Targetted killings in Kashmir: India’s security dilemma
Fear and insecurity within Kashmir is being created by sleeper cells activated at regular intervals
The recent encounters in Kashmir, killing of innocents and loss of lives of security forces indicates that the peace, which the region enjoyed, is possibly receding. Pakistan, which hosts terrorist groups, continues to attempt infiltration with some success. It aims to ensure that actions by terrorists remain below levels of Indian tolerance as it fears another cross-border strike. Simultaneously, it continues to harp on India’s supposed human rights violations in Kashmir. The collapse of the Hurriyat has resulted in Pakistan losing a major support base.
The takeover by the Taliban in Afghanistan has added to Pakistan’s confidence and it will shift gears towards Kashmir once Afghanistan stabilizes. Pakistan is confident that it can exploit Afghanistan to further its intention of keeping Kashmir on the global radar. Terrorist camps and terrorist group leaders would be relocated to eastern Afghanistan, thereby saving face in global forums like the FATF. Individual members of the Afghan Taliban including IED experts would be hired and inducted into Kashmir to give a boost to their plans for enhancing turmoil.
Afghanistan may have given Pakistan confidence, however, the interim government created by General Faiz Hameed, ex-DG ISI, has not been recognized nor will it be in any near timeframe. Arms and financial support to those resisting the Taliban is likely to increase. The reach of ISIS will spread within Afghanistan. Hence, turmoil in Afghanistan is probable and as it grows, spill over into Pakistan is inevitable.
In addition, rising attacks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP) and Baloch freedom fighters remains a matter of concern and compels Pakistan to deploy a large number of forces onto its western borders. It also enhances security concerns for the CPEC, angering China. Thus, the current priority for Pakistan is its western borders and restive regions dominated by Pashtuns and Baloch.
The ceasefire with India, pushed through by back-channel diplomacy, and bulldozed down the throat of the army by the NSA and political leadership, with the intention of possibly commencing dialogue, has benefitted Pakistan in multiple ways, though it has provided relief to villagers living close to the LOC, enabling them to continue maintaining their fields without fear of firing. It has enabled Pakistan to concentrate on its western borders by moving reserve formations meant for operations against India. Launch pads have been relocated close to the LOC. Despite a dynamic counter-infiltration grid in place, infiltration is never a zero-sum game and occasionally succeeds.
Fear and insecurity within the valley is being created by sleeper cells activated at regular intervals. Members of the cell, though overground workers, are not on police radars. They target innocents including non-locals at random intending to create a migration similar to the nineties, thus discrediting the ruling dispensation. Unless stemmed, this could be a matter of concern. Recent confidence building calls by the Lt Governor to minority community members amplifies it.
Pakistan terrorists are involved in encounters with security forces in remote regions as it is happening in Surankote and Mendhar regions of Poonch. Infiltration was curtailed during pre-ceasefire days by selective targeting of launch pads, compelling Pakistan to continuously shift them and also locate them in depth.
It also kept Pakistan posts on the boil as they were being relentlessly hit. On multiple occasions, Pakistan troops refused to back infiltration fearing Indian retaliation.
Pakistan’s bosom friend China has indicated reluctance to move forward on further disengagement as was evident with the 13th Corps Commanders meeting.
The statements issued by both sides blamed the other for the impasse, however, it does not signify the end of talks. It could be considered as an interval.
While there are multiple reasons for adverse Chinese behaviour in the talks including the failed intrusion at Tawang, change in leadership at the Western Theatre Command and the upcoming Chinese Communist Party conclave, the fact remains that currently deployed forces would remain in the situation through the winters.
With infrastructure development being undertaken by both sides, high troop density is the future for the region. This has implications on cost, rotation of troops and their sustenance. It also implies that there would always be tensions on both Indian fronts--LAC and LOC, with firing restricted to the LOC. China would attempt incursions intending to send the message that it does not accept the current demarcation. Resolution of the LAC is still a distance away.
For China, a troubled Kashmir, splitting Indian forces concentration, is beneficial when it enhances pressure on the LAC. It is here that China-Pakistan could collude. Terrorists could hamper Indian road communications, slowing movement of supplies and troops. Pakistan terrorists, generally maintaining a low profile would become active when desired by China to further its aims.
Thus, Indian security forces need to devise strategies for dealing with both threats near simultaneously. Since the LAC does not involve infiltration or firing, emphasis must remain on ensuring Chinese intrusions are blocked and talks to resolve tensions and pull back continue, though it would be a time consuming affair.
The current policy of linking resolution of the LAC to bilateral ties must remain. India must question Chinese occupation of Tibet. Simultaneously Indian forces must be prepared to undertake intrusions on the Chinese side of the LAC to send forth the message that India can play the same game and better. China faced this on the Kailash ridge.
With Pakistan, the ceasefire has not resulted in any talks, as pre-conditions by Pakistan are unacceptable as also its internal environment is neither conducive nor stable. Pakistan continues to harp on Kashmir, though it has no listeners, support proscribed terrorist groups and infiltrate terrorists into the region. Attempting to create another migration by building an atmosphere of fear, it could bring Kashmir back into global focus. With the ceasefire, it is Pakistan which has gained, and they are exploiting it.
India must therefore seek to offset Pakistan’s well-conceived plans. It must consider the ceasefire as null and void in case of any infiltration attempt. As retaliation, it should target Pakistan’s launchpads and army camps along the LOC, despite them being located close to civilian population. If peace in the valley is not forthcoming by accepting a ceasefire, then the very premise of accepting it is flawed.
*** The writer is a reputed security expert; views expressed are his own