Chief Minster Omar Abdullah on March 2, 2010, described 2009 as the "most peaceful year" over 20 years of turmoil in the state. While trends in terrorist incidents and fatalities continue to decline, the spurt in street violence over the past nearly two-and-a-half months has created a new spectre of widening disruption in several parts of the Valley. Political temperatures and administrative concerns have spiralled with the disorders, though the situation is far from being nearly as desperate as is sometimes painted to be. Contrary to popular perceptions, coloured by hysterical media reportage, only small parts of the Valley – itself a fraction of the state – have been engulfed by violence, much of which is meticulously stage-managed.
As many 60 protesters have been killed by the security forces (SFs) in 72-days of street violence since June 11, 2010. If these killings are mapped across the Kashmir Valley, it is seen that, deaths have been reported from seven out of 10 districts, and four – Baramulla (17 killed), Srinagar (15), Anantnag (11) and Pulwama (11) - have reported fatalities in double digits. The other districts from where deaths have been reported include Kulgam (3), Kupwara (2) and Bandipora (1). More importantly, Shopian, Ganderbal and Budgam districts recorded no deaths, though there were reports of sporadic violence in these areas as well. A total of 872 stone-pelting incidents have been recorded in June and July and 1,266 SF personnel have been injured in these two months alone.
Nevertheless, the widespread impression that the present disturbances represent a popular uprising, or that ‘things are worse than they were in the early 1990s’ is utterly misconceived. The troubles have largely been orchestrated within a minuscule segment of the population, in small areas of the Valley, and the disruption caused is principally a measure of the incompetence of administrative response, rather than of any irresistible upsurge of popular sentiment. The timetables of the stone pelting campaigns have been defined by separatists, in the main led by the Hurriyat Conference – Geelani (G) chairman Syed Ahmed Shah Geelani, backed by Pakistan and its proxy militant groupings in Kashmir. Intelligence available on the profiles of protesters suggests that they include a large number of ‘seasoned campaigners’, provocateurs who have taken up stone pelting as a lucrative business. In an interview in April 2010, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah thus stated, "The industry of stone pelting is very much in our radar. We have in fact been able to identify to a couple of big business houses, one in particular who has used to his network of dealers to route the money through."
The present cycle of violence escalated with the killing of Tufail Ahmad Mattoo in Police firing in Srinagar’s Rajouri Kadal area on June 11. This followed violent street protests in Srinagar and adjoining areas. The street violence gained tempo followed the killing of Javed Ahmad Malla on June 20. Thereafter, a self-perpetuating cycle of street violence, followed by Police firing, has kept things on a boil. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram informed the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) on August 4,
Beginning June 11, 2010, there has been a cycle of violence threatening law and order and public peace. The violence in the State has followed a certain pattern. Usually, the violence is triggered by stone pelting by large crowds and their targets of attack are police stations, police outposts and other public property. There have been instances where the security forces have been fired upon by someone in the protesting crowds. There is reliable intelligence that some armed militants may have mingled with the crowds and fired at the security forces.
The orchestration of the disorders has been systematic. When the street rage began to peter out in Srinagar in the last week of June, demonstrations erupted in Sopore in Baramulla district. This was far from coincidental, since Sopore has emerged as a significant hub of terrorism and subversion in the state. On March 2, 2010, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had noted,
"Militants are grouping in the Sopore area and Kulgam district. These areas are a challenge for us on the militancy front. We are taking extra measures to deal with the militants there."
Subsequently, on Jun 30, 2010, Chidambaram observed,
"Anti-national elements are clearly linked to LeT (Lashkar-e-Toiba) which is active in the Sopore area."
Government sources argue that the latest strategy of Pakistan's external intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), and the LeT, is to combine renewed infiltration attempts by heavily-armed militants with escalating civil unrest, to ensure that Kashmir remains in a state of chaos, despite the loss of tempo on the terrorism front.
Troop cuts, long pushed by an uncomprehending ‘peace lobby’, both domestic and international, and by aggressive Pakistani diplomacy, have an adverse impact on the security scenario in the state. A confidential report by the J&K Police blamed the resurgence of militancy in Sopore on troop ‘relocation’. On March 17, Chief Minister Abdullah had boasted, "Without creating any hype we have reduced 35,000 troops and also decreased the number of Central Paramilitary Forces [CPMFs] from internal duty."
The quantum of troop reduction in Sopore is not clear, but it is evident that it has facilitated militant regrouping and contributed significantly to a worsening of the situation. There is significant and cumulative evidence that the current cycle of protests is being backed, if not stage managed by the armed militants. Conspicuously, on March 10, Director General of Police (DGP) Kuldeep Khoda observed, "This (stone pelting) helps militants to move from one place to another. This leaves less chance of ultras [terrorists] getting detected."
Infiltration trends, meanwhile, suggest worrying times ahead. Infiltration attempts across the Line of Control (LoC) show no signs of abating and have, indeed, registered a significant jump. As many as 740 militants have tried to sneak into J&K over the last 18 months. Defence Minister A. K. Antony told the Lok Sabha on July 27, "In 2009, 485 terrorists had attempted to infiltrate into J&K. This year, from January to June, a total of 255 terrorists have attempted to infiltrate.''
More worryingly, these attempts are being regularly aided by cease-fire violations across the LoC by the Pakistan Army [the Indo-Pak cease-fire agreement was signed in 2003]. In the latest of a series of such violations, the Pakistani Army directed mortar and rocket fire at Indian positions on the LoC at Nangi Tekri in Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch district on August 19. Feeding the infiltration are 34 'active' and eight 'holding' terror-training camps that remain operational across the border. According to government estimates, there are some 371 foreign militants affiliated to foreign terrorist organisations in the Valley.
Despite dramatic and continuous declines in fatalities since their peak in 2001, terrorism related violence remains significant in the state. There have been 168 killings in 2010, till June 30, according to the MHA, including 114 militants, 34 SF personnel and 20 civilians, in 254 incidents. The South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) data put the death toll at 250 comprising of 166 militants, 55 SFs and 29 civilians upto August 22.
It is evident that present conditions are far from favourable for any dilution on the security front. The union government has already shelved plans for further troop cuts and has, instead, sent in an additional 19 companies of Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs) to the Valley. 32 companies (3,200 personnel) of CPMFs currently posted in different parts of J&K are also being redeployed to the trouble-torn districts of Kashmir. Despite a strident campaign for the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958, the centre has now made it clear that the demand cannot be considered, though there has been some talk of a ‘dilution’ of the act to accommodate specific ‘concerns’. The AFSPA was extended to J&K in 1990, after militancy gained ground in the State, and currently covers its entire territory, with the exception of Kargil and Ladakh. The Act confers powers and legal safeguards on the Army to undertake counter-terrorism operations.
With the cycles of street violence showing no signs of abating, the Centre has come up with a knee jerk offer of a ‘political and economic package’. On August 10, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared,
I am convinced that the only way forward in Jammu and Kashmir is along the path of dialogue and reconciliation. But I recognize that the key to the problem is a political solution that addresses the alienation and emotional needs of the people. This can only be achieved through a sustained internal and external dialogue. We are ready for this. We are willing to discuss all issues within the bounds of our democratic processes and framework. We must promote economic activity and create opportunities for employment. We must build physical and human resource infrastructure.
Earlier, on August 2, Chief Minister Abdullah had stated, at some variance with the Prime Minister’s perspectives,
Jammu and Kashmir is a political situation. It needs political handling. It requires a political package more than an economic package. By political package, I mean dealing with issues like Armed Forces Special Powers Act, footprint of the security forces, rehabilitation package for youngsters who are across the Line of Control and compensation for victims of the ongoing trouble.
There is, clearly, substantial evidence of policy confusion in Kashmir, and this is infinitely compounded by the infirmity of the Abdullah regime in the State. By most assessments, there is endemic administrative collapse in the State Government, and little sign that the leadership has the capacity or acumen to deal with the present and rising crisis with a modicum of competence. The rudiments of crowd control and of the handling of fairly small groups of protesters without the use of lethal force, continue to be ignored, even as every incident of Police firing feeds the street frenzy even further. The crisis of Kashmir is a crisis, not of politics or of economics, but, simply, of competence.
Ajit Kumar Singh is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy: the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal