Since an encounter with Burhan Wani, a Kashmir-based Hizbul terrorist commander, in 2016, Indians have seen the number of killings of terrorists rise with each passing day, raising hope for the elimination of terrorism in the Kashmir valley soon. The optimism has been based on the killing of around 700 terrorists in three years (2016-18), which was more than in 2009-2015.
Between the year 2016 and 2018, government officials and the Indian army were boasting about the number of districts infested with terrorism. Similar claims are repeating in 2020, including on 29 June, when Jammu and Kashmir Police announced that “the Doda district in the Jammu Zone was totally militancy-free once again”.
On 26 June, Vijay Kumar, Police Chief of Jammu and Kashmir, proudly announced: “After today’s successful operations, there is no presence of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists in the Tral area. It has happened for the first time since 1989”.
Last Saturday, the Indian Army claimed that around 300 terrorists are waiting across the Line of Control to enter the Valley. India’s home ministry had said earlier this year that the scrapping of the temporary special status of the state under Article 370 had reduced the terror activities in the union territory, but not much has changed for the security forces and the people in Kashmir as they continue to suffer the bloodshed.
Data indicate that this figure is not significant in the context of Kashmir, as more than 25,000 terrorists have been neutralised, and around 7,000 security personnel and 15,000 civilians have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir since 1988.
Commonality with Terrorism in Punjab
In the 1980s and 90s, Jammu and Kashmir’s neighbouring state Punjab witnessed widespread militancy, as rebels demanded a separate country, 'Khalistan', for the Sikhs. Executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management and the South Asia Terrorism portal Ajai Sahni, while comparing terrorism in Kashmir and Punjab, said every theatre of conflict is unique, but there are invariably points of commonality.
In the late 1970s Punjab, due to the efforts of political parties to appease communal lines for vote banks and control over Sikh institutions, resulted in the emergence of far-right Sikhs forming a Khalistan movement, and demanding independence from India to form a separate nation for Sikhs. The violence spanned more than a decade and claimed 21,469 lives before ending in 1993.
A report titled ‘Punjab Terrorism: Truth Still Uncovered’ in Economic and Political Weekly notes that the terrorist movement in Punjab was not an ideologically coherent movement for Khalistan but was dominated by caste groups in rural societies. The paper says there were two factors responsible for the collapse of the movement — one, the disillusionment of Jatt Sikh with the movement because of the misdeeds of the terrorists, and two, the brutality of state repression led by police officer KPS Gill.
In spite of the things they have in common, the army's work in Punjab has resulted in a return to normalcy in the state, but Jammu and Kashmir has seen several ups and downs of conflict, along with emergence of new names leading it.
It is often said that local support for terrorist groups is the fuel that runs the conflict, especially in Kashmir, where terrorists' funerals attract mass gatherings and they are considered martyrs.
Talking to Sputnik, Sahni says “the victory in Punjab was possible because of a brief period during which exceptional police leadership under KPS Gill’s command coincided with political wisdom and a succession of decisions that made it possible for the Security Forces to restore normalcy in the state, creating the environment for a return to democratic governance”.
What did Not Work in Jammu and Kashmir?
He believes that the aforementioned factors have never come together in Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmir’s mainstream political parties like the People’s Democratic Party and National Conference advocate the withdraw of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958, infamously known as AFSPA, from the valley to give dialogue a chance to bring peace there.
The AFSPA empowers security personnel, who are deployed in declared "disturbed areas" to kill anyone acting in contravention of law, as well as arrest and search any premises without a warrant and provide cover to forces from prosecution and legal suits.
“Indeed, despite enormous operational successes engineered by the security forces, political sagacity has been conspicuous in its absence and there has been a steady chain of decisions that have obstructed the restoration of normalcy, despite the substantial containment of the security threat,” he says.
However, there is still a lot more to the terrorist movement in Jammu Kashmir. The demand of independence from India has been often justified due to the temporary special status that the erstwhile state held from the time of independence under Article 370. The special status allowed a separate constitution, separate flag and a separate Prime Minister for the state.
But things changed on 5 August 2019 when New Delhi revoked the former state's special status and suppressed the backlash through the widespread arrest of Kashmiri politicians and an unprecedented lockdown. The Modi government has claimed that the number of terrorist incidents are coming down as the region is directly controlled by the federal government.
The Indian government had also tried to control terrorism in the valley through co-operation with Pakistan as the leaders of the two countries established confidence-building measures to resolve the Kashmir issue. However, neighbouring Pakistan, which also claims Jammu and Kashmir, has been condemning the military action in the valley and accusing India of violating the human rights of Kashmiris.