Laying to rest speculation that counter-terrorism operations by security forces may be put on hold following the appointment of Dineshwar Sharma as a special representative to hold talks on Kashmir, Lt General J S Sandhu, the GOC of Srinagar-based 15 Corps, has said that “dialogue and operations will continue concurrently”. He added that he doesn’t “expect miracles” or “quick results” in Kashmir.
In an interview to The Indian Express, Lt Gen Sandhu acknowledged that “the political situation, though fragile, has stabilised in the last six months”. However, he said, “The biggest challenge (in eradicating militancy) is to reduce alienation in the people, especially in the youth, to provide them jobs/ livelihood options, and to counter the growing radicalisation. I do not expect miracles, and I do not expect quick results. It will take us several years.”
Lt General Sandhu took over as General Officer Commanding of 15 Corps last November, at a time when the internal security situation in Kashmir was facing a crisis, and is near the end of his tenure. On the appointment of Sharma to conduct talks, the Lt General said, “The government has indicated that counter-terror operations would continue… the appointment of interlocutor would not in any way curb such operations. You would have seen that we have killed 10 terrorists in the last few days itself. So I know that the dialogue and operations will continue concurrently.”
Asked about the government’s inability to conduct a parliamentary bypoll in Anantnag, after Srinagar witnessed 7 per cent polling in April, the Corps Commander said, “The Kashmir situation is complex, and election-related violence often has multiple dimensions.”
Pointing out that incidents of stone-pelting on armed forces during operations had come down, Lt General Sandhu attributed it to strong action by the Army. He said they had to “take very strong measures against stone-pelters, and many of them were picked up and booked. We also interacted with many youth groups, engaged them, attempted to reduce their anger… We also started initiatives to skill them.”
Similarly, he said, funeral processions held for militants by locals had reduced in scale, compared to a few months ago. “We establish checkpoints around villages where a funeral is to take place, to check the inflow,” the Lt General said.
Asserting improvement in situation in the past one year, the GOC also attributed this to “failure” of attempts by the Hurriyat and separatists to gather support for their agitation. “They tried to inflame passions on the braid-cutting issue, but their attempts fizzled out. Honestly, they do not have any major trigger as of now. Largely, the people are not keen on continuing the agitation, as it mostly causes losses and misery to them.”
The officer attributed the Army’s success in eliminating many among the top leadership of the militants in the past year to better intelligence. At the same time, Lt General Sandhu admitted an increase in activity along the Line of Control (LoC). “We deployed additional troops. Infiltration attempts were greater, but we were able to foil or eliminate many of them, and 66 terrorists were killed near the LoC during infiltration.”
He denied that the additional troop deployment was linked to ceasefire violations. “In fact, ceasefire violations and additional troop deployment have no co-relation,” he said.