Over the three years, the scale of security operations in Jammu and Kashmir has significantly expanded beyond physical encounters to include widespread detentions under security laws, enforcement and tax raids to break alleged funding networks and crackdown on Over Ground Worker (OGW) networks and their linkages, official records show.
A study of four-year data reveals a renewed push in these areas marked by the sweeping use of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA), the constitution of the multi-agency Terror Monitoring Group (TMG) and, more recently, the State Investigation Agency (SIA) by the J&K administration.
Since 2019, the J&K Police have cracked down on the Over Ground Worker (OGW) networks leading to the arrest of over 1,900 persons accused by the police of providing logistical support to the militants.
Militancy-related data compiled by the UT government also records busting of almost 195 “terror modules” across J&K over the last two calendar years 2020 and 2021 and busting of about 35 terror hideouts last year.
Said a senior official: “So far, counter-terrorism operations have targeted and incentivised the elimination of active terrorists…but an effective strategy now should address the entire terrorism structure.” This can only be done through “effective prosecution” of the entire network, he said, “through their linkages, whether logistic, funds or otherwise.”
For the security establishment post-Aug 5, 2019, the new strategy is seen as effective in cracking linkages and targeting networks. But the sweeping arrests under UAPA, PSA, the series of raids have also raised questions of due process.
Key to this is the clampdown under UAPA and PSA in J&K. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of cases under UAPA increased from 437 (2019) to 557 in 2020 and it was under 500 in 2021. The number of persons booked under these cases over the last three years is over 2,700.
Of these, more than half, or 1,362 persons remain in custody.
The number of PSA detentions rose significantly to 331 last year from 134 in 2020.
It’s this aspect of the crackdown that has drawn criticism from political leaders in the Valley after the splitting of the state and its downgrade in August 2019.
Even two years later, PDP’s youth president Waheed Para remains lodged in the Srinagar central jail, arrested within hours of securing bail from an NIA court in Jammu. He also won his seat in the Pulwama District Development Council in December last year. He was, however, not allowed to take oath of office.
In November, human rights activist Khurram Parvez was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with a case filed under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), including terror funding.
“Dissent has been criminalised and is accordingly dealt with through harsh laws. At times these laws may have nothing to do with the kind of alleged offence committed by a person. Security agencies and ED are very serious institutions to be used in rare cases, but they have been weaponised and are used regularly…No one with a contrary view point can escape GOI’s punitive actions, be it a student, an activist or a politician,” said the last J&K chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti.
Security operations have also been on a constant simmer. In 2020 and 2021, more than 400 militants were killed in 197 operations, roughly equal to the number of militants killed in the previous two years (2018 and 2019).
But recruitment has kept pace with the killings.
When contacted, Dilbag Singh, Director General of J&K Police, told The Indian Express, “In the last year alone, 89 modules were busted, 670 OGWs arrested. We are focussed on dismantling terror infrastructure in all forms. This will continue.” OGWs, he said, “presented themselves in all hues and shades. Irrespective of age, gender, profession, or location. They are runners or gunners, at home or abroad. What has changed is our capability to locate and identify them and we will continue to hit them hard.”
To that effect, the TMG or Terror Monitoring Group was established by the Ministry of Home Affairs in March 2019 to effectively coordinate actions of different agencies. The SIA, established in end-2021 by the Home Department of the UT administration, as a “specialised agency” to probe terror related cases in J&K, is also aimed at investigating and prosecuting terror cases at the UT level.
As per official records, about 169 militants remain active in J&K, 163 of them in Kashmir Valley. Of the 134 individuals who joined militant ranks over the last year (2021), 72 were killed in various operations, 22 arrested, and 40 remain active.
As many as 20 J&K police personnel and 23 security forces personnel were killed in 2021.
Lashkar-e-Taiba saw the highest casualty in 2021 followed by Jaish-e-Mohammad and then the Hizbul Mujahideen. Meanwhile, in terms of cross-border infiltration, 2021 saw a decline in both gross and net infiltration with 73 persons attempting to cross the LoC and 34 succeeding. In 2020, gross and net infiltrations were 99 and 51 respectively.
People’s Conference Chairman Sajad Lone told The Indian Express, “It is surprising that somehow the current establishment considers that with their new operational strategy, they are going to weed out violence. We have seen the worst bouts of violence at the behest of the state, in the 1990s and early 2000s as well. Previous governments had understood that too much force is not yielding anything and is counter productive. Now they’ve come in with new experiments. However, this government wants to market the hardline. The line was always hard and barren in terms of results.”