23 Terrorists Killed in 13 Days, But Final Success Still Elusive
The Indian Army learnt its lessons in the conduct of counter terror (CT) operations required in the context of Jammu and Kashmir, very early. The essentials were first that large-scale operations tire troops and achieve little except area domination. To be successful, operations must be kept as small as possible, and be backed by quick response capability for contingencies.
Second, small-size operations are best done through reliable intelligence generation, as without actionable intelligence no force can succeed. While the Army itself has its internal intelligence entity, it realised very early that the best intelligence comes when you have local operatives and agencies.
Thus its dependence for intelligence has largely been on the J&K Police, which too has two main elements that play the intelligence game, the State CID and the Special Operations Group (SOG).
Experiments With Counter-terror Groups
The experiment with the counter groups – Ikhwans – for intelligence, in the nineties led to disenchantment with them due to lack of control and a degree of criminalisation. The subsequent decision to employ local Territorial Army (Home & Hearth) has succeeded to some extent but the best and most reliable source of intelligence has remained the JKP.
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The last has proven to be the most challenging, with the CRPF rising well to the requirement. The cooperation and coordination, although always very effective even in the past, has in recent months received further impetus. This has led to a ten-year high in statistics of achievements.
Two hundred and twenty-two terrorists have been killed this year – the highest number since 2009. The period November-February is traditionally one of high achievement for a few specific reasons. The extreme cold does not allow terrorists to reside in temporary hideouts away from the built-up areas; logistically it is cumbersome, and the snow cover tends to give away telltale signs quite easily.
Terrorists gravitate to lower areas and seek shelter in regular houses. Since the content among the current crop of terrorists is local, it is easier to find shelter. Movement, however, becomes difficult because of the lack of cover with the autumn ensuring no presence of foliage. Elongated stay at any hideout or safe house is a sure giveaway as local sources keep their eyes and ears open.
Reporting to source controllers is now much easier through smart phones and social media. All this has added to the effectiveness of recent operations.
A suitable way to understand all the above is from a comparison. In South Kashmir, 23 terrorists have been neutralised in 13 days in November this year, and the tally for the entire month is topping 40.
However, the same cannot be said of the losses of SF personnel. A total of 80 personnel have been martyred in the course of duty bringing about the ratio of terrorists neutralised against own losses to a figure less than 3:1. This is not a figure to boast of, although admittedly the larger casualties are that of JKP personnel, who were targeted in isolation and not as part of ongoing operations.
This figure in some earlier years in relation to the Army alone was at high of 7:1. The reasons for current higher losses besides the kidnappings and murder of SPOs and local soldiers especially when on leave, is partially due to the increase in degree of difficulty in execution of operations.
Involvement of Locals
Since 2015, intimidation of all security forces present at encounter sites is done by flash mobs composed of youth and many times of different alienated groups of older men, women and even children.
The latter gives enough cause for human rights complaints and general vilification of the forces, who may even withdraw prematurely to avoid civilian casualties. In one instance such a hasty withdrawal led to some unexploded ordnance being left behind leading to its tampering with fatal results.
While extolling the virtues of the forces for their diligence in achieving quantum results in CT operations it needs to be explained that these achievements ensure a high degree of domination and denial of freedom to the terrorists to operate freely at will. However, this by itself does not constitute victory in the complex maze of such an environment.
Victory or final success comes only when the public accepts the futility of supporting those who pick up the gun to resist the state, and willingly, or even grudgingly at first, cooperates with the forces and the administrators, and resumes normal existence as in any society.
In other words, restoration of normalcy to allow day-to-day activities without the shadow of the gun or the overhang of violence is the situation that is aimed for. The take off stage for this exists when total domination has been achieved by the SF and there is an absence of violence persistently over a period of time allowing the civil administration the relevant space to function.
The Jammu region has partially achieved the above described situation and continuation of a period with absence of violence will hopefully embed an environment of complete peace in the near future. Such a situation is unlikely in Kashmir.
Judging by social media messages emanating from the public in Kashmir, particularly from handles of Kashmiri youth, it does not appear that we are as yet anywhere near that stage. Recruitment still continues and terrorists are still in a position to target isolated individuals such as policemen and soldiers on leave, politicians or members of the panchayats.
This has to be curbed, and in particular, the recruitment loop has to be broken, and it won't happen by counter violence alone. The Army on its part has made much effort but obviously this is not enough. It needs the state to step in and run more effective information campaigns to neutralise the separatist propaganda and the rising tide of radical ideology. Somehow the state does not appear to be fully conversant with the need of the hour. That may prove to be the failing which will then restore the the terrorist will and greater proxy support.
As known to all, in hybrid proxy conflict the whole of government approach is the only mantra for total success. Will the state rise to exploit the success of its SF. That requires a larger understanding and will to see through the the situation to one of final success.
(The writer, a former GOC of the Army’s 15 Corps, is now associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies. He can be reached at @atahasnain53. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)