Subversive Blinkers - Sustaining Separatism by Emasculation of Common Sense
Dr Ajay Chrungoo

The subversive war in Jammu and Kashmir is not only about keeping the destabilizing internal security challenges alive through calibrated terrorist attacks from time to time. In the recent past, it has been more about successfully deploying blinkers on the policy making about internal security by using the democratic space and the fault lines in the nation building processes in the country. The separatist establishment through its subversive tentacles has forced the government at the helm to focus primarily on managing public perception more than the impending security challenges.

In the last week of February this year, a “confidential document” of the J&K Police was made available to the print media. It contained the data of the latest census conducted by the state police about the number of active terrorists operating in Kashmir. As per this census, 104 terrorists are active out of which 60 percent are of foreign origin.

The self patting by the State Police and the administration, after they made the census of the active terrorists operating in Kashmir region public and the State Police Chief proclaimed decimation of the terrorist command structure in the state, must have been still on when the terrorists struck in a big way in Pulwama town of South Kashmir, followed by a major strike in Kathua district of Jammu province.

In Pulwama, the incident took place outside the well guarded court complex. Two terrorists fired upon two cops on routine duty from a close range. One of the cops died on the spot while the other succumbed to his injuries in the hospital.

These strikes were not merely for rebutting the government claims. They have been followed by a spate of strikes with an alarming frequency. Just a few days back on April 13, two policemen were killed in a terrorist attack on the house of a National Conference (NC) leader at Khrew area near Srinagar in Kashmir. Two Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists were killed in the subsequent police action. Days before this terrorist strike near Srinagar, on April 8, three security personnel, including a Junior Commissioned Officer of Rashtriya Rifles, and two terrorists were killed in a fierce encounter in the frontier Kupwara district of North Kashmir. The encounter and the exchange of fire continued throughout the night. The terrorists who were killed belonged to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). A huge cache of arms and ammunition was recovered from the place of encounter.

On March 28th, a major fidayeen terrorist attack took place on the Army camp in Kali Bari, Kathua of Jammu region near the LoC. Three heavily armed terrorists intercepted a Bolero SUV near Dayalachack Kathua in the Jammu region, asked its occupants to alight after separating the driver. They sprayed bullets on the disembarked passengers and drove away. After two and a half hours at 7.15 am, they stormed the Army’s III rocket camp some 15 kilometers from Dayalachack at Janglote. An alert sentry repulsed the attack and then in a day long encounter all the three terrorists were killed. An army Jawan and two civilians were also killed in the terrorist attack.

Whether the terrorist had come from across the LoC or from inside is still not clear. However, in the last two major terrorist attacks on LoC, one in Keran sector of Kashmir and the other one in Samba district of Jammu, the fidayeen squads had come from inside.

The attacks on military targets and the attempts to capture territorial pockets along the LoC, orchestrated not from across the border but from inside in the hinter land, as the Keran episode depicted, reflects the graduation of the strategic and tactical perspectives of terrorist regimes operating in the state to a different level.

The assessment of the State Police about the fast depleting manpower of the terrorist regimes on the ground becomes doubtful because the latest terrorist strikes show that terrorist cadres are being deployed directly in very high risk operations. Terrorist regimes faced with depletion of manpower usually resort to using IEDs and hand grenades to conserve its manpower.

This disconnect in the assessment of the government about the internal security situation and the capability of the terrorist regimes operating on the ground to unhinge the apparently normal situation in no time will be a prime security concern in any other country. The disconnect, nonetheless, reflects critical flaws in the analytical approach of the government at the helm in assessing the ground situation.

Normalcy/Abnormalcy Discourse

The political discourse on the internal security situation and the consequent government policies in Jammu and Kashmir exhibit the features of oversimplification, trivialization and reduction. This discourse has defined normalcy or abnormalcy relying predominantly on three indicators:

  • Number of violent terrorist acts in relation to corresponding earlier period.
  • Number of active terrorists operating on the ground.
  • Conduct of the tourist season and Amarnath pilgrimage

Two more indicators in addition to the above have also been deployed once in a while, however reluctantly, but mainly by the security establishment. These are:

  • Infiltration bids along the Line of Actual Control (LoC ) and the International Border( IB) in relation to the corresponding earlier period.
  • Firing incidents across LoC and IB in relation to the corresponding earlier period.

Political leadership in the state has, however, related the infiltration attempts more to the efficiency of the security establishment rather than the relentless and unabated campaign of low –intensity war being waged in the state. Similarly, firing incidents along LoC and IB have been put in the domain of the Foreign or Defence policy rather than indicators of continuity of internal destabilization.

This model of assessment of normalcy or abnormalcy in the state deployed by the political class leaves many issues unexplained. They are briefly elucidated below here:

1) If terrorist acts and the number of active terrorists have decreased decisively, then does its impact reflect in the political environment in the State particularly in the Valley?

Why are both the regional parties in Kashmir valley , People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which ruled earlier in alliance with the Congress and National Conference(NC) which is ruling presently in alliance with the Congress, both maintaining the position that democratically elected governments in the state are only a day to day arrangement to take care of local needs. Is this the result of the all encompassing coercion, which even the supposedly decreased level of militancy in the state is still capable of exerting on the political class on the ground? Decreased militancy should have led to decreased coercion on the ground and the exuding of confidence of the mainstream political class.

If the position taken by PDP and NC that their participation in elections and subsequently in the democratically elected government is just an arrangement to take care of the day to day needs of the people, it is just the stand which the separatists would want and in fact Hurriyat Conference, both factions, have taken from time to time. It means the democratic regime is functioning through a process of self-delegitimisation or has become an instrument of legitimization of separatism. This reality when seen in the light of the presence of active terrorists, whatever their number may be, on the ground capable of inflicting violence in the civil domain and on the governmental apparatus as well as security establishment and also the increasing grip of the separatists on the local political order and democratic space, presents a grimmer picture of the ground situation than the government would like people to believe.

The killing and intimidation of the members of local Panchayats and the public resignations of many of them demonstrates the concrete coercion deployed by the terrorist regimes on the ground. But more glaring is the impact of this coercion. The members of Panchayats who have resigned and those who have chosen not to do so and the family members of the Panchs who were killed have meticulously avoided blaming terrorism for their predicament. Instead all of them have invariably blamed the governments in the state and the Centre for one reason or the other. This inability to stand up to the challenges posed by the terrorist regimes and a universal tendency not to give any affront to the terrorist cause indicates the sway and the reach of the fear which the existing levels of militancy are still exerting on the internal environment of the state.

2)If the terrorist acts and the number of active terrorists have decreased, then has its impact enhanced the freedom of expression of the society?

Terrorism in a society invariably undermines freedom of expression. Terror strangulates the capability of normal dissent of a people living in a society. It seeks to enforce conformity in the public discourse where diversity of opinion becomes taboo and a disqualification. Dissent becomes a risk. Weakening of the grip of terrorism on the society reflects in re-emergence of dissent and tolerance to dissent. In Kashmir, we are yet to witness emergence of free speech and dissent. This is despite the claim of the state government that terrorism has decreased by more than a margin of fifty percent.

In fact, a reverse phenomenon of increasing conformity has been seen in last few years. Not only the behavior of the political class but also that of civil society groups and NGOs and the local media is showing an attitude of brazen conformity. Acts of alleged human rights violation by the security forces are taken into notice suo motu and campaigns of media trials and civil society protests get unleashed instantaneously complimented by prompt endorsements or recognition by the mainstream political establishment as well as the political leadership at the helm. The acts of atrocities by the terrorist regimes rarely get a suo motu attention. Whenever they come to light, they fade away soon due to lack of attention and dearth of takers in the domain of media, civil society groups and the mainstream political parties.

Take the case of the alleged rape and murder of two ladies of Shopian which has plagued the public discourse for last few years and led to a protracted civil unrest in the area. Conformity in the public and political behavior was evident from the very moment the gruesome act came to public light. Even though no evidence was available to link the incident with Army, yet, from the word go, campaign of blaming the army was unleashed through direct or indirect insinuations from the leadership at the helm as well political leaders of various hues including the separatists. When it came to the public domain that not the army but personnel of the state police were allegedly involved in the affair, the discourse continued to blame Army and the paramilitary forces. The civil society groups, the local media, the separatist and the mainstream leadership demonstrated an amazing conformity. And even after it came to light that the local doctor had tampered with the forensic evidence including the vaginal smear to prove that it was a rape it did not cause any outrage. The conformity has been brazenly apparent in ignoring such facts which can change the entire context of the issue and allowing them to fade away from the public memory.

This voluntary censorship and abstinence by the civil society is visible in almost all cases where terrorist regimes are explicitly involved in acts of human rights violation. Selective killings by the terrorists never become the focus of human rights campaigners. The matter is allowed to fade into oblivion or at the most may be put to rest by a symbolic condemnation.

The Kashmiri Hindu employees who have been recruited in the Kashmir valley in last few years as per the Prime Minister’s employment package have put themselves on record through many written testimonies that they are experiencing routine communal harassment at their work places and in an atmosphere of intimidation most of them are unable to speak about it.

Same is the case of the Sikh minority living in the valley. The regular conversions of their women folk, and the harassment which they experience every now and then, find expression rarely in the public domain. And whenever such issues come to the fore, their leaders have to come out with statements like the threatened Panchayat members blaming the government for their plight rather than the shadow of the gun and the communal campaign which looms large in every nook and corner there.

The Christian Pastor in Srinagar was charged by the so called Supreme Court of Shariat that he was indulging in conversions of local Muslims to Christian faith. He was grilled during a hearing of this pseudo-court and the local police issued a warrant against him. He had to run to Jammu to seek a bail against the warrant issued against him as no lawyer was prepared to plead his case in the valley court.

The ladies rock band which played Sufi poetry in Srinagar had to withdraw after a reprimand by the Muslim clergy. The young Muslim girls who were part of the rock band had to withdraw and lie low. The leader of the PDP and former cabinet Minister Muzaffar Beg publicly admitted that fear and intimidation were ruling the roost in the valley in response to the religious ban on the ladies’ rock band.

This increasing conformity to the dictates of the fundamentalists and separatists is either an expression of the extent of coercion which the terrorist regimes are capable of exercising on the public mind or an endorsement of the agenda which terrorist regimes are pursuing. In an atmosphere of fading militancy, conformity should also fade away.

3) If the terrorist acts and the number of active terrorists have decreased, then has there been decrease in radicalization of the society?

Radical Islamist organizations in Jammu and Kashmir have been on the fore front of the relentless campaign of indoctrination of the people. Radicalization has yielded recruits for terrorist regimes operating on the ground. This has been true of the entire region extending from Jammu and Kashmir right up to Afghanistan. In fact radicalization has been a reliable measure of the potential of militarization of the social milieu in this region.

Decrease in terrorism leads to decrease in coercion. In the normal course, the decrease in coercion should lead to widening of liberal space and manifestation of liberal behavior in the society and erosion of the regimentalised attitude.

Despite a decrease in the militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, we have been witnessing a fast growing Pan – Islamic radicalization in Kashmir valley and the Muslim majority areas of Jammu and a regimentalised behavior. Pan –Islamic organizations spreading Deobandi-Wahabi brands of Islam have grown and expanded exponentially during last one decade and the local brands of Islam are giving way to them.

The burning of the famous Dastgir Sahib Shrine in Srinagar saw subdued public reaction. People in the valley chose to lie low and calibrated the public outpourings when some more shrines were burnt after the inferno in Dastgir Sahib. In earlier times, this would have been unimaginable. People still remember the volcanic eruption of the public protests and unrest after the relic belonging to Prophet Mohammad was stolen from the Hazratbal Dargah on the banks of Dal Lake. Many ascribe this change in public response to spread of radical Islam in the valley. Deobandi- Wahabi brands of Islam consider shrines and tombs as expressions of idol worship and seek to rid the Muslim societies of this religious evil.

Pan –Islamic organizations like Ahl-e Hadis, Jamat-i-Islami, and Allah-Walles are spreading their tentacles through intense preaching, building of net work of mosques, control of educational institutions and seminaries and expanding their influence in the universities and colleges. Youth are being targeted in a big way by these organizations. The content analyses of the posts on the social media used by the Muslim youth in Jammu and Kashmir are an ample testimony of this radicalization. Eating beef was not popular in Kashmir amongst the Muslims. Cow slaughter has become order of the day because many under the impact of radicalization believe it to be a religious duty. The morning prayers in schools, the slogans and wall writings in the class rooms across the length and breadth of Kashmir valley exhibit an intense religious bias. Secular education has become almost extinct in the educational institutions. Morning prayers in most of the educational institutions are followed by tableegh or sermons of Islamic preaching. Dress of youth particularly the females shows the effect of this radicalization.

Erosion of Itiqadi or shrine worshipping brand of Islam has not been the only expression of growing Islamic radicalization. Shia Muslim processions during the days of Moharram cannot take place now and the authorities invariably ban them. Last five years have seen frequent Shia- Sunni strife. This has been a standard feature of Islamic radicalization in Islamic societies all over the Muslim world including Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pan- Islamic views about politics and world affairs dominates the public discourse. Impact of Islamic radicalization is brazenly manifest in almost all spheres of cultural activities in the society.

The growing radicalization signifies the widening of the recruiting ground for terrorism and internal subversion and over ground support structures of militancy and secessionism. The numbers of active terrorists quoted by the state government and the police are still in a range which is more than alarming. Imagine if somebody in USA or Europe from the security or intelligence establishment confirms that a dozen of active terrorists are present inside their territories. The alert levels will go beyond red zone. More than 100 active terrorists present on the ground is not just an insignificant element but a major asymmetrical military threat from inside which can unravel and unhinge the entire internal order established in the state after a protracted battle and a huge cost of life and resources. And the widening ambit of radicalization within the Muslim social milieu in the state means a fertile ground which can breed new crops of terrorists.

Measuring Terrorism- Emasculating Commonsense

Relying primarily on the number of active terrorists operating on the ground at a given time and the number of terrorist acts during a particular period of time in comparison to corresponding previous period is a flawed measurement process deployed to assess whether we are winning the war against terrorism in the state or not. Measurement techniques about terrorism deployed by many international experts have relied on ‘groups, events and behavior ‘of terrorist organizations. Their events focused approach has relied on types, targets and regions of terrorist activity. And yet they found these measurement techniques, which are far more comprehensive and of wider range than the assessment framework on which the state and the central governments have chosen to depend upon to devise policy and political responses, not adequate enough to predict the prognosis of terrorism with certainty.

Edward F. Mickolus, who has critically analyzed the Global War On Terrorism, while appreciating the broad based measurement approach as already described still feels that it is difficult to establish a baseline of ‘normal terrorist activity’ and hence characterization of increasing or decreasing activity may provide a skewed conclusion. Mickolus observes that terrorist groups may need time for planning operations, and these down periods provide false reading if one is counting the number of events in a specific time period and comparing it against another.

Basing the internal security assessments on a very limited range of indicators like number of terrorists active at a particular time and the number of terrorist acts during a particular period of time has grave limitations and inflicts only assessment delusions. Security experts have recognized this in recent times with increased sensitivity and emphasis.

Sean N. Kalic observes in his paper on combating terrorism that, “ The trend from 1968 to 2003 demonstrates that the peak of international terrorism occurred well before the 11 September 2001 attacks on World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The peak of international terrorist events reached its apogee in 1987 before falling off significantly in 1989. According to the US State Department, the total number of terrorist activities reached a high of 665 incidents in 1987….alone these numbers mean virtually nothing….” He elucidates his observations further,

“…international terrorist groups rebounded from their low in 1989( 375 incidents) to a pinnacle of 565 events in 1991. Despite the vast increase made between 1989 and 1991 (a jump of 180 events over two years) by terrorist groups, their activity fell again in 1994. International terrorist activity again surged in 1995 to 440 events before this vacillating trend stabilized in the period 1996 to 1999.

Ups and downs in terrorist incidents mean little or almost nothing in the new terrorism which the world is facing. The nature of terrorist acts and the intact capability of the terrorist regimes operating on the ground to enact the act reveals more than the number of violent incidents. The capture of a village at Shallbatta in Keran sector just along the LoC by fidayeen coming not from across but from the hinterland had the potential of creating a bigger standoff and crystallizing a security crisis of unimaginable dimensions. The 9/11 attacks on twin towers in New York created an earthquake in the existing international order and a security crisis of unimaginable dimensions. The number of terrorist incidents in the international arena before 9/11 was far less than the peak it had attained earlier.

The number of terrorists active at a particular time is a more unreliable indicator because it is speculative and depends upon the ground intelligence which is always not comprehensive enough to be sure. Terrorist regimes don’t keep attendance registers.

Just a few months back, the Jammu and Kashmir state administration had been maintaining that the number of terrorists active in the state has been around 400. And now it has proclaimed that the number has come down to around just above hundred. Did the security forces liquidate around 300 terrorists during this period? If the news paper reports about terrorist causalities during this period are to be believed then the number of terrorists eliminated is far less than what the figures of the state government reveal. Did active terrorists sneak back into POK or Pakistan or disperse outside Jammu and Kashmir in rest of India? Or did they actually surrender to the state police?

And if we take the number of around a hundred active terrorists operating on the ground, as claimed by the State police, in geographically as small an area as Kashmir region of Jammu and Kashmir, as a gospel truth, even then the situation on the ground remains grave and grim. Imagine if the Homeland Security department of USA confirms the existence of just 10 active terrorists on its soil how the national alert levels will go up.

The State police census claims that out of 104 active terrorists operating on the ground, 59 belong to L-e-T, 30 to Hizbul Mujahideen and 15 belong to Jaish-e-Mohammad. This means that the militancy in the State has been taken over by Pan Islamic organizations with L-e-T leading from the front. Even in these formations, there is a mixed presence of foreign and local terrorists. The local terrorists captured or killed in recent times have been found to be from better socio-economic background and also educated. The significant presence of foreign terrorists in the terrorist regimes operating on the ground has been portrayed by the leadership of NC and PDP as a sort of an indicator of improvement. For them, it proves the dwindling support of locals for terrorism. Persistent presence of foreign terrorists in leading roles in the terrorist operations however is a more potent indicator of a wider social support for pan Islamic operations on the ground. For a single foreign terrorist to successfully operate on the ground in Jammu and Kashmir, a far more broad based support structure in the society is required.

Just a week before the State police leaked out its confidential census of the active terrorists across Kashmir, ‘thousands participated in the funeral prayers’ of the two terrorists killed in Shopian in South Kashmir. Both the militants belonged to Hizbul Mujahedeen and were locals. “To mourn the death of the two, reports said, all the shops, business establishments, private offices and educational institutions remained closed in Shopian town and its peripheries … whereas transport remained off the roads.” And only a day after the State police census of active terrorists came to light, an undeclared curfew was imposed in Lalpora in Kupwara district when angry ‘protestors …stormed the local police station and torched its two bunkers amid demands by them that the bodies of the seven militants killed during a gun fight in Dardpora forests of the district yesterday be handed over to them.’ These protests took place after seven L-e-T terrorists were killed in Kupwara.

These incidents of spontaneous public support for Pan-Islamist Jihadis are a frequent occurrence in Kashmir. When seen in the light of the expanding reach of Pan-Islamist over ground organizations like Jamat-I-Islami, Ahl-i-Hadis and Allah Wale, we are actually witnessing the exponential growth of the infrastructure which can unleash new waves of Jihadi war. The State Government on 19 February, 2014 revealed that “as many as 1733 cases involving 9166 persons have been registered since 2009 in different districts of the Kashmir division. These persons were booked on the charges of rioting, stone throwing and waging war against the state in Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramulla, Shopian, Bandipora, Pulwama, Ganderbal, Kulgam and Kupwara towns.” What better illustration of what is happening in the entire length of breadth of Kashmir region!. Increased radicalization, increased secessionist public mobilizations and terrorist activities which continue to be a major security asymmetry capable of unhinging the public order in no time is what the state of affairs in Jammu and Kashmir is. The environment and the infrastructure which can unleash new and bloody destabilization have grown to dangerous levels.

Sections of Congress party along with the entire rank and file of National Conference have been demanding the removal of AFPSA in the state for quite some time. The claim of waning terrorism in the State helps making the demand politically plausible. But more crucially, the claim creates a delusion of normalcy which can prove to be fatal at a time when Jihadi regimes operating in the region including Jammu and Kashmir are claiming victory against the second superpower USA after the defeat of Soviet Union.

Why have the governments at the helm in the State and the Centre allowed a naïve understanding of the internal security situation in Jammu and Kashmir to take control of the public discourse and influence its responses? Why is it that a large section of opinion makers in India indulge in manufacturing illusions about Jammu and Kashmir? We are witnessing emasculation of commonsense. We are also seeing enforcing of strategic stupidity.

(The author is the General Secretary of Panun Kashmir)

Published Date: 6 th May 2014, Image source:

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