Catch 2017: Forces killed more militants in Kashmir this year but factors underpinning turmoil remain unaddressed
Unlike 2016, there was no major unrest in Kashmir in 2017 but the year was no less violent. In fact on the militancy front, the year was the most violent in the past seven years. Around 348 persons comprising 56 civilians, 215 militants and 78 security personnel were killed in various militancy-related incidents. As against this, around 375 people were killed in 2010 which included 55 civilians, 242 militants and 78 security men.
But if we include the recurrent short bouts of the political turmoil, then 2017 was even more violent than 2010.
The Valley kept teetering on the brink of the mass unrest but stayed just short of tipping into one. One incident which threatened to plunge the Valley into extended turmoil was the killing of eight people the day of by-poll for the Srinagar parliamentary constituency in April. The killings took place when mobs of youth resisted voting and tried to take over the polling booths.
2017 was also witness to thousands of people marching towards encounter sites to free trapped militants. The trend emerged in 2016 in parts of South Kashmir but it caught on and intensified in 2017.
In some cases, the security forces had to call off operations after facing stiff resistance from the local population out to save the militants. As many as 29 people, most of them youth, have lost their lives in such attempts.
This year also witnessed a burgeoning number of people participating in militant funerals. Wherever militants were killed, thousands participated in their nimaz-i-jinaza, sometimes several villages competing for the “honour” of burying them in their respective graveyards.
The troubled state of affairs remains unchanged and there are fewer signs that it is even moderating. Recently, two women, Misra Jan and Ruby Jan, who were allegedly part of the protest to help the trapped militants escape, were killed in North and South Kashmir respectively, leaving behind their months-old daughters.
Some apparent positives
There have been some areas of improvement too. According to J&K Director General of Police SP Vaid, there has been a 90% drop in stone-pelting in the Valley this year from the last.
But the comparison hardly holds considering 2016 had witnessed the outbreak of an extended revolt following the killing of the charismatic Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. Every day thousands of people would hit the roads to protest and throw stones.
According to J&K Police data for 2016, around 2249 stone-throwing incidents took place over the first 110 days of the unrest. Valley, as a result, was shut and curfewed for close to six months.
But in 2017, despite intermittent reverses in the situation the normalcy largely held, hence the drastic reduction in the number of stone pelting incidents.
Similarly, 215 militants killed by the security forces has dealt a heavy blow to the militancy. By the end of 2016, the number of militants had risen to around 300 – the highest such number in a decade – on the back of the dramatic post-Burhan fillip in local recruitment.
But as is clear from the existing number of the active militants in the Valley, the killings this year have hardly reduced their number. The Valley still has around 300 militants roaming its landscape. A few successful infiltration bids and the local recruitment have ensured that the reduction in the number of militant as a result of the killings has been replenished.
According to a police estimate, around 117 local youth, most of them from South Kashmir, joined militancy this year. Similarly, according to the DGP – “75-80 militants have infiltrated including some foreign elements of Jaish-e-Mohammed”.
So, at the turn of the year, there is little that has changed on the militancy front. If in January last, security forces were up against 300 militants, they are up against a more or less similar number this year too.
What is more, if in 2016, security forces were fighting just two militant organisations – Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-i-Toiba – now they fighting six of them. The Valley has witnessed surfacing of the outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammad, Al Qaeda, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen. That is if we discount ISIS' claim of having set its foot in Kashmir.
One telling take-away from this is that the killing of militants will hardly wipe them out, a fact stressed also by the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in a recent statement.
“You have to eliminate militancy in Kashmir. But militancy cannot be wiped out by killing militants alone. We need to understand the reason and the real problem behind militancy,” the CM said at a function in Srinagar.
For the better part of 2017, the central government persisted with an iron-fisted approach towards Kashmir. Use of pellet guns to break the protesting crowds continued unchanged. Operation All-Out launched early this year to kill all militants within a specific time-frame is still ongoing. Though, in between, the security establishment has tried to reach out to militants through their families and encourage them to surrender. But the initiative has so far met with a moderate success. According to DGP Vaid, “At least 65 youth have been brought back from militancy to the mainstream”.
The government has also tried to address the stone-pelting by withdrawing the cases against 4,500 youth booked for participating in the protests.
Will this improve the situation in future? Nothing can be said with uncertainty. In past, similar measures have made little redeeming difference.
Centre has been very hardline in its dealings with the Hurriyat leadership, unleashing National Investigation Agency on them to probe their alleged role in receiving money from Pakistan and funding militancy in the state. Nine separatist leaders are in NIA custody. In the Valley, the activities of the Hurriyat triumvirate – Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik – have been drastically circumscribed. The leaders have been largely restricted to their homes.
In October, New Delhi in a twist to its Kashmir policy appointed a former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma as the new J&K interlocutor. He has added the sorely missing political dimension to the handling of Kashmir – albeit, a very low-key one. Sharma has visited Kashmir thrice so far, holding meetings with various mainstream political actors and social and cultural interest groups.
Separatists have predictably boycotted him, so have some major civil society groups, arguing that the initiative lacked seriousness of purpose to address the political issues underpinning the lingering turmoil in the state.
The year ahead
Will 2018 be any different? Unlikely.
More militants may have been killed this year but more youth have taken to militancy, complemented by infiltration from across the border. People continue to disrupt the encounter sites to rescue the trapped militants. And thousands continue to participate in the militant funerals. And whenever there are protests over some grievance or atrocity, the stones continue to be thrown.
And unless there is some substantial upgradation in the mandate of the interlocutor and the initiative graduates into a substantive dialogue process between the Centre and the separatists with a simultaneous dialogue with Pakistan, Sharma’s efforts are likely to wind up nowhere.
But considering that in 2018, the BJP government at the Centre will get into an election mode for 2019 general election, there is unlikely to be any dramatic readjustment in the Kashmir policy. The situation will thus go on regardless.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen