In Kashmir’s ageing insurgency, militants maintain numbers

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More than 200 militants are estimated to be active across the Kashmir valley as their numerical strength has not shown a dramatic decline despite a major counter-insurgency offensive launched last year.

The latest number of militants, who have spread their footprints across all ten districts of Kashmir valley, was estimated at 217 by a senior army officer. 

Lieutenant General B. S. Raju, GOC, Chinar Corps on Sunday told the multimedia news agency ANI that the “terrorists’ recruitment in 2020 was fairly in control, especially when compared to 2018.” “The present strength of terrorists in the Valley is 217 which is lowest in the last decade.”

The current strength of the insurgency, which is more than three decades old, is a near-similar figure that was present in the region in February last year when the J-K police chief Dilbag Singh had put the number between 200 to 250.

The insurgency in Kashmir has made a comeback during the last eight years after their numbers fell to a record low in 2013, when the number of active militants plunged to seventy-eight.

The period of 2011-2013 gave a chance to the government for political outreach that could have gotten “a near-complete solution”, believes Ajai Sahni, the Executive Director at Institute of Conflict Management and South Asia Terrorism Portal. 

However, Sahni said, the policies thereafter of the new government “when nothing was done to address the grievances of the population, in fact, the government deepened the grievances by policies, fed the insurgency”.

The BJP’s government’s “polarizing politics … with efforts to capture power”, Sahni told The Kashmir Walla, is the critical element that has continued the trend in militancy in the last decade. 

In 2013, the last year of the UPA government, a mere sixteen men were recruited into the insurgency in the Kashmir region as militancy had reached a major breaking point. The recruitment, however, saw a comeback in 2014, when fifty-three recruits picked up arms, as the BJP began the rule.

In July last year, an army captain of 62 Rashtriya Rifles, Bhoopinder Singh, staged a gunfight and killed three civilians in cold blood, a police investigation found. In December that year, the army killed three persons in an alleged gunfight in Srinagar; the families of the killed trio have claimed they were innocents too. 

When this “sense of injustice is felt, even if they are just allegations, they always feed anger of people,” said Sahni. “[Unlike militant killings], if there is a widespread belief that civilians are being killed, then that will always create new recruits.”

H S Panag, a retired Lieutenant General who headed the Northern and the Central commands, said the current strength of active militants is “not a point of worry”. “If there is an insurgency going on, there will always be militants. The figures used to be in thousands (in the 1990s) and today it is 200; it is a manageable insurgency,” he told The Kashmir Walla.

“Since the infiltration is well controlled, it is mostly home-grown,” he said. “This insurgency is low on arms and ammunition and is incapable of carrying out major attacks.”

He added that to end the insurgency, the government needs to find a political solution. “As long as no solution is found, new people will come and join,” he said, adding that the numbers will continue to follow the same trend.

If not a political solution, “you can only end the insurgency by running a steam-roller, a tactic wherein you start from an end and finish it, irrespective of the cost”. “But India, as a democracy, cannot do that,” he said. “Notwithstanding the odd cases of human rights violation, we have never run a steamroller in Jammu and Kashmir.”

To Sahni, the upcoming decade is not of any dramatic significance. “From a security perspective, this insurgency will not threaten India’s integrity and security,” he said. “This is a movement that would escalate, or decline, in the next decade, depending on the wisdom or lack of wisdom of the government’s policies.”

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