J&K Focus

Burhan Wani and a State on Tenterhooks

11 Jul, 2016    ·   5078

Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain reflects on developments in the Valley and the emerging challenges for the security forces

That the summer of 2016 in the Valley would be ‘hot’ was well predicted a couple of months ago. It is not an unusual phenomenon - only the nature of events is different, year on year. This season commenced with the Handwara incident even before the Durbar (seat of Government) moved into the Valley. It was an event triggered to probably test the waters. Alienation is high in Handwara and it is also characterised by the frequent counter-terrorist operations in the nearby forested tracts, which act as reception areas for infiltration.

The quantum of infiltration attempts has reportedly been higher this year. An explanation for this is simple. There is a dire need to fill the hinterland with trained foreign (Pakistani) terrorists to allow the flagging militancy to resurge. With the internal security situation in Pakistan showing a degree of improvement, the Pakistani Deep State is once again returning its attention towards the friendly terror groups so that lost ground in Kashmir is regained. North Kashmir has since been quiet except a brief encounter in Sopore. The 30-40 km belt from the LoC has seen some major successes in counter infiltration operations; marked ones being in Lolab, Rajwar, Tangdhar, Uri and Tut Mari Gali. Yet, for all the successes, there is an old formula that grants infiltrators a couple of their own successes. It means that there are some new entrants in the Valley, although not too many. Another observation for the Army is the increasing number of encounters at the second tier of the counter infiltration grid; this is the LoC fence failing in its intent.

Away from counter infiltration and the LoC, which has been rather quiet this year, it is the softer targets that have been at the receiving end. Traffic policemen in Srinagar city and Central Armed Police Forces’ convoys, with troop carrying buses, have borne the brunt on the National Highway (NH). Through 2016, Pampore and Bijbehara, two prominent towns in South Kashmir with a history of militancy, have become the nerve centres where the police convoys have been targeted. The simple deduction from this is that the directors are doing some smart thinking across the LoC in the identification of potential targets. Since the terror groups lack striking power against stronger targets, the soft elements are being hit.

The Road Opening Procedure (ROP) is under intense scrutiny after many years as the security forces are increasingly finding chinks in their coordination. ROP is the most predictable and repetitive drill undertaken in such operations, which makes it the easiest to target. It should actually have the most robust focus but is the least dramatic of operations. Unfortunately, most forces take it less seriously. The Pampore ambush on 25 Jun 2016, which saw the unfortunate death of eight CRPF policemen, has refocused attention on SOPs that tend to go askew as the strength of terrorists reduces. In fact the degree of difficulty in the conduct of operations increases manifold with this phenomenon.

The most important success of the current year came on 8 July 2016 with the killing of Burhan Wani, described by the media as the poster boy of militancy in Kashmir. Over the last five years, this 22-year old terrorist led a 60-70 strong group of young and mostly educated young Kashmiris from South Kashmir in a purely homegrown resistance, with the help of social media and some bold messaging to attract the attention of Kashmiri youth. He assisted in promoting the growing alienation in Kashmir especially among the younger generation.

Although the killing of Burhan Wani deserves a commentary of its own, it may be appropriate to give attention to just two issues. First, the streets of Kashmir will burn in the aftermath of the event. Whatever it is, the Army and the Police have the experience to ensure that they do not come under the pressure of rabble-rousers who only view solutions through the kinetic route. There is a need to exercise maximum restraint even though there will be grave provocations. A repeat of 2010 - when 117 young people were shot dead in street protests - needs to be completely avoided. The state Government will find itself in a situation of grave challenge and under criticism in any approach it adopts. Political unity to overcome this challenge is necessary but unlikely to be achieved. However, the watchword should be de-escalation, and not more provocation.

Second, the need for appropriate outreach to the people, especially the youth, cannot be over-emphasised. For this, themes, and people who understand the subtlety of information and communication strategy, are necessary. This aspect has been the nation’s greatest weakness because except the Army no other entity treats the problem in J&K as a conflict. The moment organisations start treating it as such, every element of the conflict spectrum will be realised. It is then that ‘Information Operations’ as a subset of low intensity conflict will become a part of the strategy. A few good men and women, intellectual and involved with worldly ways, need to persist with this message to the governments at the central and the state levels. Without the non-kinetic element of conflict, moving towards a stable Kashmir appears nowhere on the horizon.