The Challenges of Securing Local Soldiers and Policemen in J&K
A third off duty Indian Army soldier has been killed this year in Kashmir’s Shopiyan area of south Kashmir. The body of Irfan Dar from one of the Territorial Army (TA) Home & Hearth (H&H) units has been found this morning. He had driven from his home in his private car the evening before and did not return, thus prompting a search.
It serves as a grim reminder of how Lieutenant (Lt) Umar Fayaz of the 2 Rajputana Rifles, a young Kashmiri officer with just eight months of service, was killed by terrorists in May this year.
In September, Mohammad Ramzan Parray of the Border Security Force was shot dead by terrorists when he and his family resisted attempts to kidnap him, in central Kashmir.
Why Are Off-Duty and Unarmed Policemen Easy Targets?
Why do terrorists target local off-duty and unarmed soldiers and policemen, and how can these brave hearts who defy societal pressures to serve the nation, be secured. The answer to the first is relatively simple.
While it is important to win over and take support of the population so that logistics, safe houses and early warning of security forces (SF) presence is available, it is equally important to prevent any kind of public support to the SF.
SF recruitment schemes to their ranks is considered a major threat because a local Kashmiri once recruited is considered to have ‘crossed over’ or is no longer reliable. Surprisingly, through the 27 years of proxy war the targeting of such soldiers and policemen was minimal, almost like some kind of unwritten agreement. There are several reasons for this.
Targeting SF personnel therefore does not create anything positive for terrorists. In the past too, targeted killings of such off-duty SF personnel was always considered the handiwork of rogue terrorists.
In recent times and especially after 2016, we have witnessed a planned targeting of JK policemen in particular and some soldiers.
At the same time the intent is to demoralise local SF men and prevent them from being effectively loyal to their organisations. Publicity by the police and army about thousands of local youth queuing up for a chance at recruitment unnerves the terrorists and separatists, who then dissuade the youth through such acts.
Equal Number of Locals Involved
For every couple of thousand local Kashmiris who serve in the JK Police, there are a couple of thousands who serve the Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry (JAK LI) and the J&K Rifles (JAK RIF), besides BSF and the CRPF. They are deployed all over the borders and return home on brief periods of leave. The TA (H&H) units composed of locals serve in the Valley itself and their local personnel proceed on leave on many weekends.
The army did make some efforts towards procedures involving reporting of a local soldier on leave to the nearest army post. These posts could be anything from a hundred meters to two to three kilometers from the residence of an off-duty soldier.
Responding in real time to a situation is near impossible and yet allowing the targeting of off-duty SF personnel with impunity has a debilitating effect on the morale of all soldiers while enhancing terrorist confidence. This is where confidence building with the populace and strengthening of the intelligence grid makes a difference.
The troops to population ratio is never such so as to allow SF presence in groups of villages; there are in fact large tracts where they may be no SF presence at all. Among the very few options that do exist for security is the continued domination, night and day, of the grid, keeping terrorists off balance and building reliable sources of information.
As the SF progressively achieves greater military domination, the terrorists are going to opt for more soft targets which have an out of proportion effect. Unarmed and off-duty personnel virtually become quasi-strategic targets because their targeting makes bigger news and secures brownie points for rookie terrorists.
The army and J&K Police will have to reconsider their methodology of securing these vulnerable targets if they wish to convert their current domination to an eventual victory because the terrorists are realising where the SF vulnerability really lies.
(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.)