All indications are that 2017 will turn out to be the deadliest year in Jammu and Kashmir in almost a decade, and Monday’s terrorist attack on Amarnath pilgrims is a stark reminder that a clear-eyed security response is required to deal with the challenges.
All indications are that 2017 will turn out to be the deadliest year in Jammu and Kashmir in almost a decade, and Monday’s terrorist attack on Amarnath pilgrims is a stark reminder that a clear-eyed security response is required to deal with the challenges. The attack, in which at least seven persons died, shows the vulnerability of civilians in spite of the dense security deployment in the Kashmir Valley. The bus carrying the pilgrims had fallen behind a convoy when it came under fire.
But for the alertness of the driver, the casualties could have been much higher. For a few weeks there had beenintelligence warningsabout terrorists possibly targeting the Amarnath Yatra, given the tone and tenor of the new phase of Kashmir militancy and the sustained tension along the India-Pakistan border, with infiltration continuing. But finger-pointing about a security lapse would be meaningless before an inquiry is conducted. The attack, significantly, comes around thefirst anniversary of the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen ‘commander’ Burhan Wani, the fallout of which the security forces and the State government continue to struggle to contain.
While militancy in Kashmir began taking a new turn sometime in 2013, it escalated in the wake of Wani’s death. According to informed estimates, since his death, over 250 local youth have taken up arms in the Valley. In comparison, in 2013 only 31 local youth were estimated to have enrolled for militancy.
Projected estimates suggest that this year the number killed, including security forces personnel and civilians, could finally be more than 400, the highest since 2009, when 375 people were killed in Kashmir. Since then violence had steadily fallen, and in 2012, 117 lives were lost. There are other disconcerting inputs coming from the security agencies. A recent video clip, which is doing the rounds on social media and which the intelligence agencies consider authentic, indicates that the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammed are operating together, or at least coordinating attacks.
The spike in militant activity has coincided with increased street protests, public mobilisation to help militants escape security operations, and intimidatory tactics such as burning of schools to bring normal life to a standstill. This cycle can only be broken through a coherent security strategy and outreach by the civil administration to foster confidence and reduce tensions on the street. The security establishment needs to step up its response to the new reality.
The quality of intelligence-gathering needs to improve, through traditional human skills and technical capabilities. Personnel need better training to handle this phase of unrest, so that they are more alert to the seemingly blurred, but always vital, line between a security intervention and a human rights violation. Containing violence is crucial to guide Kashmir to a peaceful future.