Currently, the primary focus of the terrorist establishment in J&K is on the security forces. Pathankot, Uri, Kupwara are but a few examples. They have obviously assimilated a few lessons from their experience - the foremost being avoiding civilian casualties.
Insurgent groups depend heavily on the populace for logistics. They merge with the populace, making it difficult for the government forces to fish them out. Civilian casualties due to terrorist actions in J&K were eroding their acceptance.
Today, the civilian casualties that we encounter in J&K are primarily attributable to government forces. They have been able to turn the tables; at least the man in the street would view it so.
With most attacks on security forces achieving a fair degree of success, we have to evaluate our preparedness. In the last attack at Panzgam, Kupwara, where we lost an officer, a junior commissioned officer and a jawan, the retaliation was immediate.
Our boys were able to kill two of them. However, we lost three. A suicide mission will meet with a degree of success, given the advantage of achieving surprise with the time and place of attack being of their own choosing. However, a solution has to be found.
The obvious tactical measure required is better fortification of bases. It’s a fact that our bases are vulnerable. Locationally, a lot of them are adjacent to roads that carry assorted traffic during the day and are deserted at night. They are also based within population pockets.
Many do not even have strong enough perimeter defences. A few strings of barbed wire strands are the most visible defence mechanism of these bases. There are barely adequate raised sentry posts and floodlights.
In some places the sheer size of the bases is so big that guarding the entire perimeter by deploying men is not viable. Neither is there adequate technology being amalgamated in the protective layout.
The bare minimum requirement is to create two layers of fences with vital assets and men being more securely housed at the core. The area between the two layers could be kept under surveillance by electronic means and a quick reaction force available to respond to threats. Notwithstanding the cost of such an endeavour, it requires immediate implementation.
When we are able to provide a sense of security to the populace, the ranks of stone-pelters will also thin out. Photo: Reuters
Beyond strengthening the bases are a few bigger issues that influence the equations in J&K. These include the pursuance of an aggressive design in operations, focusing on elimination of terror leadership, intelligence, chocking of finances, good governance and strengthening the political process. There are many more issues, but these are definitely the immediate requirements.
The Army understands only too well that an aggressive design that keeps the terrorists on the run is the best strategy. The same strategy needs to be adopted by the central and state police forces too. However, the state of morale of these forces and their ability to get into an offensive mode is questionable.
Their top leadership’s insistence on restraint rather than employing requisite force is only allowing the situation to slip. Personnel of the police forces being heckled and manhandled by protesters, as was evident in a recent video clip that went viral, erodes their deterrence value substantially.
The aggression that we need to display is not limited to anti-terror operations in the Valley. It goes beyond the Line of Control. It’s time to weigh options in Gilgit, Baltistan and also other areas of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir.
The situation in Balochistan is also tenuous and can be exploited. With a country like Pakistan that adheres to no rules in the book, and has no respect for internationally accepted norms, the parameters of strategic restraint that we tend to exercise need a review.
Eliminating terrorist leadership is a major objective of any anti-terror campaign. The strategy has paid major dividends globally. We have also to target the leadership of tanzeems in Pakistan. Many of them roam free and can be targeted if our intelligence agencies apply themselves to developing the capabilities.
If the ISI can nurture modules in India, surely our intelligence agencies can take advantage of the restive mood in Pakistan’s provinces to develop covert action capabilities and target the terrorist leadership there. The leadership of the outfits have got used to an easy life. They are definitely not in the business to pay with their lives.
Whenever the graph of insurgency swings up, hard intelligence is the foremost necessity. Existing human intelligence assets also tend to wither at this stage. The security forces have to rejuvenate their sources of information, obtain hard intelligence and launch operations swiftly.
With larger numbers of new recruits joining the militants, there is also the opportunity to infiltrate these organisations. Though difficult to orchestrate, even an odd human resource within a terrorist organisation can be of exponential value to the security forces.
Very few in the Valley would work for a terrorist organisation without the lure of money. The priority hence is choking terrorist finances. Demonetisation was expected to deliver results on that count. Obviously, the dent that was made was inadequate.
A concerted effort to squeeze the flow of funds to terrorist groups will also involve cleaning up the government administration. The seepage of government funds through unscrupulous officials ultimately goes to establishments that work beyond the law.
The creation of jobs for Kashmiri youth by correct investment of central funds will do much more for peace in the Valley than any other means.
There is of course an entire political narrative to be addressed beyond the military and administrative measures. It starts with stating with unequivocal clarity that Kashmir is integral to India. There is no room for separatists, whatever be their shades.
There is no room either for a Pakistani or Islamic State flag being hoisted. For us, they are one and the same. Nor is there any room for the Indian flag being berated. Dialogues with separatists are useful only after the terror infrastructure has been put on the backfoot.
The repeated attack on security forces' bases is an excellent strategy adopted by Pakistan's ISI. They have identified our vulnerabilities, targeted them and also avoided civilian casualties. While securing the bases is an immediate tactical necessity, they will change their targeting pattern once attacking bases starts proving costly.
Making Kashmir safer is the larger narrative. As and when we are able to provide a sense of security to the populace, the ranks of stone-pelters will also thin out. More information on terrorists will start streaming in.
And if it’s possible to usher in better governance, there is every reason to believe Kashmir Valley will stabilise. A large majority of Kashmiris, whose voices remain subdued because of fear of terrorists, would welcome such a state.