Opportunity at Hand in J&K

With their valour, dedication and sacrifice, the SFs have once again succeeded in restoring relative peace in the Union Territory.

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Women attending the funeral prayers of a rebel in Shopian district of south Kashmir. Shopian and Pulwama districts have remained hotbeds of local rebellion after the killing of charismatic rebel commander Burhaan Wani, in 2016. [Sameer Mushtaq/Al Jazeera]

On May 18, 2024, a former Sarpanch (head of panchayat, village level self-government institution) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worker, Ajaz Ahmad Sheikh, was shot dead by terrorists at Herpora village in the Shopian District of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

On the same day, a tourist couple, identified as Farah Khan and Tabrez Khan of Jaipur, Rajasthan, was injured when terrorists opened fire on them at a tourist resort in the Yannar area of Pahalgam in the Anantnag District.

On April 28, 2024, a Village Defence Guard (VDG) member, Mohd Sharief, was killed in a gunfight with terrorists who had infiltrated from across the border, in a remote village in the Udhampur District.

On April 22, 2024, unidentified terrorists killed a social welfare department (SWD) employee, Mohammad Razaq, when he came out of a mosque in the Shadra Sharief area in Rajouri District.

On April 17, 2024, an unidentified terrorist shot dead a non-local, a vendor from Bihar, Raja Shah, in the Bijbehara area of the Anantnag District.

On April 8, 2024, terrorists shot at and injured a taxi driver, Dilranjeet Singh,\ from Delhi, in the Padpawan area of Shopian District.

On March 1, 2024, the Indian Army disclosed on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), that an unidentified terrorist killed a civilian and his son at their residence in the Kellar area of Shopian District.

On February 7, terrorists shot dead, Amritpal Singh, a non-local worker from Amritsar in Punjab in the Shalla Kadal locality of the Habba Kadal area of Srinagar city (Srinagar District). Another non-local worker, Rohit Mashi, who also was from Amritsar, sustained injuries in the incident, and died a day later, on February 8.

These are, according to the partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the eight separate incidents of attacks targeting civilians, resulting in eight civilian deaths and three injured, so far, in the current year (data till May 26, 2024). In the corresponding period of 2023, in 10 separate incidents, though a similar number of civilian deaths (eight) were reported, the number of injured stood at 19. However, in the remaining period of 2023, that is over seven months, only another four civilian deaths were reported, taking the total toll to 12 for the year, the lowest tally in this category since 2016, when there were 14 fatalities.

Thus, there is a relative surge in attacks on civilians and resultant deaths and injuries in the first five months (approximately) of the current year after a lull in the preceding 10 months of 2023, raising some security concerns in an otherwise improved security scenario. Of the total 12 killed and 35 injured in 2023, eight fatalities and 26 injured were reported in the first two months alone, while the remaining 10 months recorded just four fatalities and nine injured.

Overall fatalities in J&K stand at 19 (eight civilians, one trooper and 10 terrorists) in the current year, as compared to 35 (eight civilians, 11 troopers and 15 terrorists, one Not Specified) in the corresponding period of 2023. In fact, 2023 recorded a total of 134 fatalities, the lowest in a year since 2012, when there were 121 fatalities.

Moreover, in the current year, the Security Forces (SF) : terrorist kill ratio stands at 1:10 (trooper killed: one, terrorists killed:10) in favour of the SFs. During the corresponding period of 2023, this ratio was at 1:1.36 (troopers killed: 11, terrorists killed: 15). The ratio, however, improved in the later part of 2023, and the eventual ratio for the full year was 1:2.63 (troopers killed: 33, terrorists killed:87). This, however, was much lower than the 2022 figure of 1: 6.43 (troopers killed: 30, terrorists killed:193).

The total number terrorism-related incidents in the current was 59, as compared to 100 during the corresponding period of 2023. The whole of 2023 recorded 267 such incidents, as compared to 457 in 2022.

Indeed, in its Year End Review – 2023, a Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) release, on December 31, 2023, stated that after the abrogation of Article 370 in J&K in August 2019, the security situation had improved considerably. It disclosed that terrorist initiated incidents fell from 228 in 2018 to 44 in 2023, encounters from 189 to 48, civilians killed from 55 to 13, SFs killed in action from 91 to 26 (all data till December 15, 2023). It also disclosed that Organized Stone pelting Incidents (related to terrorism and separatism) fell from 1,221 in 2018 to zero in 2023 and Organized Hartals (strikes or general shut downs) from 52 to zero.

Earlier, on December 11, 2023, Union Home Minister Amit Shah informed, the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament),

reduction in terrorist incidents in just four years of abrogation of Article 370. From 2004 to 2014, a total of 2,829 security personnel and civilians were killed in Kashmir, while from 2014 to 2023, 891 security personnel and civilians have lost their lives, which is 70 percent less than before. There has also been a 50 per cent reduction in deaths of security personnel. In the year 2010, there were 2,654 incidents of organized stone pelting, whereas in 2023, just four years after the removal of Article 370, not a single incident of stone pelting took place. In 2010, 112 civilians were killed in stone pelting, whereas in 2023 there was not a single incident of stone pelting, hence there is no question of any casualty. 6,235 citizens of the Valley were injured due to stone pelting in 2010, but in 2023 this figure is zero. Incidents of ceasefire violations were 70 in 2010 and only 6 in 2023. In 2010, there were 489 infiltration attempts whereas so far this year there have been only 48.

Talking about the measures taken to deal with terrorism, he added,

A NIA registered 32 cases of terror financing, whereas before 2014, not a single case was registered. The State Investigation Agency registered 51 cases of terror financing whereas earlier the need for a State Investigation Agency was not felt. So far 229 arrests have been made in terror financing cases, assets worth more than Rs. 150 crore [INR 1.5 billion] have been seized, 57 properties have been seized. Apart from this, NIA has done the work of freezing more than Rs. 100 crore [INR one billion] in 134 bank accounts.

One of the major reasons for the improvement in the security situation in the Union Territory is the peace established at the border, which has resulted in declining infiltration of terrorists from across the border. According to UMHA data, while there were 141 incidents of cross border infiltration in J&K in 2019, 51 such infiltrations were reported in 2020, 34 in 2021, 14 in 2022, and zero in 2023 (till June 30). In fact, Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Northern Command, declared on January 14, 2024, that 2023 had been declared a “zero-infiltration year”, as no terrorist was able to come across the Line of Control. Indeed, this had weakened the ‘leadership structure’ of the active Pakistan-backed terrorist groups in the state. It is well-known that, while the cadres of these terrorist groups were recruited locally, their top leadership mainly consisted of terrorists of Pakistani origin or those of Indian origin who had exfiltrated to Pakistan, received training and then infiltrated to the Indian side. Significantly, there has been no major incident of ceasefire violation on the Line of Control/International Border, after India and Pakistan agreed, on February 24, 2021, to abide by the Ceasefire Agreement of 2003. Nevertheless, as expected, Pakistan continues to facilitate infiltration of terrorists by exploiting gaps in the fencing and through underground tunnels, albeit with diminishing success.

Meanwhile, in a significantly major development which may encourage the new government to be formed at the Centre after declaration of results of the on-going General Elections in the country, the five Parliamentary Constituencies (PCs) falling within the Union Territory have registered record polling.

In a press release, the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament), on May 25, 2024, the Election Commission of India stated,

After record voter turnouts in Srinagar and Baramulla in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, Anantnag-Rajouri Parliamentary Constituency (PC) too has shattered voter turnout records, with 51.35 % recorded at 5 pm in the districts of Anantnag, Poonch, Kulgam and districts of Rajouri and Shopian partially, the highest since 1989, i.e., in 35 years. With this, in the ongoing General Elections 2024, the three PCs in the Valley, namely Srinagar (38.49%), Baramulla (59.1%) and Anantnag-Rajouri (51.35% as of 5 PM) have recorded voter turnouts which is (sic) highest in many decades. Overall, the voter turnout in the three PCs in the Valley is 50% (Anantnag Rajouri at 5 pm) in current General Elections, compared to 19.16% in 2019… People of Jammu and Kashmir, in the Anantnag Rajouri PC polling too, have reposed faith in democracy and proved naysayers wrong.

With their valour, dedication and sacrifice, the SFs have once again succeeded in restoring relative peace in the Union Territory. However, a permanent peace needs strengthening of political structures in the Union Territory. Consequently, restoring the statehood of J&K is of utmost importance and the peaceful conduct of the recent elections, with significant voter turnout, must encourage the new government at the Centre to proceed in this direction without any further delay. Missing such an opportunity can only prove detrimental for J&K, and for India, in the long run.

Ajit Kumar Singh

Ajit Kumar Singh, is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Conflict Management

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