrated about two highly successful tourist seasons and wanted that attacks in Kashmir Valley must be stepped up.
Simultaneously threats and attacks on sarpanches were begun as a fresh modus for creating fear psychosis. According to media reports, on May 10, 2012, SFs killed six militants and foiled a major infiltration bid near the LoC in Uri sector of Baramulla District. Militants used this route after a gap of two years. On May 12, Army neutralized a militant hideout in Dacchigam forests in Srinagar and recovered a cache of arms and ammunition. BSF foiled an infiltration attempt by the militants along the IB at New SP Khwara Post in Regal area between Samba and Hiranagar sector. On May 15, SFs neutralized a militant hideout in the Kainiyar forest, Anantnag District and recovered a huge cache of arms and ammunition. On May 16, SFs neutralized a hideout of the militants at village Batu, about eight kilometers from Banihal in Ramban District. Another militant hideout was neutralized and a huge cache of arms and ammunition recovered from it in Trehgam area of Kupwara District. On June 16, Police have cracked a major network of Hizbul Mujahedeen in the J&K Police Department with the arrest of four police constables. In early July 2012, Police had sealed the property of APHCG leader and chairman of People’s League, Ghulam Mohammad Khan Sopori, for funding the militancy through Hawala channels. The police are expected to seal property of few more persons allegedly involved in funding militancy in J&K. Police also neutralized a recruitment module of LeT and arrested seven militants from Sopore town and its adjoining areas in Baramulla District (Avtar Krishen, The Mandate, 19 Jul, 2012).
In 2013, the pattern and statistics of terrorist attacks and ceasefire violations has been: 20 in January, 24 in February, 29 in March, 28 in April, 27 in May-with 11 incidents on May 24 and 20 incidents in June. The major difference is that while what began last year was spread over the old/former terrorist strongholds like Kupwara, Sopore, Anantnag, Pulwama etc., this year Srinagar has been added to the list, the attacks being launched against state police and paramilitary forces-particularly CRPFare more daring/innovative. The network of cross-LoC directors /handlers and Kashmiri separatists/agents has also been strengthened.
These are sure indicators of renewed moral, material and monetary support for upping the ante in J&K. On March 14, 2013 two militants disguised as cricketers opened fire with automatic rifles on a CRPF base just outside the Srinagar, restive and under curfew since the last few weeks following protests and clashes with police. The terrorists were killed after they killed five CRPF personnel and wounded another five. On March 15, BJP state spokesperson Jitendra Singh said Pakistan National Assembly resolution, which condemned the execution of Parliament attacker/convict Afzal Guru and demanded the return of his body to his relatives, had exposed the dubious nexus between members of prominent political parties and Kashmiri separatists.
A day before the visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi, on June 25, eight soldiers were killed and 13 were injured, seven of them seriously, when two militants opened fire on an Army convoy on the outskirts of Srinagar. While the Kashmiri Hizbul Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the terror attack, central intelligence agencies reportedly believe that it acted on behalf of Pakistani LeT.
As in some cases in the past decades of Army fighting Pak-sponsored terror in J&K, positive fallouts of nine effective operations get severely marred by one going wrong. On June 30, in a cordon and search operation in Bandipore district, the army killed two local youth. Gulam Nabi Ganai, father of Irfan Ahmed, one of the slain youth, said “My son, thinking they could be cattle-lifters, raised an alarm. The soldiers alighted from their vehicle, first hit him with a lathi and then shot him twice in the head and leg,” he claimed. Later, when villagers protested and turned violent, soldiers opened fire again, killing another youth, identified as Irshad Ahmed Dar, reports said. Army said troops opened fire in self-defence as a mob tried to set an Army ambulance carrying doctors through the area on fire. While Army later deeply condoled the deaths, Maj. Gen. R.R. Nimbhorkar, GOC, Army’s Victor Force, told reporters, “We’ve ordered an investigation into the incident. I can assure you anybody found guilty in the incident will be punished.”
While Nawaz Sharif may well be trying to improve relations with India, both New Delhi and Srinagar will be well advised to take firm steps to prevent further step up of terrorism from Pakistan after exit of US troops from Afghanistan as planned by Pakistan’s military-mullah combo.