Kashmir Situation Is Potentially Dangerous: Lt Gen Ata Hasnain
Security is a term which applies comprehensively to an entire environment. Most people apply it to selected situations and segments only. In the current situation in J&K security covers not just the ongoing Amarnath Yatra, which incidentally stretches from the Holy Cave to Jammu, but also the towns and rural areas of Kashmir and the routes within. It also goes beyond the Pir Panjal and stretches to Doda, Kishtwar, Poonch, Rajouri, Udhampur, Jammu and Kathua.
Most importantly it also covers the LoC belt which can be classified as a ribbon of territory along the LoC approximately 15 kilometers in depth, or more in some areas. It includes the people, commerce, institutions and infrastructure.
The idea of stating this is to correct the perception of those with restricted vision.
(Catch all the lives updates on Kashmir unrest here.)
Indian Government’s Changed Strategy in Kashmir
J&K has all along been a proxy hybrid conflict with ups and down in the situation. India has relied upon the concept of counting bodies of terrorists, maximizing that each year, minimizing own losses and waiting for the next season. Those who have served in J&K are familiar with this concept – commonly referred to as summer and winter strategy. While efforts to engage with the people of J&K have been made from time to time, little has been done to counter the support organizations which actually help keep the terror campaign in the state alive.
Suddenly things started to change and since 2017 the Central Government started to adopt a new strategy by going after the financial networks aiding militancy in J&K. These were deeply embedded and would take some years to dismantle. With the coming of the new government at the Centre in May 2019, this line of action started to expand and not only the financial networks but also the entire ecosystem which has run the J&K proxy war came under the scanner.
“Der aaye, drust aaye” (came late, yet came rightly) is a common Hindustani phrase; it applies most appropriately here.
‘Operation All Out’ Against Terrorists & their Facilitators Caused Panic in Pakistan
Operation All Out since 2017 has focused on neutralization of terrorists. It achieved good results evident from the fact that many other terrorist groups tried to unsuccessfully make an entry to fill emerging voids. This was not good enough. When the network of over ground workers (OGWs) started to erode under the intelligence and police vigilance and many powerful personalities earlier in authority started to get targeted there was panic.
The writ of the separatists was gradually diluting, good times for them getting over. That is one of the reasons why the summer of 2019 was largely quiet so far. On the other side of it, Pakistan has been on the back foot with attention focused upon Afghanistan and an economic bailout based upon its ability to project its level of usefulness to the US. The situation in Kashmir has been slipping from under Pakistan’s feet. It stopped infiltration and the sponsorship of major terror acts to remain in the best books of the FATF.
Newly-Emboldened Pak Wants to Re-activate Terror Outfits in Kashmir
Things changed after Prime Minister Imran Khan met Donald Trump in Washington in Jul 2019. Clearly, he is Washington’s hope for US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Bolstered by the successful visit, Pakistan’s deep state reprioritized its security concerns; J&K returned right to the top and the tasking was probably done to the concerned agencies that were in touch with the networks in the Valley.
The feedback from Kashmir to Islamabad would probably have been about panic stations among the pro-Pakistan networks but a potential chance which was still available; the ongoing Amarnath Yatra could be targeted for effect. Large scale casualties to yatris would convert the Jammu region into a communal cauldron and the chances of the same spreading deep into hinterland India would be bright; exactly what the deep state’s long term vision has been all about all these years. For this, there was a need for some hard core terrorist cadres to be infiltrated and some wherewithal.
Intelligence appreciations do not depend only on visible or evident inputs and results but invariably look at second and third order effects. When you take the incumbent GOC 15 Corps’ assessment given at the special media briefing on 02 Aug 2019, not even a tenth of the inputs and assessment would have been shared with the public and that is rightly so. The displayed American sniper rifle and the Pakistan marked mines were probably the tip of the iceberg. After all, caches still lie undiscovered and are being hunted even now.
A Lot is Happening at LoC, Away from Public Eyes
The happenings at the LoC are outside the focus of media. A lot is happening there. For the first time we find a focus of Pakistan Army on the Kashmir segment of the LoC. Ceasefire violations are extending to artillery duels; it has not happened exclusively there for long. Risk are being taken in the Nilam Valley where Pakistan is very vulnerable. The Bagtor infiltration route at the edge of Gurez—the shortest route to the Valley, reaching Bandipur in a night’s hop—has been activated.
Anyone with experience of Valley based operations can read these inputs and deduce the level of desperation in Pakistan’s J&K focused planners. Doing something while the iron is hot, re-energizing militancy and street turbulence, and reactivating the networks which are getting extremely vulnerable appeared the best option for Pakistan. The situation could be assessed to be akin to that which was probably presented to Benazir Bhutto in 1989 by Mirza Aslam Baig and Hamid Gul (the then Pakistan Army Chief and DG ISI respectively). ‘Now or never’, was probably the brief and the advice which was taken and acted upon.
Govt’s Response to Threat Perception is Efficient
I can assess that the quantum of CAPF troops flown in is not for deployment in Kashmir alone but as much for the communally vulnerable segments south of the Pir Panjal, which could be the actual target of the strike against yatris. Placing myself in the shoes I once occupied, my brief would have been to temporarily reinforce the counter-infiltration grid in the vicinity of the LoC belt with regular troops of the Army and let the CAPFs occupy their billets to keep the space under control. That is probably what is happening.
Doubts about Amarnath Yatra and the advisories to the tourists and yatris turned tourists have been raised because it appears difficult to appreciate the exact seriousness of the threats presented above. Authorities, however, must remain in full control of administrative confidence.
Post-Panic Action Needed
The panic at the Valley’s petrol pumps and written memos for stocking up logistics must also be followed by well-publicized measures to ensure that the Valley does not suffer logistically. Fuel, fresh stocks, medicines etc. must be sent in sufficient quantities unlike 2008 when there was administrative paralysis. That itself will take out much of the venom of accusation that India is only interested in J&K’s territory and not its people. There is also a need for progressively increasing transparency which the senior commanders and administrators will no doubt follow.
The problem with intelligence assessments is that if threats are successfully countered no one will credit the assessments. No one is really looking for those credits as long as the people, security forces and the administration of J&K remain safe. The security situation is potentially dangerous as assessed above.
(The writer, a former GOC of the Army’s 15 Corps, is now the Chancellor of Kashmir University. 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.)
(Hi there! We will be continuing our news service on WhatsApp. Meanwhile, stay tuned to our Telegram channel here.)