Soldiers Killed, Locals Tortured: This Cycle of Violence Won’t End Terror in J&K

Both the Army and the residents of Bafliaz and Topa Pir villages in Poonch are counting and mourning their dead.

4 min read

On 21 December 2023, five Indian Army soldiers were killed by terrorists in Poonch, in a road ambush. Just a month earlier, five soldiers were similarly killed in neighbouring Rajouri.

On 22 December, reports came in about three local residents having died in army custody. They had been picked up for questioning earlier in the day. Videos that have gone viral suggest they were allegedly tortured to death – kicked and beaten with rods, with chili powder rubbed into their wounds.

Somewhere in Pakistan, the terrorist ‘puppet masters’ are smiling. Yet again, they have succeeded in rekindling hostility between the Indian Army and the local population of Jammu and Kashmir.


Both the Army and the Civilian Population are Suffering

Both the Indian Army and the residents of Bafliaz and Topa Pir villages in Poonch are counting and mourning their dead.

Safeer Hussain, 45, is one of the men who died in army custody. His elder brother Noor Ahmad is a BSF Head Constable. He told The Quint that residents of Topa Pir had supported the Army, even when militancy was at its peak 25 years ago. Even today, most residents work as army porters along with tending their goat herds, high up in the Pir Panjal mountains. Naturally, there is a lot of anger among the residents, and fear as well.

As these remote mountains also offer Pakistan-backed terror groups ideal hide-outs, the Indian Army has a strong presence here. Intense encounters, ambushes, and exchange of fire are frequent. Residents of villages like Topa Pir and Bafliaz are often caught in the crossfire.

Both sides, at times, suspect locals of being ‘informants’, and providing other logistical support. Such support, if provided, is often known to happen under duress. Over the decades, human rights groups in Jammu and Kashmir have pointed out how the civil population lives between a rock and a hard place.

The Army too, has lost many soldiers fighting terror. Specially in Poonch-Rajouri in 2023. Since October 2021, 29 security personnel have been killed in just these two border districts, along with nince civilians. In contrast, eight terrorists have died. So, it has clearly been a tough battle of attrition, with the security forces coming off worse in these districts.


Ending Terrorism Requires a Political Solution

But is terrorism just the Army’s problem? No, it’s a political problem. The Government claimed in 2019, and several times later as well, that the scrapping of Article 370 would end militancy. But, quite evidently, it has not.

Statistics show a very tenuous link between deaths due to militancy and the abrogation of Article 370. Yes, after 2019, the number of deaths linked to insurgency dropped from 452 in 2018, to 253 in 2022. But this statistic had dropped even lower in 2012, to just 121, when Article 370 was very much in place. So, how does that figure?

The fact is that scrapping Article 370 was a long-standing political promise, which the BJP implemented in 2019, but the government should not fall for its own rhetoric that it was the cure to all of Jammu and Kashmir’s long-standing issues. Scrapping Article 370 has gone down well with BJP supporters across other Indian states, and may have earned them new voters too, as the party that ‘walks the tough talk’ on Kashmir.

But while BJP leaders could talk about Article 370 in their 2024 election speeches, they would know that ending militancy in J&K is a far more complex challenge. For instance, it involves international diplomacy and track II (backchannel) talks with Pakistan – repeatedly providing evidence of Pakistan’s involvement, getting key countries like the US to designate more India-facing insurgent groups as ‘terrorist groups’. This would allow more international cooperation in restricting the movements of key terror group leaders, and also to target terror-funding.


Curbing Militancy: What Must Be Done?

And that’s not all. Curbing militancy also involves politically isolating separatist leaders in Kashmir from mainstream political groups. It involves rebuilding the trust that’s been broken down since 2019, by restoring statehood to J&K and announcing state elections, so that state-level parties like the PDP and the National Conference can rightfully get active again.

It also involves ensuring that every Kashmiri is not labelled as hostile and anti-national and taking tough action against those who target Kashmiri students studying in various parts of India.

It also involves giving genuine security to Kashmiri Pandits who have moved back to the valley and securing the lives of local residents serving in government jobs and the J&K police, or those elected as ‘sarpanches’ in villages. They are all vital stakeholders who must be embraced, even as hardened terrorists are pursued and brought to justice relentlessly.

In 2024, a big election year, the terrorists, with their leaders holed up in Pakistan and their handlers, will aim to up the ante. India’s armed forces will bear the brunt of it. They will be instigated by the terrorists to retaliate in kind, even against the local population, which their commanders must constantly dissuade them from doing.

Propaganda and election campaign rhetoric may call for simplistic slogans and big broad claims. But chest-thumping will not beat insurgency – that requires a lot of hard work on several fronts.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Jammu and Kashmir 

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