The encounter in Kashmir in which five security personnel, including a colonel, a major, a J&K police officer, and two soldiers, were killed by militants, is a disturbing reminder in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic of the Valley’s unresolved crisis. Last August, when the government stripped J&K of its special status and bifurcated it into two Union Territories, an impression was created that all problems of Kashmir had been resolved, and the way cleared for J&K’s march towards peace and prosperity. In fact, in the nine months since August 2019, Kashmir has been under two kinds of lockdown. The first one, imposed on August 3, in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370, has segued into the second, imposed to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. But militant groups in the Valley have not vanished. Security forces killed 45 militants from August 2019 to March 2020. More than 200 others remain active. In recent months, some of the spike in shelling across the Line of Control has been attributed to attempts at cross-border infiltration. As the snow melts, there are likely to be more such attempts.
A new group — The Resistance Front — has begun taking responsibility for attacks in the Valley. The incident in Keran, in which five elite commandos of Para 4 were killed in hand to hand combat, and Saturday’s incident in Handwara, have been claimed by this new group. Security agencies believe it to be a front of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, which has gained notoriety internationally and has also been under some pressure due to the monitoring of Pakistan-based terror groups by the Financial Action Task Force.
Two things should worry security agencies and the government. One, there are no rival claimants for such attacks as there would be in the past when a new group made a claim — it may indicate that groups are now co-operating with each other. Even those eager to announce themselves at every opportunity, al Qaeda-linked Ansar Ghazwat ul Hind, and the IS, are silent. Two, in Handwara as in Keran, local youth were among the militants. The double lockdown, and the complete absence of a political process, and the new definitions for who is eligible for domicile in J&K — seen as an attempt to change the demography of the Valley — have not won the government any friends among the people. Even the new J&K Apni Party has retreated into silence. Handwara should be a wake-up call to the government that it cannot continue to muddle through the Valley with the bureaucracy propping up the August 5, 2019 decisions on one side and the security forces on the other.