‘Ceasefire need of the hour... desirable for both India, Pak’: Lt-Gen BS Raju
- Lt-Gen BS Raju said a quiet LoC will allow us to address the challenge of terrorism in a focused manner.
Calling the cessation of ceasefire violations between India and Pakistan on the Line of Control and the international border in Jammu and Kashmir a good beginning, Lt Gen BS Raju, General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, says that it will help find ways to stop terrorism and look for durable ways to peace in the region. “We are committed to making it work in letter and in spirit and expect the same from Pakistan,” said the outgoing commander of the strategically situated army formation on the western border, days after India and Pakistan announced a surprise truce deal. In an exclusive interview with Ramesh Vinayak, Lt Gen Raju, who is set to take over as the Director General of Military Operations in New Delhi, spoke about the fallout of stopping of ceasefire violations on the militancy matrix in the Valley and army’s anti-terror operations. Edited excerpts:
How will the ceasefire on the LoC impact the insurgency dynamics in Kashmir?
This truce deal is desirable for both India and Pakistan and it is the need of the hour. The biggest beneficiaries will be the civilians living close to the LoC. It is a good start to look for ways to stop terrorism and look for durable ways to peace in the region. We are committed to making it work in letter and spirit and expect the same from Pakistan. The stopping of ceasefire violations will have an impact on the terror ‘tanzeems’ (outfits) in the hinterland. We take the ceasefire as an opportunity to form a potent anti-infiltration grid to deny any fresh attempts of terrorists to infiltrate from LoC. Denial of access to foreign terrorists, weapons and finance will help us create a better environment to control terrorism in the hinterland. A quiet LoC will allow us to address the challenge of terrorism in a focused manner; this involves focusing on the entire terrorism ecosystem that includes terrorists and their overground workers.
What is your assessment of the current situation in Kashmir?
It is stable and looking to get better. The security matrix has maintaining peace as the prime goal. Improving our ability to ensure better security is a work in progress where we are continuously reviewing and innovating to enhance our effectiveness. 2020 witnessed success in counterterror and counter-infiltration operations. Our estimates show that we are at lowest level of terrorist strength in Kashmir in a decade. The terrorists are also short of weapons and cash.
What are the new trends/undercurrent in dynamics of Pakistan’s cross-border tactics to foment trouble in the Valley?
Pakistan has been trying to infiltrate weapons, cash and cadres. Along with Kashmir, it is continuing efforts to use Jammu and even Punjab border. Regular recoveries, arrest of infiltrators and even tunnels on the international border are evidence of these attempts. Lately, even quadcopters (drones) are being used to drop in weapons. For cash, the narco-terror link is also now well-established. Effective policing and actions by the National Investigating Agency have been effective in targeting narco trade and controlling the cash flow for terror. Also, there are attempts to energise local recruitment in terror organisations. The figures are higher than 2019 but still at a manageable level. It is one area where we hope to make further impact. Our focus is , first, to prevent recruitment and second to provide options for those who have joined terror (outfits) to get a chance to get back to society. A beginning has been made and we have had a few successes. Pakistan’s desire to manifest terror in the Kashmir valley continues. It cannot accept a peaceful J&K. Since its ability to do kinetic or terrorist actions is being blunted, it is focusing more energies on propaganda all over the world. In part, the propaganda effort is to convince Pakistan’s own population that they are doing something while diverting attention from internal challenges.
Second, conscious effort is on to create online proxies for Pakistan- based terrorist organisations such as LeT and JeM. Earlier it was The Resistance Front (TRF) and People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF). In the last few weeks, we are seeing some new names appearing on social media. It is all linked to the Financial Action Task Force pressures and the desire to show that there is indigenous terror in J&K. The fact is that no terrorist organisation or even separatist has survived in Kashmir unless he is totally aligned to Pakistan. The “azadi” slogan is a fig leaf to fool the citizens of J&K. All terror organisations work under direct control of Pakistani handlers. We are clear that we have to counter Pakistani efforts both in the kinetic and information space. ate online proxies for Pakistan- based terrorist organisations such as LeT and JeM. Earlier it was The Resistance Front ( TRF) and People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF). In the last few weeks, we are seeing some new names appearing on social media. It is all linked to the Financial Action Task Force pressures and the desire to show that there is indigenous terror in J&K. The fact is that no terrorist organisation or even separatist has survived in Kashmir unless he is totally aligned to Pakistan. The “azadi” slogan is a fig leaf to fool the citizens of J&K. All terror organisations work under direct control of Pakistani handlers. We are clear that we have to counter Pakistani efforts both in the kinetic and information space.
What have been the key tangible outcomes of the anti-terrorist grid in the Kashmir hinterland in the last one year?
The anti-terrorist grid is critical to all our actions to get J&K back to peace, stability and prosperity. It gives us the ability to deny space to the terrorists. It is our prime responsibility that the citizens feel safe in doing their daily livelihood activities. We can see gradual opening of this space, despite Covid challenges. We can see people getting back to economic, cultural, sports and other activities.
What is the current status of active terrorists/terror outfits operating in J&K?
Over the past year, the terrorist leadership of all terrorist groups has been effectively targeted and eliminated. There is now a definite leadership void. The number of terrorists presently operating in the Valley is also reduced to the lowest in a decade. But they continue to have the capability to strike at soft targets – specially civilians. Last year witnessed 35 terrorist attacks on civilians. We are working to counter that threat. Pakistan has been constantly trying to falsely project emergence of new terror outfits such as TRF and PAFF. However, on ground, these outfits do not exist and is merely the IT Cell, which is active only on social media with an intent to shield terror outfit LeT and now, under some new names, JeM, Hizbul Mujahideen has suffered major losses and is presently weaker than it was probably was in 2019. There was an attempt to reactivate Al Badr but that has lost steam.
In terms of locals versus foreigners, how has the terrorist mix evolved?
Yes, this is important. The Pakistani terrorists hold finances and control over weapons; local terrorists are more for cannon fodder. As many as 39 local terrorists killed last year were with pistols. In contrast we get a good weapons and equipment haul whenever a Pakistani terrorist is killed. The number of Pakistani terrorists has been generally static since they have chosen to remain in the background and avoid contact with security forces. They are our preferred targets. The local terrorists’ numbers have been to some extent made up by fresh recruitment. This is our current focus area. We want them back into the mainstream. In all operations, we extend every opportunity to local terrorists to return. During the operation, if we get confirmation that a local terrorist is holed up, we try and identify them and then get their parents or elders to convince them to surrender. We are confident that this policy will yield positive results in the long-term.
What have been the latest trends in infiltration and weapon smuggling from LoC in Kashmir? Has it shifted to the Jammu and Punjab borders?
Pakistan has been exploring all options for infiltration for a long time. This has included the entire border of J&K and the northern parts of Punjab. With improved LoC surveillance, weapons smuggling has become a challenge for the Pakistan Army, hence they have been trying variety of things from tunnels to quadcopter drops to use of villages which are ahead of the LoC fence. Once weapons are infiltrated south of Banihal, they use local couriers, mostly trucks to transport the weapons to the terrorists in Kashmir valley. Recent cases of recoveries during checks in Banihal and interrogation of arrested personnel prove this modus operandi. We have enhanced checks on transport coming across Banihal and even on Mughal Road. This has led to recoveries of arms, equipment and drugs – establishing the narco-terror link.
What has been the army’s response to the rising use of drones from across the border to drop weapons and drugs into the Indian side?
Drones are a known challenge, from surveillance to now weapon drops. So far, weapon drops using drones has happened on a few occasions south of Pir Panjal. We are also conscious of this threat. We are in the process of upgrading our abilities to pick and bring down such drones. You will see the impact soon.
What needs to improve in our security approach in Kashmir, intelligence, or operational capabilities, or local outreach and connect?
We are looking at Kashmir with a holistic approach, encompassing all facets. It’s a long battle for change and we are not leaving any stone unturned. Intelligence is probably the biggest factor for the conduct of effective kinetic operations. Concurrently, outreach or connect with citizens is critical both for intelligence and ensuring denial of support structure to the terrorists. In conduct of kinetic operations, we are continuously innovating and upgrading to first give a chance to surrender and then act to eliminate the terrorist with minimum risk of collateral damage or risk to the troops.
Technology provides options that we are continuously adopting to improve our methods.
The army has been pushing for a policy to rehabilitate local boys who gave up the gun. But the policy has been in the works for a while. Any update?
The rehabilitation policy is something that is a need. Our recommendations are with the government and are under consideration.
How will the successful conduct of the district development council elections, the first political exercise in J&K since the abrogation of Article 370, impact the ground situation in the Valley?
Any democratic activity is seen as a threat by Pakistan and its proxies in J&K. Providing security for the DDC elections was a challenge that was handled well. The next step is for the elected members to do their duties well. I’m sure these elections augur well for the future.
What is your assessment on the possible fallout of withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan on Kashmir?
Withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan can open up possibilities of revival of some terrorist organisations. However, Af-Pak has always been tough to forecast. I would not hurry to read the future in Afghanistan. As far impact on J & K, this is not the 90s. There is limited influence that can be exercised by anyone from across the LoC.