Valley far from facing the turmoil of the past decades
The change in the ground situation in Kashmir in the intervening quarter of a century rules out any reversal to the violence of the 1990s.india Updated: Jul 12, 2016 07:36 IST
Parallels are being drawn between the encounter deaths of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front militant leader Ashfaq Majeed Wani on March 30, 1990, and that of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016, to suggest the return of a constant threat of violence in the Valley. The change in the ground situation in the intervening quarter of a century, however, rules out any such reversal.
Since Kashmir became a virtual war zone in the 1990s, some 24,000 militants have been killed by the security forces. Official figures show the seizure of 45,114 sophisticated weapons, including 34,231 AK-series assault rifles, 461 sniper rifles, 5,123 grenade launchers, 1,266 light machine guns, and 2,611 rocket launchers. The seizures also include 12,961 kg of high explosive, 100,000 grenades, 54,32,243 rounds of ammunition, 16,000 mines, 7,185 wireless sets and 6,661 rockets.
Counter-terror specialists, paramilitary officials and police officers say that the number of armed militants present in the Valley is about 200, a far cry from the 7,000 estimated to be at large in the 1990s. This year alone, 83 militants have been eliminated, compared to 40 in 2015 and 47 in 2014 during the same period. “The critical mass required for mass protests and violence is just not there. Similarly, there was no elected government in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s with President’s Rule in place but now there is an elected government under Mehbooba Mufti with full support from the Centre,” says an official who served in the Valley in 1990.
Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda agrees. “Some reaction” is expected to the 22-year-old’s death, he says, but it “isn’t likely to trigger a surge in recruitment” of local militants. “We have to wait and watch. I don’t think it will transform into a spike in recruitment. Local militancy is at its lowest level and things have changed significantly between the 1990s and now,” says Hooda.
That’s not all. While there was a fragile National Front coalition government led by Prime Minister VP Singh in the 1990s, the present Modi government has a majority in the Lok Sabha with the BJP totally focused on internal security issues. Despite being on a four-nation tour in Africa, Modi was constantly updated on the Kashmir situation by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who in turn was taking round-the-clock feeds from security agencies. The violence, too, is confined to south Kashmir and the outskirts of Srinagar with no impact in north Kashmir. This is in stark contrast to the April 12, 2016 incident that led to the killing of five youth in police firing in Handwara in north Kashmir.
The Army and security forces are far better prepared in comparison to 1990. “When violence erupted in 1990s, we were given only seven Army columns, or 700 men, to quell armed protests by the JKLF in Maisuma in Srinagar. There is a sea change in ground situation with no less than a full Army Corps handling the Valley alone and some 80-odd CRPF battalions deployed in counter-insurgency duties with BSF present on the borders,” says a top official who served with then home minister Mufti Sayeed.
The situation across the border has also changed. In 1990s, Pakistan had diverted battle-hardened Afghan mujahideen to Kashmir after the Soviet withdrawal from Kabul in 1989. Under the leadership of then Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence chief Asad Durrani and backed by prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in succession, a separatist movement was engineered in the Valley with JKLF as the principal militant outfit and Hizbul Mujahideen beginning to surface. At that time, the West was more focused on the Cold War with Pakistan a key ally in the Afghan theatre.
While security agencies have not picked up any communication intercepts from Pakistan inciting separatists in the Valley after the Burhan encounter, Islamabad has called the encounter an extra-judicial killing. Even though cross-border infiltration has increased with a perceived weakening of PM Sharif over the Panama papers scandal, the global climate is such that Pakistan will be isolated if it promotes militancy in the Valley. India, in contrast, is prepared for the long haul.