Terrorist attacks in the Jammu belt Time to make Pakistan accountable FirstPost 14 Jun 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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https://www.firstpost.com/opinion/terrorist-attacks-in-the-jammu-belt-time-to-make-pakistan-accountable-13782623.html

Terrorist attacks in the Jammu belt: Time to make Pakistan accountable FirstPost 14 Jun 2024

          There have been a series of terrorist incidents in the Jammu belt in the past few days, spread over distances, implying that there were a couple of terrorist groups operating in the region. That they are Pak backed and contain Pak nationals is known, despite denials by Islamabad. The first strike and the most damaging, was the attack on pilgrims moving by bus from the Shiv Khori temple to Katra in the Reasi sector on Sunday. It led to nine dead and around 40 injured.

Ironically, this occurred during the swearing in of PM Modi as also coincided with Pak PM Shehbaz Sharief’s return from his visit to China, where he was accompanied by their army chief, Gen Asim Munir. Was it a coincidence or was it a message from Islamabad and Beijing is debatable. After all, the BJP was claiming to regain POK during its campaigning in the recently concluded elections, which did rattle Pak.    

          This incident was followed by a few more encounters. The Kathua encounter possibly involved a newly infiltrated team of terrorists which were eliminated, while other encounters indicate two separate groups, operating independently, South of the Pir Panjal, exploiting the jungles and hilly terrain. The group responsible for the attack on the bus had been in region for some time and was earlier behind attacks in the Poonch region, including on the Air Force personnel.

As pressure of security forces increased in the Poonch sector, they shifted base towards the interiors. Reasi is in depth. These groups were subdued during the election process as there was an enlarged presence of security forces as also India’s retaliation across the LOC would have been severe. Reasi, Poonch and Rajouri were regions where terrorism existed in the early nineties. With passage of time, as also increased presence of security forces, it was contained.

Many analysts have mentioned that terrorism is back in the Jammu belt. This may be a wrong assessment. A few incidents or the presence of a couple of groups does not signify re-emergence of terrorism. No region can be considered absolutely terrorist free nor terrorist infested with a couple of incidents. Terrorists shifting locations and bases depending upon pressure of security forces can be expected. It is also true that there are terrorist sympathizers present in the region, aiding, providing logistics and possibly also guiding them.

However, for security forces the message is clear. There is a presence of terrorists in the region which need to be eliminated. Troops will need to be more pro-active, while displaying caution. There should, at no cost, be a repeat of the Rajouri incident.

Flushing out terrorists takes time, especially if the group is led by an experienced terrorist as also has some level of local support. This is evident in this case. It is a game of cat and mouse, where an error on any side can have consequences. Security forces need to remain alert and display caution while continuing to dominate the region. To draw them out, their overground network needs to be demolished steadily, which is the task of the local police and intelligence agencies.

For New Delhi there is a lot to ponder. The ceasefire with Pakistan, while assisting local populace living close to the LOC on both sides, was more to Pakistan’s advantage. With the scenario worsening on its western borders, as tensions remain high with Afghanistan, and attacks by the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) and the Baloch on the increase, it desperately needed peace with India to enable redeployment of troops. Targeting of Chinese in their western regions has added to Pakistan’s problems compelling it to deploy additional troops for their security.

If Rawalpindi refuses to play ball and curtails pushing terrorists and terrorism in J and K, should India oblige by continuing with the ceasefire? Is it time to give Pak a warning by reactivating the LOC? This could be the first signal. Things could go further south in case Pak does not take the message. There should be no intent to enhance global pressure on Pak. Whatever decision is to be taken must be done in Delhi itself. However, these could result in an escalation, which the government should be prepared for.

Every major retaliation by India, cross-border surgical strike or Balakote was an intent of conveying what is not acceptable. These incidents were never repeated. Pak understood India’s redlines. By responding in a manner which suits India, another firm message should go. The decision and the manner of response would rest with New Delhi.    

The peacefully concluded Lok Sabha elections gave confidence to the nation and the government that J and K was well on the path to normalcy. Percentages of voting and those elected busted Pakistan’s myth of the region being suppressed and elections manipulated. Such was the confidence that the Election Commission has set the ball rolling for assembly elections in the UT. These attacks were intended to bust this belief.

The presence of a couple of terrorists should have no impact on the ongoing process. Any hesitation would be playing into the hands of Pakistan which has desperately been attempting to project Kashmir as disputed, but failed. It could not comment on Lok Sabha elections in J and K as it was itself facing riots and violence in POK, fearing an Indian exploitation of the anger of its people. Islamabad has been attempting to gain the attention of New Delhi, hoping it takes the first steps for talks by accepting Pakistan’s conditions, but to no avail. For India, Pakistan is just a pinprick, which can be ignored. India is now a global player with much higher stakes.

There is also a need to comprehend Pakistan’s thought process. Initially, terrorist targets in Kashmir were non-Muslim communities, the intent being to drive a wedge amongst the people while displaying religious affinity with the majority. Then emphasis shifted towards security forces. Strikes across the border and strong counterterrorism policies and structures brought terrorism levels down.

It restored near normalcy resulting in increased tourism as also conduct of global events in Kashmir. This domination by security forces compelled Pak to lower its expectations and it directed its supporters to target outsiders employed in the UT as also unarmed security personnel, conveying that all is still not over. Meanwhile observing a reduction in presence of forces South of Pir Panjal, it pushed a couple of groups into the area, to project re-ignition of terrorism.    

While terrorist groups operating South of the Pir Panjal would be eliminated with time, sending a message of intent to Pak is essential. Simultaneously, security forces as also intelligence agencies must operate in sync to locate and eliminate these groups. Further, the election process, which has been kickstarted must continue. Pushing the democratic process behind for a few terrorists conveys a weak policy.  

   

  

 

           

 

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