Behind the barbed wire framing Congress leader Saifuddin Soz in his Srinagar home is the paradox of how security has played out over the last one year here: a sharp drop in incidents of violence with many, like Soz, at home under curbs or in custody; and yet a steady trickle of local young men into the militant ranks and a heating up along the Line of Control.
Indeed, in a recent presentation to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Jammu & Kashmir Director General of Police Dilbag Singh compared law and order incidents in Kashmir over two timestamps – after July 8, 2016, when Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani was killed by security forces, and after August 5, 2019, post abrogation of the special status of the state and its downgrade and splitting.
After 21-year old Burhan Wani was killed by security forces, thousands thronged the streets in protest, pelted stones, snatched weapons of police, overturned and burnt their vehicles, and damaged property of security forces. Violent incidents over the next six months touched over 2,500 and killed, according to the J&K Police, 117 civilians.
In sharp contrast are the numbers since August 5 last year. Law and order incidents that saw violence added up to only 196. “There was no element of violence… not a single civilian died,” Dilbag Singh told The Indian Express in an interview last week.
According to Singh, there has been an almost 78 per cent drop in law and order incidents in the first six months of this year compared with the corresponding period the previous year.
From 767 during January-June 2019, it has dropped to 168 in January-June 2020. Terror-related incidents, too, dropped from 198 during January-July 2019 to 124 during January-July 2020. Further, there have been no shutdown calls compared with 31 in 2019 and 76 in 2018, he pointed out.
The number of uniformed personnel across security forces who died also was lower at 36 in the first seven months this calendar year compared with 76 in the first seven months of 2019.
“This is a very big improvement on different fronts, despite the abrogation on August 5, 2019,” Dilbag Singh said.
Sources in the security establishment, however, put the “sharp drop” in context. They identify three key factors: the unprecedented deployment of security personnel in the run-up to August 5, 2019; large-scale preventive arrests including of junior-level political workers, and the lack and absence of any leadership to lead protests.
While the number of law and order incidents may have dropped dramatically, what has kept the security establishment on edge is the challenge of local militancy.
Local youths have continued to join militant ranks despite being aware they are in the cross-hairs – with many of them being killed.
Since the beginning of January, as many as 80 youths took to militancy, of whom 38 were killed and 22 caught. Overall, in 2020, security forces have killed 150 militants in 41 operations.
Between August 5, 2019, and December 31, 2019, about 26 militants were killed by the forces; this takes the total number of militants killed since abrogation of special status last year to 176.
Officials claimed the number of active militants in the Valley is 190, the lowest in the last 10 years. “Of these, 90 are foreign, 100 are local youths,” said a senior official who did not wish to be quoted.
Most of the local recruits are barely out of their teens, an official said, and as soon as they take to militancy, they precipitate a face-off with the security forces. This raises concerns over the accountability of the security establishment.
“There are two views here… one view is, should the security forces attempt to get them back to society and the second is more hardline: that they should be pursued whatever the consequences,” said an official.
Still, even if the security forces are quick to engage the militants in encounters, that has hardly made a dent in recruitment. “This prompts the question – if quick elimination is adding to the continuous stream of youths joining militancy,” an official said.
Another recent trend is the combination of local militants and foreign terrorists in terror-related incidents or attacks. “While this doesn’t pose any operational challenge for the armed forces, it suggests they are working more in tandem than before,” said a source.
The Army, on its part, is also concerned about the rising number of ceasefire violations at the Line of Control.
“These are generally aligned with attempts at infiltration since the grid tends to become weaker – everybody goes into the bunkers,” said an official. Until June 25, there were as many as 2,215 ceasefire violations in J&K compared with 3,168 in the whole of 2019 and 1,629 in 2018. “As many as 26 terrorists have infiltrated in 2020 – the total foreign terrorists in the Valley being 90,” said the source.
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