Jammu and Kashmir: Targeting Peace
As the peace in Jammu and Kashmir (J and K) consolidates, the establishment in Pakistan displays increasing signs of impatience, with increasing violations of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of 2003 in the form of artillery and small arms firing across the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB), as well as urgent attempts to reach out to the separatist constituency in the State.
Despite lingering irritants , these efforts have had little impact on the positive trajectory that has been established in J and K over the past years. Terrorism-linked fatalities, which peaked at 4,507 in 2001, went below the 'high intensity conflict' barrier in 2007, with 777 fatalities, for the first time after 1990. In 2012, they have fallen below the three-digit level, with 86 killed (data till November 4, 2012). Security Forces (SFs) have exerted sustained pressure and have inflicted crushing blows on the militant leadership and cadres to consolidate the peace. Director General of Police Ashok Prasad, in a media interview on August 31, 2012 noted, "Around 150 militants are active all over the state, with maximum concentration in Sopore [Baramulla District] and Tral [Pulwama District] areas of Valley." Significantly, at the peak of militancy, several thousand militants were active in J and K.
With a deepening of the peace, the Government's attention is turning increasingly to investments, employment and a restoration of the dynamism of the economy. Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram observed, on October 8, 2012:
I think the situation has dramatically improved over the last two years. It's still some way to go and I think the State Government must address the issue of law and order very firmly. Only a very small section continues to talk about secession and freedom and that kind of thing. There is no resonance for that among the people... The people are looking to jobs, to investment, to growth, to opportunities, to goods and to services. I agree that more investment should flow into Jammu and Kashmir.
Predictably, Pakistan's external intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the principal patron of terrorism in the region, has come under tremendous pressure to 'perform', as the situation in J and K improves. Since 2008, a succession of 'protest movements' , styled on the intifada, have been orchestrated, peaking in 2010, when at least 110 lives were lost to street violence, but with diminishing returns thereafter. Such efforts, nevertheless, continue, though they have failed to secure any significant traction on the ground. During the intervening night of October 11 and 12, for instance, in an effort to provoke mass violence, unidentified miscreants set fire to a revered shrine associated with Hazrat Hardi Baba Reshi at Dabran village in Anantnag District. However, only the matting in the Dabran shrine was damaged. Earlier, on June 25, 2012, miscreants gutted the more than 200-year old Dastageer Sahib Shrine at Khanyar in Srinagar. Again on June 29, 2012, a shrine belonging to the Shia sect was partially gutted in a fire and a copy of the Quran allegedly desecrated at Mirgund near Srinagar. The Shrine of a revered Sufi, Baba Haneef-ud-din, at Ratsuna village in Budgam District, was gutted in a blaze on July 14, 2012. None of these incidents succeeded in sparking the wider troubles they were intended to provoke.
Efforts to send increasing number of terrorists across the border, to shore up the dwindling strength of extremists and to disrupt the prevailing peace in the State, have also been far from successful. An estimated 500 to 600 terrorists are believed to be ready to infiltrate from launch pads across the LoC, and some 2,500 terrorists are being maintained as a ready reserve at more than 42 militant camps - 17 in Pakistan and 25 in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
In order to facilitate infiltration, the Pakistani Rangers have been violating the November 2003 CFA with increasing frequency, but diminishing success. The CFA, which was aimed at halting 14 years of cross-border firing in the region that commenced in 1989 after the 'launch' of Pakistan backed terrorism in J and K, has witnessed 245 violations and 21 fatalities [16 SFs and five civilians] since 2009. The trend of CFA violations has been increasing over the past years, with the exception of 2011. 2012 has already witnessed at least 78 violations, according to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management.
The formal CFA, between India and Pakistan along the IB, LoC and the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) in J and K, began on the midnight of November 25, 2003. The Directors-General of Military Operations (DGMO) of India and Pakistan, in their weekly telephonic conversation, had agreed to the CFA. A joint statement of the Army Headquarters of both the countries declared,
Pursuant to the understanding between the Governments of India and Pakistan, the two DGMOs discussed the modalities of implementation of the proposal. It was mutually agreed that the ceasefire will be enforced between the two sides, along all the sectors of the IB, LoC and AGPL....
The CFA was preceded by an entente between Governments of then Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and then Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee. On October 22, 2003, India had offered to Pakistan certain Confidence Building Measures, including resumption of civilian overflights that had been suspended in the aftermath of the December 13, 2001, terrorist attack on India's Parliament.
According to an official statement, the first CFA violation took place on January 19, 2005, when mortars were fired from across the LoC, targeting an Indian post in the Poonch sector, resulting in injuries to a girl. Officials then had claimed that the shelling may have been intended to provide cover to a group of infiltrators trying to sneak into the Indian side in the same District, of whom five had been killed a day earlier. The first fatality in Pakistani firing since the CFA, however, took place on November 25, 2007, when a soldier was killed, and another two were injured in two separate firing incidents from the Pakistani side along the LoC in the Poonch Sector.
Another major milestone has now been established, witnessing a rising desperation on Islamabad's part, with a civilian settlement being intentionally targeted by the Pakistan Army on October 16, 2012. A Pakistan Army unit opened mortar firing at the Chrundra village, hardly 100 meters from the LoC in the Uri Sector of Baramulla District, at around 10:30am on October 16, 2012. One of the shells fell on a civilian residence, killing three civilians - Mohammad Liaquat (15), Mohammad Shafiq (32) and Shaheena (20). The firing stopped at 12:30 pm to allow local villagers to collect the dead bodies (locals using megaphones of two mosques in the village had reportedly appealed to the Pakistani Army to stop firing to allow them to collect the bodies), but resumed in the evening and continued intermittently throughout the night. The guns fell silent only the next day.
Claiming that the firing was intentionally targeted at civilians, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Baramulla based 19th Division, Major General Bipin Rawat argued, "Pakistani troops can't miss the target since they can see the houses and people of the village through the naked eye. Charunda villagers don't allow any such designs [of infiltration] of the Pakistani troops to succeed and that is the reason for targeting the civilians." The Pakistani troops are hardly 100 meters away from the village and surround it from three sides.
Civilian concentrations have suffered shelling from the Pakistan side in the past as well. In recent incidents, for instance, on October 1, 2012, a couple was injured when Pakistani Rangers opened fire directly at the Chalariyan village, on the IB, near Chechwal in Samba sector. In this case, however, the Rangers were targeting Border Security Force (BSF) troopers, besides men and machinery engaged in uncovering the exit point of a 540 meters long underground tunnel dug from the Pakistani side into Indian territory in the Chechwal area. A farmer had detected the tunnel on July 27, 2012, when the land caved in at three straight points in his fields.
Earlier, on August 17, 2012, a Pakistan Army unit had opened fire towards the forward village of Abdullian in the R.S. Pura Sector of Jammu District. A large number of villagers, who were working in their fields, took shelter in underground bunkers built during the earlier years of exchange of fire. Similarly, on August 15, 2012, the forward village of Pansar in the Samba Sector faced a similar situation. It was on June 21, 2010, for the first time after the 2003 CFA, that bullets fired by Pakistani Rangers hit three houses in the forward village of Abdullian in the R. S. Pura sector, wounding two, and killing some cattle. A day earlier, two porters had been killed and two troopers injured, when Pakistani troops had opened fire on Indian posts in the Machhil Sector of Kupwara District. The firing, however, was directed towards a SFs' post, and not a civilian settlement.
While Pakistan attempts to increase pressure along the border, J and K is still some distance from complete normalcy. On October 14, 2012, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde noted that the Centre could not risk the withdrawal of the Armed Force Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from State: "There is marked improvement in the security situation in the State. With further improvements, AFSPA can be revoked partially, but it wouldn't be wise to take any chances at the moment. When such a situation arrives it will be withdrawn from the entire State." In a grim reminder of the uncertain ground situation, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorists attacked an Army convoy in Srinagar, at the bypass near the Srinagar Railway Station, in the evening of October 19, 2012. While fleeing through a nearby hotel, they fired at the staff, killing one and injuring another two. One of the injured hotel staffers died later.
The grassroots administration also continues to be targeted. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has, of course, attempted to downplay the media frenzy over the reported mass resignation of Panchayat (village level local self Governmnet institution) members under terrorist threats, noting, "Only 52 elected representatives have actually submitted written resignations, in a formal manner, to the Block Development Officer. Everybody else has done it in a newspaper or standing up in a mosque. And let's face it, that doesn't count." However, when asked about the total number of 'informal resignations' of panchayat members, the Chief Minister stated, "900 plus" out of a total of 33,849 panchayat members in J and K.
According to the Police, some 18 youth from the State have joined different terrorist groups during 2012, most of them going to the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) or LeT, the two key outfits still operating in the State. However, unconfirmed reports put the number of Kashmiri youth who have taken up gun in the past one year at more than 40.
In a further effort to stir up trouble, reports indicate that Pakistan is planning to invite various overground separatist factions in J and K to Islamabad for 'talks', in December 2012. Similar visits had also been organized for the separatist leadership in 2008, and quickly resulted in an escalation of the street protests over the Amarnath Land Allocation controversy, and recurrent street mobilization over a range of 'issues' thereafter.
Islamabad's frustration over the strengthening peace in J and K is increasingly evident, even as Pakistan's efforts to capitalize on residual irritants continue. The rise in CFA violations are an index of the continuing Pakistani intent to keep the troubles in J and K alive, despite the tremendous reverses Pakistani proxy terrorist formations have suffered over the past years, and the enveloping disenchantment with the Pakistani cause even among the hard core of the separatist constituency in the State.
(The writer Ajit Kumar Singh is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)