Kashmir Militancy: Security Ops More Successful Under Guv’s Rule
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.(Photo: The Quint)

Kashmir Militancy: Security Ops More Successful Under Guv’s Rule

The string of successes in security forces’ operations in Kashmir through 2018 showed a clear upswing during the period of Governor’s Rule (which began in mid-June) and now President’s Rule in the state.

About 60 percent of all the militants killed during 2018 were killed in the latter half of the year. In fact, the trend has shown a continuing upswing in the last two months of the year.

Governor’s Rule Helped Security Operations

According to the Srinagar-based defence spokesperson, the forces ended the year with 248 militants killed and 58 captured in their operations. If one adds the five who surrendered, the total goes to 311. It is notable that these figures include most of the leading lights of militancy, who were killed during the course of the year.

A top field commander explained that it had been easier to go after ‘over-ground workers’ of the militants under Governor’s Rule. He was referring to the key non-militant activists who facilitate underground militants.

Perhaps the forces felt somewhat restrained in going after these facilitators earlier, since targeting them could lead to accusations of brutality against unarmed civilians—and so a political backlash. A few of these workers could also have links with political parties or activists in their areas of operation. Overall, the commander said, Governor’s Rule had helped the security forces perform better.

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Capable Commanders Highlight Need for Minimizing Civilian Casualties

Another factor that marks this latter period is that there has been a new army commander in Udhampur since June. Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, who was the director general of military operations when the surgical strikes were undertaken in 2016, took over as Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Command from Lt Gen Devraj Anbu when the latter became Vice-Chief of Army Staff. The change came about on 1 June, during the Ramzan ceasefire.

Asked whether this change of command had made a difference to operations, Lt Gen A K Bhatt, who has been corps commander in charge of the Valley since 31 January 2018, remarked that the change was seamless. Both the commanders under whom he worked were absolutely clear-headed professionals and their orders were crystal clear, he said.

Bhatt himself has been an outstanding commander, reminding some observers of Lt Gen Vinayak Patankar, who was widely respected when he headed the army’s corps in the Valley in 2001-02.

Anbu, Ranbir Singh, and Bhatt have all been sensitive to the need to engage with the people, and to minimize civilian casualties and collateral damage. These officers are also clear that military operations are not the solution. Bhatt recently stated publicly that the security forces’ successes have prepared the ground for the sort of political initiative that Mr Vajpayee had undertaken as prime minister.

It probably helped that both Ranbir Singh and Bhatt had served as director general of military operations. That would have given them a wide-angle insight into the tactical and strategic challenges facing the country, and the directions of the political leadership.

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Ground Situation Remains Challenging

However, the successes of 2018 do not mean that the conflict is over—not by a long shot. A few fresh teenagers went underground in south Kashmir even as the year drew to a close in an extraordinarily cold winter. The sobering fact is that each funeral acts as a motivator for more teenagers to take on the zeal to be killed in this jihad.

Not just that, public anger continues to be strongly manifest in stone-pelting at the sites of security forces’ operations. It became more vigorous even as the security forces’ successes rose.

This was more than evident after an encounter in the middle of December, when agitators emerged from three surrounding villages onto the site of the encounter in an orchard.

The fact that seven persons were killed when the forces fired to get out of the resulting mayhem indicates that the operation’s planners did not expect such stiff resistance from the public.

It shows that, however encouraging the forces might find the statistics of ‘kills’, the ground situation remains challenging in the new year—and could continue to throw up surprises.

(The writer is a Kashmir-based author and journalist. He can be reached at @david_devadas. 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.)

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