Kashmir killings need a calibrated response The Statesman 07 Jun 2022 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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Kashmir killings need a calibrated response The Statesman 07 Jun 2022

          The valley has been witnessing a spurt in targeted killings this year. Police officials, teachers, sarpanches, outside labourers and government servants (including non-locals and minorities) have been amongst those targeted. In May alone, there were eight killings, which included three non-Muslims. The J and K DGP, Dilbag Singh, stated that terrorists were, ‘propagating fear since local residents have stopped responding to their diktat.’  

Dilbag added that an additional intent was to create an atmosphere of backlash against Kashmiri’s, working or studying outside the state, enhancing regional divide and igniting violence. The situation was alarming to levels that the home minister summoned all responsible for management of security and intelligence in Kashmir with the aim of adopting a common strategy to meet this challenge.

          Pakistan had planned to shift towards targeting killing for some time. Increased recovery of pistols and sticky bombs, basic weapons in this strategy, have been reported in the past few months. In Apr, ten pistols were recovered in Kupwara. In other recoveries, pistols have dominated AK seizures. Captured terrorists have admitted during interrogation that instructions to move from attacking security forces to targeted killings have flowed from Pakistan.

It appears that limited infiltration, successful encounters and short life span of local militants led to this approach. Numbers joining militancy had reduced. Infiltrated militants, who were tasked to induct and train locals have been compelled to come into the open resulting in their elimination.

          Targeted killings brings increased media publicity, enhances fear as also immediate results as members of the minority community flee the valley. The government is on the backfoot preventing a fear psychosis setting in. Statements from terrorist groups are lapped up. Migration of family’s project success. Comments by political parties add to uncertainty. Society becomes fragmented with victims suspecting neighbours. Those on the fringes of terrorism are emboldened by such acts and become willing participants.

These killings are conducted by hybrid militants, who after the crime, return to their normal routine. The target is identified, movement monitored, and weapon (normally a pistol) provided to the shooter. Hybrid militants are generally not on police radar and are either silent sympathizers or enticed for money or drugs. Many could be law abiding citizens, including government employees or in education, who have remained radicalized.  Thus, Lt Gen DP Pandey, the erstwhile GOC Srinagar corps was right when he stated that terrorists can be eliminated but removing terrorism will be time consuming.

Similar incidents occurred in Oct 2021, when in a short period, 11 innocents were killed including 5 non-Kashmiri’s. The police responded by arresting over 900 overground workers. It brought a few months of tranquillity. The killings have since recommenced.

          These incidents have been adversely commented upon by political parties, some blaming the government for its failed policies while others demanding early elections and installation of a popular government in the state, claiming that to be a solution. Others have compared the killing to increased tourism stating that these incidents do not prove that normalcy has returned. An added concern is the upcoming Amarnath Yatra, for which additional forces are being inducted.

Demands to move non-locals or members of the minority community out of the valley due to security concerns is not an answer as it would project victory to terrorists and embolden them. Simultaneously, it would demoralize security forces, which are working to break this pattern. However, relocating them into a safer and more protected environment for a limited duration can be a solution. The local police have also begun reassessing known trouble shooters hoping to break into these modules.

Another possibility is that, as in major criminal networks, there may be limited parallel contact between hybrid militants. This implies that one hybrid terrorist may not be aware of others in his region. He may only know his handler, making it imperative to identify handlers. The arrest of overground workers slowed similar targeted killings in Oct 2021. Lessons from this would also have been drawn by the Pak ISI and modus operandi amended. It is identifying and countering these new tactics which is important. 

This can only be possible through an unconventional approach which must commence by rejuggling police and intelligence personnel currently deployed in vulnerable regions. Bringing in fresh, motivated, non-local personnel can lead to the creation of new intelligence networks, which could give positive results. Success against hybrid terrorists is largely dependent on human intelligence, which could be made further attractive by offer of rewards for either recovery of pistols or other inputs. It has the disadvantage of being exploited to extract revenge.

Such an approach should logically be the forte of state intelligence and police departments, however, due to sympathizers within, could bring hesitation in sharing of inputs by locals. Hence, imperative to rejuggle individuals in crucial areas. Simultaneously, with better trust on the army, it is possible that the army becomes the lead agency. Next, investigation into all pistol recoveries over the past year must be reopened to determine final destinations. It may provide additional inputs. Electronic monitoring of known sympathizers and overground workers should continue. After all, a single link can lead to breaking a full module. An increased deployment of plainclothes intelligence operatives across vulnerable areas could also result in a breakthrough.

The fact that population, cutting across religion and political affiliations are protesting these killings is a positive indicator. Such protests add pressure on families of hybrid militants to reign them in, to protect their family reputation and standing. These must be encouraged and supported.

While strategies may be determined in Delhi or Srinagar, its tactical implementation, with ingenuity, at the ground level would produce results. Simultaneously, there should be an all-out effort to prevent panic and migration of non-locals. The terrorists should never be given the pleasure of succeeding. Finally, the government and the army must consider whether is it time to give Pak a dose of Indian displeasure by re-igniting the LOC. For a Pak facing an economic as also internal constitutional and security crisis, an activated LOC is the last straw. Maybe time for a firm message to be sent.