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J&K: Steady Escalation

J&K: Steady Escalation

Sanchita Bhattacharya | 06 Apr 2015, 10:08 pm
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management On March 21, 2015, two terrorists dressed in Indian Army fatigue were killed during an attack at an Army camp on the Jammu-Pathankote National Highway in the Samba District of Jammu Division. Three persons, including a civilian, an Army Major and an Army jawan (trooper), were injured during the attack.

Just a day earlier, on March 20, a fidayeen (suicide) squad of terrorists in Army fatigues stormed a Police Station in the Kathua District of Jammu Division, resulting in the death of six persons, including three Security Force (SF) personnel, two civilians and two terrorists. 12 persons were injured in the attack, including eight Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, three Policemen and a civilian. Two AK-47 rifles with 21 magazines and 156 rounds, 19 live grenades, two wire cutters, two pistols and 61 rounds, were recovered from the possession of the slain attackers.

On November 27-28, 2014, 12 persons, including five civilians, three Army soldiers and four members of a terrorist suicide squad, were killed in an encounter at border village of Kathaar in the Arnia Sector, close to the International Border (IB) in the Jammu District.

According to reports the attackers had infiltrated from across the border just before carrying out the attacks on all the three occasions.

According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 91 persons, including 23 civilians, 27 SF personnel and 41 terrorists, have been killed in seven Districts of the Jammu Division of the State since 2012 (data till April 2, 2015). These Districts included Jammu, Kathua, Kishtwar, Poonch, Rajouri, Ramban and Samba. The total number of fatalities across J&K during this period stands at 521. In the current year, 2015, 30 people have been killed in J&K, including two civilians, six SF personnel and 22 terrorists. In the Jammu Division alone, eight persons have been killed in 2015, including two civilians, three SF personnel and three terrorists. J&K is administratively divided into three parts - Jammu Division, with 10 Districts; Kashmir Division (also known as the Valley), accounting for another 10 Districts; and Ladakh Division, with two Districts.

Significantly, according to the State Home Ministry, by the end of 2011, at least seven Districts in the State had been declared completely free of militancy. These included five in the Jammu Division - Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Reasi and Doda; and Leh and Kargil in the Ladakh Division, which had never seen significant terrorism. Another five Districts in the Jammu Division - Kishtwar, Ramban, Poonch, Rajouri and Udhampur - had reported terrorism-related incidents 'in single digits'.

Buoyed by this success, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) had asked the State Government, in January 2012, to take measures to free more Districts from militancy. Regrettably, however, current trends suggest, the opposite has happened.

Meanwhile, as reported on March 29, 2015, the Border Security Force (BSF) has submitted a report to UMHA stating that terrorist launch pads have been activated within three kilometers from the Jammu border. Bada Bhai Masroor, Abhial Dogra, Sukhmal and Charkbhura in the Narowal District and Chaprar in the Sialkot District of the Punjab Province in Pakistan, close to the Jammu border, have been identified as the launch pads that are being controlled by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Terrorists who have undergone training in camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) have been brought to these forward areas and are on standby to strike at short notice.

Moreover, according to an April 1, 2015, report, the Intelligence Bureau has warned that at least six terrorist outfits, including Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), LeT, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), Tahreek-e-Jehad (Movement for Holy War), Al Badar and another unnamed terror outfit, backed by Pakistan, are on standby mode, waiting to launch attacks, primarily in Jammu Division. According to the report, the militants are planning attacks on security installations inside Rajouri and Poonch Districts.

A design to widen the arc of terror appears to be crystallizing. Indeed, as a result of the active domination of the Line of Control (LoC) by the Indian Army, routes along the IB are now being activated for infiltration by the Pakistan Army and its spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). According to SATP data available since March 1, 2000, though there were no infiltration related incidents along the IB till May 9, 2008, at least 40 such incidents have been recorded thereafter (data till April 2, 2015).

Moreover, intelligence reports indicate that the heavy shelling by the Pakistani side along the IB in recent past was being carried out to support terrorist infiltration bids. According to a March 29, 2015, report, an unnamed BSF officer observed, "Low-scale firing across the border has been going on almost every day for the past few months. There has been a pattern. When there is heavy shelling in an area, apparently to divert our attention, it is noticed that infiltration is being planned from an adjoining area." Arnia, Paharpur, Samba, Kathua and Akhnoor in Jammu have been the vulnerable spots in the terror groups' plans to infiltrate into the Indian side.

Talking about ceasefire violations, Army Chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag noted, on January 13, 2015, that the action has slowly moved to the IB from the LoC: "That is probably, likely to be because our counter infiltration grid is stronger on LoC." Partial data compiled by SATP confirms the trend: out of 42 incidents of ceasefire violation reported in 2015, 41 were recorded along the IB. In fact, incidents of Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) violations at the IB have been on constant increase since 2009, except for year 2011. According to SATP's partial data, the number of CFA violations along the IB stood at 7 in 2009, 26 in 2010, 11 in 2011, 23 in 2012, 24 in 2013 and 38 in 2014.

These trends also coincide with a recent escalation in terrorist violence in the State. It is significant that terrorist violence in J&K dropped consistently and dramatically from a peak in 2001, when 4,507 fatalities were recorded, to just 117 fatalities in 2012. 2013 and 2014, however, have registered a spike, with 181 and 193 fatalities, respectively.

Recognizing the rising threat of terrorism and Pakistan-backed infiltration, the Centre has reportedly released INR 100 million as the first installment for land acquisition and construction of a protective shield all along the 198 kilometer-long IB in the Jammu region to save civilians from firing by the Pakistani Rangers and to curb infiltration by terrorists from across the border. UMHA has assured the State Government that the funds would be no problem as the proposed defences would not only check infiltration of militants but also serve as protective shield for the civilians from small arms' fire, though not from mortars and rocket launchers.

The most recent attack in the Kathua-Samba sector demands a review of existing security procedures and Force responsibility. The IB and the LoC have very different security topographies and related intelligence grids. While a determined group of terrorists from across the border could breach the IB in a matter of a few hours, a similar action across the more heavily defended LoC could take as many days. Improving the cordon along the IB must, consequently, rank high in any holistic security review that Delhi and Srinagar may undertake.

On March 22, 2015, the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Home Ministry advised that, while various aspects of terrorism in J&K have been well documented, all these facts should still be brought out in the form of a White Paper as part of a single document for public information - and hopefully, an objective debate in the legislature. India's J&K policy has long been hobbled by incoherence and drift, and a focused effort to bring it in line with a consistent and clearly articulated strategy is now an imperative. The relative decline in violence since the peak of 2001 and the political mandate that high participation rates in the Assembly elections of November-December 2014 provide a window of opportunity to secure the necessary clarity of strategy and response, and it would be an unforgivable failure on the part of the Government if this is not capitalized on.

J&K: Steady Escalation

Sanchita Bhattacharya
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