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Desperate Measures

Evidently, the anxiety within the establishment in Islamabad has been pushed to a new level, and the series of terror attacks just two days after the first round of polls only underlines it

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Desperate Measures
Desperate Measures

With major terrorist attacks intended to disrupt the electoral process in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), India accused Pakistan of "mainstreaming terrorism", even as the first two of five phases of the state assembly elections conducted on November 25 and November 30, 2014, registered record turn-outs of 71.28 and 72.1 per cents, respectively. Evidently, the anxiety within the establishment in Islamabad has been pushed to a new level, and terrorist groups operating in J&K, directly under the aegis of Pakistan's external intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), unleashed a series of attacks just two days after the first round of polls.

In the most recent of these attacks, on December 5, 2014, at least 21 persons, including 11 Security Forces (SF) personnel, eight terrorists and two civilians, were killed in four coordinated attacks carried out by terrorists who had been infiltrated from across the border. This was the highest fatality figure for a single day since May 23, 2004, when at least 30 persons, including 19 Border Security Force (BSF) personnel, six women and five children, were killed in an Improvised Explosive Device blast at Lower Munda, near Qazigund, on the Srinagar-Jammu highway.

In the first attack on December 5, a group of heavily armed terrorists carried out a suicide attack targeting the Army’s 31 Field Regiment Ordnance Camp located at Mohra, near the Line Control (LoC), in the Uri sector of Baramulla district. In the ensuing gunfight, which lasted over six hours, 11 SF personnel, including Lieutenant Colonel Sankalp Kumar, and six terrorists, were killed. Six AK rifles with 55 Magazines, two shotguns, two Night Vision Binoculars, four Radio Sets, 32 unused Grenades, one Medical Kit and a large quantity of miscellaneous warlike stores were recovered from the dead terrorists.

Later the same day, terrorists opened fire on a Police patrol in the Awanta Bhawan area under Soura Police Station on the outskirts of Srinagar city. The Policemen returned fire, killing one of the terrorists on the spot while another, who took shelter in a shed, was neutralized subsequently. One of the dead was identified as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) 'district commander' Qari Asrar. Arms and ammunition, including two AK rifles and seven magazines and hand grenades were recovered from the encounter site.

In another incident, two civilians were killed and another 11 were injured in the Tral area of Pulwama district, when terrorists lobbed a grenade near a bus stand. Terrorists also hurled a grenade at a Police Station in Shopian district, though it failed to hit the intended target, and there were no casualties.

Earlier, on November 27, 2014, terrorists who had reportedly been infiltrated across the border under covering fire by Pakistani Rangers, in violation of the Ceasefire Agreement, carried out a suicide attack targeting an Army Base Camp in the Arnia sector of Jammu district, killing five civilians and three SF personnel. The four attackers were also killed.

Since November 25, 2014, a total of 41 persons, including 15 SF personnel, eight civilians and 18 terrorists, have been killed, and another 15 persons injured, in eleven terrorism-related incidents across the State. More worryingly, two of these incidents were suicide attacks, which had become rare in J&K.

Referring to the suicide attack at the Army Camp in Uri, General Officer Commanding of the Army’s 15 Corps, Lieutenant General Subrata Saha observed, “(Either side of) the road between Baramulla and Uri is densely populated now. The aim must have been to come and strike at civilian targets to cause fear and disrupt the peaceful conditions ahead of the polls.” Uri is going to polls in the third phase of elections on December 9.

Significantly, according to the union ministry of home affairs (UMHA), at least 130 infiltration attempts had been made from the Pakistani side till October 2014, and of these 45 have occurred in the preceding three months alone. Similarly, a total of 545 incidents of CFA violation along the LoC and International Border were reported till November 25. Of these, 424 incidents of CFA were reported between August and November 2014 (till November 17). According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), while at least six infiltration attempts have been reported since November 1, 2014, at least two CFA violations have been recorded since November 26, 2014, (data till December 7, 2014).

Meanwhile, in another manifestation of Islamabad's direct involvement in promoting terrorism, the founder of banned LeT and chief of Jamma't-ud-Dawa (JuD) Hafeez Mohammad Seed, a United Nations-designated terrorist, and the prime accused in the November 26, 2008, Mumbai terrorist attacks (also known as 26/11) was provided state facilities to organize a two day (December 4-5, 2014) “National Conference” on the theme, “Pakistan’s liberty lies in the ideology of Pakistan”, in Lahore. Interestingly, Pakistan Railways operated trains from Hyderabad and Karachi to bring people to Lahore and the Railways spokesperson argued that "there had been a uniform policy to run special trains on the request of political and religious parties". Reaffirming strong support for Islamist extremists across the Pakistani political spectrum, both the government and opposition parties extended their 'full support' for the success of the "conference". Unsurprisingly, Imran Khan's Pakistan Tahreek-i-Insaf (PTI) postponed its call to blockade Lahore on December 4 on the "request" of the JuD leadership.

And this is what the head of "religious and political" party, JuD, Saeed stated during the "conference":

Acting on the Quran, it is obligatory on all of us to help Kashmiris in their struggle to get freedom from India. Those who had performed jihad against Russia should go to Kashmir and help the Kashmiris. Gone are the days when Mujahideen were declared terrorists and sanctions were imposed. Now jihad has entered the second phase (in Kashmir). To deal with the Indian atrocities we will have to adopt the course of Ghaznavi and Ghauri... Narendra Modi should be straightforward and resolve the Kashmir dispute, and if you are not ready to resolve it, then God willing, Kashmir will be the gateway and we will Jihad against India…

He later tweeted, “Ghazwae Hind is inevitable, Kashmir will be freed, 1971 will be avenged and Ahmedabad Gujarat victims will get justice, Insha Allah.” [His Twitter account was finally suspended today, though another one seems to have been made -- Ed]

India reacted strongly, but characteristically ineffectively, against the episode. Indian government spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin declared,

“This was an event at a national monument in Pakistan, with Police deployed for security, and advertised all across Pakistan. The rally was held by an organization that has been banned not only by India, but also the U.S., U.K, Australia and under the U.N. resolution 1267. Extending these sort of facilities to a designated terror entity including providing train services, is nothing short of mainstreaming terrorism.”

Such 'strong reactions' are an established ritual in New Delhi. Nevertheless, the government has also announced its intentions to strengthen the security grid across the LoC and International Border, as well as within the state, to counter the current and frantic thrust from across the border. It will be a test of the centre's will and ability to see whether these measures can be implemented within the immediate context of the remaining phases of Assembly Elections, or whether they will have to wait for a longer term for effective implementation.

Ajit Kumar Singh is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy: the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal

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