The security forces and intelligence agencies led by the Indian Army have turned the tide and have neutralised over 190 terrorists this summer in Jammu and Kashmir. Only 200 are remaining. The previous year after the killing of Burhan Wani, the young Hizbul Mujahideen leader; the civil unrest and stone throwing that followed put the security forces on the back foot. The general mood in the valley was of defiance. As the infiltration season started in March -April this year, the Army changed tag and pointed information based operations were carried out to check infiltration as also new recruitment from within the valley.
Taking advantage of the uprising and dissatisfaction amongst the population, Pakistan had given a fillip to the diminishing proxy war and levels of militancy. They upped the ante by increasing the number of infiltration attempts; thereby wanting this summer to be the tipping point for the insurgency to once again spread in all the regions and get out of control for the Indian security forces. Fortunately, the government and the army Chief took a firm stand and without mincing words, recommenced search and destroy and cordon and search operations.
Three decades back after the alleged rigging of assembly elections in J&K, a coalition government of National Conference and Congress took office in 1987. The large scale dissatisfaction amongst masses gave an opportunity to Pakistan to exploit the situation. Pakistan started training Kashmiri youth in addition to fermenting trouble in Afghanistan and Punjab. Operation Topac was unfolded by Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan on orders of President Zia-ul-Haq.
Punjab was already burning in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar and President Zia had the last laugh when the Indian Army got embroiled in Sri Lanka as President Jayawardene, a seasoned politician had the better of the young and naive Rajiv Gandhi in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. The Indian Army went in as a disarmament and peacekeeping force but soon became a peace making force in Operation Pawan in a bloody battle with LTTE and other Tamil groups. Zia’s vision of bleeding India with thousand cuts was beginning to take shape. The Indian Army was fully stretched in the northern and north eastern states in addition to four divisions deployed in Operation Pawan.
By 1989, huge groups of 25 to 30 Kashmiri militants each returning from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) after being trained by Pakistan Army were intercepted and neutralised by the units of Indian Army at the Line of Control (LC). The insurgency had erupted in the border state and reached a peak between 1994 and 1996 when as per various intelligence agencies, 10,000 militants were present in the state. Pakistan had over 110 training camps out of which 75 to 80 were in POK and rest in the hinterland. The launch pads were astride the defences of Pak Rangers and Pakistanis resorted to heavy firing on the Indian posts to keep our heads down, in a bid to assist the terrorists to infiltrate undetected.
Hizbul Mujahideen was the major local group but slowly the foreign terrorists from Afghanistan and Pakistan started coming in larger numbers and Lashkar-e- Taiba (LeT) became the most potent group with sixty percent foreign content in 1994. In all, 30 major and minor groups were operating during the peak years. The Disturbed Area Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) were initially applied to all the six districts of the valley and Poonch and Rajauri districts of Jammu Region upto a belt of 20 Kilometres from the LC. The discredited state assembly was dissolved and the President rule was established in 1990.
The Indian Army had around a peak 50 battalions deployed in the valley during the summer months by pooling in battalions from the reserve formations. The Rashtriya Rifles (RR) battalions, a brain child of Gen Bipin Joshi, were raised in record time and went up from initial 06 battalions to 36 battalions in two years. Their manpower was pooled in from existing units of all arms and services of the army with majority coming from the infantry. In Military Operations Directorate, we were closely monitoring the raising and training of RR battalions those days. These RR battalions were baptised and came of age within three years. Militancy was brought under manageable limits and assembly elections were held in 1996 bringing Farook Abdulla and his National Conference party to power.
Within the next three years the situation deteriorated again and the insurgency peaked for the second time between 1998 and 2002 when the entire Jammu Region was also activated by Pakistan and the AFSPA was applied across the state. By 2003, the Indian Army got its act together and an anti infiltration fence with state of the art surveillance system was erected by the army engineered in the tough and torturous terrain along the entire stretch of 740 kilometres. The infiltration was largely checked and some groups that were successful in cutting the fence and moving to the hinterland were intercepted and annihilated in the second and third tier of deployment of troops. By 2007-08, the infiltration came down to a trickle. The residual number of terrorists in the valley were approximately 1500 whereas South of Pir Panjal they were assessed to be less than 500. Pakistan Army got worried and when the land was allotted to Amarnath Yatra Board, Pakistan got an excuse to start the civil disobedience movement and it was termed as a hot summer. The successive summers were also hot with very little infiltration taking place but the population remaining disillusioned.
The coming to power of another coalition government headed by PDP and BJP in 2014 was seen as intrusion and gauged with suspicion giving Pakistan to again stoke unrest amongst the population. What was achieved by security forces in two decades was lost in three years. The Indian government ignored the state for over nearly three years and made no overtures to restart the peace process. In order to attract attention, the Pakistan sponsored separatists coaxed and exhorted the population to continue with civil defiance and disobedience and encouraged paid stone throwing and defaming campaign against the security forces.
The rounding off of the separatists, exposure of their clandestine links with Pakistan and plugging the prevalent money laundering was a step in the right direction and showed the resolve of the government finally to normalise the situation. Recent overtures by government to recommence talks with separatist goes in concert with the no nonsense all out anti- terrorist operations being carried out by army, para military forces and central police organisations in concert with intelligence agencies. After the initial successes in the operations in a telephonic conversation with the Chief of the Army Staff, when asked what direction should be taken, the author confirmed that this summer was the summer of decision and Pakistan would do everything to revive the insurgency and spread it all over the state. Therefore, Army must continue relentlessly to defeat the evil design of the adversary.
The raison d’être of the Pakistan Army is to retain the anti India bogey and that can only be achieved by keeping the Kashmir issue alive. This is the only approach by which Pakistani Army can retain its position of pre-eminence over the civilian government. If the bluff is called off by a resolute Indian stance, the Pakistan Army which is conventionally no match for the Indian Army anymore, will lose it relevance in its own society. It is heartening to see some recently recruited youth shunning the gun culture and returning to mainstream to pursue their higher studies and careers. The central government will do well to channel the energy of the youth into more positive avenues.