Portents of a Troubled Summer

  • Shabir Ibn Yusuf
  • Publish Date: May 6 2017 2:07AM
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  • Updated Date: May 6 2017 2:07AM
Portents of a Troubled Summer

                                                  File Photo: Aman Farooq/KI

Incessant protests and escalating militant violence suggest a difficult time ahead for the security establishment. Is a repeat of 2016 on the cards?

 

The escalating violence over the past three months indicates that this summer in Kashmir will be another challenge for the Indian security establishment. There’s even a possibility of a prolonged agitation like the one that followed Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s killing last July.

Police records show that at least 20 civilian lives have been lost in various incidents since February. And as encounters and protests continue, there’s every likelihood of the toll rising. 

Worryingly for the security establishment, it’s struggling to figure out how to contain the situation and keep it from spiraling out of control. “The law and order situation during encounters is one of the major challenges that we have been grappling with for at least a year now,” said a police official who is involved in anti-militancy operations in the countryside. “There have civilian killing during encounters, and there is heightened resentment and anger.”

The official admitted that the “measures” taken by the government forces to prevent such incidents have not yielded the desired result. “The killing of three civilians in Chadoora area of Budgam, followed by the deaths on byelection day can be used to gauge the success of our measures,” he added candidly.

The police, he pointed out, have issued an advisory asking people living within two kilometers of an encounter site to stay indoors. “Despite that people come out, and even attempt to help the trapped militant escape. This has become a major challenge for the security forces and sometimes leads to causalities,” he said.

The other related challenge, the senior official said, is that protests and stone-pelting have become the order of the day. “For a common man, it is hard to understand the intensity of stone-throwing that has engulfed the whole valley,” he said, adding that the police initially believed it would abate after a time. “But an end to stone-pelting is nowhere in sight.”

As soon as they “tame” one stone-pelting group, the official said, “another one emerges”. “This challenge persists since 2010.”

Then, there is the armed insurgency. “Since local boys are joining militant ranks, they get support from people and operation against them is a challenge,” said another senior police official. “Now, even sending out a patrol in militancy-affected areas has become somewhat of a Herculean task. And gathering intelligence is hardly possible given the local element.”

The army is apprehensive that as snow melts along the mountain ridges and infiltration become easier, Kashmir could see its deadliest summer. “At least 25 militants have escaped the army’s dragnet during a dozen or so anti-militant operations over the last one year because of direct interference from stone-pelting people,” a top army official of the Udhampur-based Northern Command told Kashmir Ink.

Pointing out that two encounters have already taken place in frontier areas, the officer said, “It means that even despite the heavy snowfall this winter militants infiltrated.”

The army and the Border Security Force have enhanced vigil along the border, the officer said, because Pakistani soldiers have already started incessant mortar shelling to facilitate infiltration. As of now, the officer said, the security establishment is battling at least 174 active militants in different parts of the valley.

The officer did not hesitate to admit that the separatists continue to wield influence on militancy, if indirectly. Any call for shutdown or protest programme issued by the separatist leadership, the officer said, “has an impact on gathering human intelligence in many ways.”

Further, the officer said, given the alacrity with which militants have carried out attacks against the security forces over the last six months, the Amarnath Yatra, which begins July 2, will be a security challenge.

There has been no “open threat” to the yatra so far, he added, but security of the pilgrimage remains a concern. “We cannot take any chances,” he said. 

“The highway has been a target and pilgrims have travel on it,” the officer added, pointing out that attacks along highway such as that on the Entrepreneurship Development Institute near Pampore last year “can make things very difficult for the pilgrims”.