Misleading claims of rise in terrorism in J&K must end

For Islamist and Hindutva Right, 'rising threat' of Islamism is a political asset and weapon.

 |  4-minute read |   22-02-2016
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Popular counter-terrorism commentary has shown an increasing proclivity to the most ignorant and exaggerated projections and distortions. Even as the encounter in Pulwama was ongoing - as it is at the time of this writing - this was much in evidence.

One expert commentator on a television channel drew parallels with the 26/11 attacks of 2008, claiming that terrorists had built up an arsenal of arms and explosives in advance in the besieged buildings in Mumbai as well as in the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) building in Sempora in Pulwama - an obvious falsehood in the first case, and certainly unconfirmed at present in the latter. Much was also being made out about the protraction of both incidents, and the "inability" of security forces (SFs) to end them "quickly".

That, in Mumbai, 175 persons were killed (166 civilians and SF personnel, and nine terrorists), and a tiny fraction of this number are likely to be dead at the end of the crisis in Pulwama (just six fatalities have been confirmed at the time or writing) - and that SFs have succeeded in keeping fatalities down despite the very large number of civilians present in the EDI building and its vicinity at the time of the attack - seems besides the point.

Crucially, there is overwhelming talk about "increasing terrorism" in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in the wake of each new incident - including the present attack at Sempora. This is, quite simply, contra-factual.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), total terrorism-linked fatalities in the state were 174 in 2015, as against 193 in 2014. There was, of course, a "spike" in 2013 and 2014, with fatalities up to 181 and 193, respectively, as against a low of 117 in 2012, but long term trends have been extraordinarily encouraging.

Terrorism-linked fatalities in J&K peaked at 4,507 in 2001, and were sustained at over 2,000 per year for a full decade between 1993 and 2003, and above the "high intensity conflict" threshold of over 1,000 fatalities per year between 1990 and 2006. In comparison, recent years have registered tremendous stabilisation and improving measures of security, particularly for civilians - with just 20 civilian fatalities through 2015, 32 in 2014, 20 in 2013, and 16 in 2012.

Since Pakistan continues to back a multiplicity of terrorist formations on its soil, providing resources, weapons, training and, crucially, impunity for operations in J&K, it is meaningless to expect a zero risk situation, unless Indian policy goes beyond the futile pendulum between talks and no talks, to find a solution to the more enduring problem of Pakistan's intentions - something that has remained outside the realm of competence of successive regimes in New Delhi.

Why do panicked assessments of the "rising threat" of terrorism in J&K persist - peppered with inflated fears of the "new dangers" purportedly presented by the Islamic State (or Islamic State of Iraq, ISIS or Daesh) - despite a sustained decline in quantifiable parameters of violence in the state? General hysteria, compounded by general ignorance, is of course part of the problem; but there are also creeping and veiled agendas here.

The most significant among these is shared by both the Islamist and Hindutva Right, who have a deep and enduring vested interest in communal polarisation and mistrust, and for whom the idea of a "rising threat" of Islamism is a political asset and weapon. There are also misconceived notions that such frenetic assessments of Islamist terrorism in J&K (and more widely, across India) help promote India's case against Pakistan in the "international community".

The truth is, first, the facts and data cannot long be concealed, and others will soon see through the deception; but more importantly, the so-called "international community" couldn't care less - they remained unmoved when thousands were being killed in J&K each year and are unlikely to come and fight India's battles in the foreseeable future - and for this we must be eternally grateful, seeing the tremendous damage outside interventions have done, and are currently doing, in theatres of conflict across the world.

It would, of course, be foolish to pretend that the problem in J&K has been resolved - or, indeed, that it is even close to resolution.

Tremendous alienation persists, even as do processes of widespread political and communal subversion; extremist mobilisation in the streets and for armed violence continues, albeit with diminishing success; the problem of the displaced pandits is the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about; political instability within the democratic space in the state persists, and is particularly sharp at the present moment, since the death of incumbent chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, creating opportunities for brinkmanship and escalation; and, ever-present behind all these, is Pakistan and its so-called "unfinished agenda".

But drumming up a frenzy about a false "escalation" in terrorism can be no part of any solution for any one of these enduring problems.

Writer

Ajai Sahni Ajai Sahni @satpicm

Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management

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