The number of bomb blasts in Jammu and Kashmir rose sharply in 2016 over 2015, with the spike coming after the encounter in which Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani was killed. The Bombshell, the annual report of the National Bomb Data Centre (NBDC) of the National Security Guard (NSG), considers the killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016 the turning point for the situation in the Valley.
Months of violent protests followed, and Kashmir, the report says, witnessed an increase of 121% in Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosions in 2016 over the previous year — from 14 in 2015 to 31 last year. Five people died in these blasts, one more than the number of fatal casualties in 2015. Thirty-six people were injured, 71% over the 2015 number of 21.
“J&K saw an increase in blast incidents and casualties particularly after the death of Burhan Wani,” the report has observed.
The data is followed by an article titled Threats in J&K And Steps Towards Countering Terrorism by Lt Col Nidhi Roshyan. The officer writes that since 2015, the tone and tenor of militancy in Kashmir has changed and it is linked to the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s compulsion to focus on its own internal security situation.
“So far as the new militancy threats are concerned, Pakistan’s ‘Deep State’ is likely to reconsider the relevance of [Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed] Salahuddin in the light of the challenge to him by a group of young, educated, upwardly mobile and radically oriented Kashmiris, who wish to take the movement into their own hands and give vent to their alienation,” Lt Col Roshyan writes.
The article predicts that “emergence of a more radically oriented movement supported by motivation by the clergy, is likely to be the colour of the new militancy”.
The observations are an interesting departure from the government narrative in which all the trouble in the Valley is seen as being fomented by Pakistan.
Importantly, the Valley also witnessed 38 ordnance grenade explosions in 2016, registering an increase of about 20%. In all, therefore, there were 69 explosions in Kashmir in 2016 — the most among all Indian states, and the first time that it has occupied that position in the past five years.
The key difference between an IED and an ordnance grenade is that an IED can be fashioned locally by anybody who is trained in assembling one, while an ordnance grenade can only be manufactured in an ordnance factory. Most grenades that are thrown at security forces in Kashmir are Chinese made, and are smuggled in from Pakistan.
Nature of explosives
The NBDC report describes in detail the nature of explosives being used to make these lethal IEDs. High grade explosives were used in 83% of IEDs that exploded across the country in 2016, it says. This, however, is 7 percentage points lower than in 2015 — which means there has been a substantial increase in the use of low grade explosives in fashioning IEDs in 2016. In 2015 they made up only 10% of IED explosions; in 2016, they accounted for 17%, according to the report.
High grade explosives are chemicals such as RDX, TNT and ammonium nitrate, which, if assembled well, make for powerful bombs and can cause heavy casualties. They are largely used by terror groups. Low grade explosives, on the other hand, are typically used in incendiary devices such as Molotov cocktails or crude bombs. These are used mainly in public agitations such as the recent unrest in Kashmir, and in the Jat agitations in Haryana or political battles that are commonly seen in West Bengal.
Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas saw the use of high grade explosives in 97% of IED explosions in 2016, says the report. In Jammu and Kashmir, the same figure stood at 61%, pointing to public agitations in which low grade IEDs were used.
The report observes, “Considerable quantities of low explosives especially petrol bombs were used in ‘Rest of India’ and J&K during the year 2016.” It recommends a ban on the sale of electric detonators for commercial purposes in order to stem their pilferage and passage into the wrong hands.
How bombs are triggered
The report says 56% of bombs are triggered by ‘command mechanism’, i.e., by using a remote control or a switch. About 35% of IEDs rely on ‘anti-handling mechanism’. This mechanism is largely used in landmines, where release of pressure sets off the IED. There are photo-sensitive IEDs too, which explode upon exposure to light. One such IED had been planted in the stomach of a dead CRPF jawan by Maoists in 2012 after an encounter in Latehar, Jharkhand. The bomb was detected and disabled.
‘Delay mechanism’ is the least preferred; only 9% of IEDs used it in 2016. Over the last 5 years, it was only in 2013 that ‘delay mechanism’ (24% of blasts) scored over ‘anti-handling’ (20%). Delay mechanism refers to the use of timer devices such as clocks to set a time for the blast. This mechanism has mainly been used by insurgents in the Northeast, by jihadists and rightwing Hindu extremists.
The anti-handling and delay mechanisms do not require the perpetrator to be around to trigger the blast.
Command mechanism has been used most widely in the Northeast, where it accounted for 55% of all IED explosions in 2016. As many as 35% blasts in the region were attributed to delay mechanism while only 10% used anti-handling.
Command is also the preferred choice of Maoists — 50% of all their blasts use this technique. The anti-handling mechanism too is prevalent in LWE areas — 46% of IEDs used this technique in 2016. These bombs were largely planted by Maoists on tracks to target security forces during combing operations.
In J&K too, command and anti-handling accounted for 97% of all blasts.
Who the targets were
Ordinary people (55%) continued to be the biggest target of bombs followed by security forces (37%) and VIPs (7%). However, civilians had been a bigger target in 2015 (72%), while security forces were targeted in only 23% of attacks. VIP targets increased from 4% in 2015 to 7% last year.
A zone-wise analysis shows that in the Northeast, 57% targets were the public, while security forces were 38%. In LWE areas, security forces made up half the targets while civilians accounted for 47%. In J&K, security forces were the biggest target (55%) in 2016.