While fleeing from the ambush site, the militants also opened fire and hurled a grenade on a Police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) check point near Barzulla Bridge in the city, injuring a Police Officer and a CRPF trooper. The attack was the deadliest in terms of fatalities in the last almost five years; it was on July 19, 2008, that 10 soldiers were killed and another 18 were injured when HM militants destroyed a Security Forces´ (SF) bus in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast at Narbal Crossing in the outskirts of Srinagar.
In another first in a long time, on March 13, 2013, HM terrorists had executed a suicide attack on a CRPF camp in Bemina in Srinagar, killing five troopers and injuring seven. The two terrorists who carried out the attack were also killed. The last suicide attack in J&K had been executed on January 6, 2010, when terrorists had hit a CRPF camp at Lal Chowk in Srinagar, killing a Policeman and injuring nine persons, including one CRPF trooper.
Conspicuously, after a long decline in their operations, militant formations, primarily the HM, are attempting to escalate violence, as continued failure to show any ´positive results´ to their masters across the border, specifically Pakistan´s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), are creating a threat to their own survival. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, a total of 62 people, including 30 SFs, 21 militants and 11 civilians have been killed in the first six months of the current year, as compared to 41 killings, including 30 militants, eight civilians and three SF personnel, during the corresponding period of 2012. Significantly, the current year has recorded the highest number of SF fatalities in the first six months of a year since 2010, when 45 SFs had died in first six months. In 2011, fatalities among the SFs, till June 30, stood at 12.
Moreover, incidents of border firing, both at the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB), in the State have escalated. According to the SATP data, as many as 34 incidents of such firing have taken place in the current year resulting into 12 fatalities - 11 terrorists and one SF trooper. Seven out of these 34 such incidents have occurred after Nawaz Sharif took oath as the Prime Minister of Pakistan for the third time, on June 5, 2013, resulting in seven fatalities (all terrorists). In the latest of such incidents, Indian troops shot dead two heavily armed terrorists, who were attempting to infiltrate into the Indian side amidst firing cover provided by Pakistani Army troops, along the LoC at Morha Gap in forward village of Baisalli in the Keri sector of Rajouri District in the morning of June 26. The infiltration bid was thwarted. Significantly, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was present in J&K at the time of the incident. In fact, Pakistan violated the cease-fire agreement (CFA) at least three times during PM´s visit to the State.
This was Singh´s 13th visit to the State after becoming PM in 2004.
Amidst this escalation in Islamabad-backed violence, Prime Minister Singh´s visit to the State on June 25 and 26, 2013 focused on the inauguration of the all-weather railway line between Qazigund (Anantnag District, Kashmir Division) and Banihal (Ramban District, Jammu Division). The train service is already operational within Kashmir Valley on the 118-km-long route between Qazigund and Baramulla District. The PM also dedicated the 850 MW Ratle Hydro-electric Project at Kishtwar and announced that a special assistance of INR 7.1 billion will be provided to the State to meet the cost of acquisition of land for construction of roads under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMSY). Later, talking about development initiatives in the State under Prime Minister´s Reconstruction Plan (PMRP) he observed:
During my visit to the State in 2004, I had announced a reconstruction plan for Jammu and Kashmir. It included projects and schemes worth Rs 37,000 crore [INR 370 Billion] aimed at creating infrastructure development, basic amenities, employment and other income generating activities and rehabilitation and resettlement of militancy-affected victims. I am happy to inform you that out of 67 projects and schemes under the reconstruction plan, 34 have been completed. Work on remaining schemes has seen good progress. In addition to this plan, nearly Rs 1,000 crore [INR 10 Billion] worth of projects are being implemented in Jammu and Ladakh regions for meeting development needs of these areas. For skill development and making the State´s youth employable, schemes like ´Himayat´ and ´Udaan´ have been launched and the results were encouraging. They will develop the youth of Jammu and Kashmir to avail the educational benefits available in the country."
Referring to the security situation, the PM reiterated that "insurgency in the State will be wiped out." Replying to a question whether the Government of India was willing to consider holding talks with separatists and others, the PM said, "I have always said that those who shun violence, we are ready to talk to them."
Similarly, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah highlighted social, political and economic development, boasting that Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) was up from Rs. 37,282 crores [INR 372.82 billion] in 2008-09 to Rs. 63,684 crores [INR 636.84 billion] in 2012-13. Omar also claimed that, by the efforts of the Government, the Panchayats (village level local self Government institutions) in the State were emerging as vibrant and effective institutions. Omar also talked about resumption of sustained and meaningful dialogue with Pakistan expressing the hope that the new PM in the neighboring country would create a conducive atmosphere for resumption of talks. The Chief Minister also pitched for restoration of internal dialogue with diverse political opinion in an inclusive manner.
The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also laid stress on dialogue with the separatists as well as with Pakistan. Demanding settlement of the ´Kashmir issue´ through ´globally accepted means´, party patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed declared that it was important that security concerns were addressed, but not without providing full ´democratic space´ to people, where they could run their civil institutions without someone breathing down their necks.
Unfortunately, the political class appears to have lost the plot in their talk of ´dialogue´ with different ´stake holders´.
For one thing, the credentials of the new ´friendly´ regime in Pakistan are not encouraging. Nawaz Sharif´s linkages to extremist Islamist formations are widely documented, even as his capacities to take an independent course on foreign policy remains suspect, given the nature of civil-military relations in the country. It is useful to reiterate, here, that the Army continued to violate the CFA even during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh´s visit to the State. Further, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Sharif-led ruling party, in its 2013 Election Manifesto clearly reiterated that it would seek to resolve the Kashmir issue within the framework of the "inherent right of self-determination", a formulation that has long fuelled separatism in J&K. Significantly, reference to the "inherent right of self-determination" is conspicuous in its absence in any discussion within Pakistan of the status of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) - including the ´Azad Jammu & Kashmir´ and Gilgit Baltistan. Moreover, the linkages of the new regime with extremist formations became an open secret on June 17, 2013, when the PML-N Government in Punjab Province, led by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of PM Nawaz Sharif, allocated millions of rupees in its budget for fiscal 2013-14 for the largest centre of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), a front for the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and whose chief Hafeez Saeed is the main conspirator in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
Meanwhile, a cursory look into the background of the recent orchestrated disorders in J&K reinforces the fact, backed by intelligence inputs, that these have been the handiwork of ISI and its proxies, the separatists within the State. Indeed, the separatists continue to secure direct assistance from their Pakistani patrons. Seven separatist leaders, led by the chairman of the All Party Hurriyat Conference-Mirwaiz (APHC-M), Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, for instance, met with ISI chief Lieutenant General Zaheer-ul-Islam, as well chiefs of the LeT and HM, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and Mohammad Yusuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin, respectively, in Pakistan, in December 2012. According to reports, Saeed and Shah told the delegation that armed militancy would revive in the Kashmir Valley in 2014, in the aftermath of the expected drawdown of US Forces from Afghanistan.
On June 13, 2013, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq asked mainstream parties in J&K to quit power politics and join the ongoing struggle for the right to self determination, declaring, "The elections - whether Parliament or Assembly - have been taking place since 1947 but these in no way have made any difference and have no bearing on resolution of Kashmir issue. The only solution lies in implementation of UN resolutions or tripartite talks."
Other separatist constituencies, moreover, continue to toe the Pakistani line, and reject any dialogue with Delhi, absent a role for Pakistan and third country intermediaries. The Syed Ali Shah Geelani led APHC-G, for instance, on June 21, 2013, demanded that India-Pakistan talks on the issue of J&K should be held in a third country. An unnamed APHC-G spokesperson said, "The Centre will try to exploit such an event to justify its presence in the State. It will be beneficial for our cause if such talks are held in a third country." The APHC-G was reacting to the suggestion made by the chairman of the APHC-M Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, on June 20, 2013, that Indo-Pak talks should be held in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad (capital of Pakistan occupied Kashmir) for resolving the Kashmir issue. Later, on June 28, 2013, the APHC-G stated that "solution of Kashmir issue is not possible within Indian Constitution and this nation has been offering sacrifices for last 65 years for only right of self determination. This struggle will continue."
These positions have little popular resonance. It is significant that, despite repeated calls by the Pakistan-backed terrorist separatist formations to the people of J&K to boycott polls - General Elections, Assembly Elections and Local Body Elections - people have voted in large numbers, demonstrating faith in the democratic process, as against the politics of the gun. The separatists have also failed in repeated efforts to orchestrate a resurgence of street violence on the 2010 pattern.
The surge in terrorist attacks on SF personnel in J&K is worrisome, and demands an immediate and effective response from the SFs, to ensure that the hard-earned gains of the past years are not eroded. Political clarity is needed to guide this effort, and a constant harping on ´dialogue´ - however well-intentioned - must not be allowed to undermine counter-terrorist campaigns at this sensitive time in the State´s trajectory. It is imperative for both New Delhi and Srinagar to focus on eliminating the remnants of Pakistan-backed terrorism in the State, and to ensure faster, sustainable and uniform development, to consolidate a permanent peace. Such a peace will not come as a gift from Pakistan, or from the separatist constituency, but will, rather, have to be secured against the machinations of these elements.
(The writer Ajit Kumar Singh is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not RDI IBNS)