Kashmir is sizzling with violence once more. After years of relative calm, latest militant attacks in Srinagar city has broken the lull. Last week, fidayeen (suicide) militants, after a gap of more than three years, stormed a paramilitary CRPF camp in the heart of the city, killing five personnel.
This week, in another daring militant attack in Nowgam area on the outskirts of the city, one paramilitary BSF personnel was killed and two others injured. The Bemina fidayeen attack and Nowgam attack followed a succession of other attacks across the Valley, particularly in Sopore, Baramulla and Kupwara areas of North Kashmir, which have once again emerged as the hub of militant activities.
The execution of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru seems to have given a new lease of life to separatists and militants in Kashmir. Immediately after the hanging of Afzal in Delhi’s Tihar Jail last month, banned anti-India militant groups in Pakistan like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and United Jihad Council had reportedly vowed to take revenge for the execution and step up their “Jihad” (holy war) in Jammu and Kashmir.
Suddenly, there is a sense of deja vu in the air. Bemina attack indicates that militants are back in command and can strike at will. By launching a suicide attack in the heart of the city, they have broken the security myth that Srinagar is out of bounds for militants.
Nobody in the security establishment is in a position to give an exact answer for the sudden spike in the violence. Have the security forces in the Valley suddenly lowered their guard or lost the capacity to pre-empt such attacks. Or, were the militants holding back on purpose all these years, waiting for a go ahead.
The claims of Director General of Police Ashok Prasad that current wave of street protests in the Valley were being sponsored from across the border, and the statement of Inspector General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), V S Yadav, that some militants infiltrated into the Valley around the time of Afzal’s hanging indicate that, directly or indirectly, Pakistan wants to keep the pot boiling in Kashmir. It doesn’t take Pakistan too much time to replenish the depleted militant ranks in Kashmir.
In 2012 and the first two months of this year, militants’ primary targets were panchayat members. In 2011, panchayat elections in Kashmir created much hype. Both voters and candidates defied militant threats to make the first state-wide panchayat polls in more than three decades a success. However, militants started to target the elected grassroots representatives from last year and at least six of them were killed in different attacks, most of them in North Kashmir areas.
Security projections for this year are grim. Violence is expected to further spiral in the coming months as the militants reportedly have successfully regrouped themselves and there is qualitative shift in their approach and strategy. Army has been maintaining that there are hundreds of militants waiting to infiltrate at the launching pads across the LoC.
This militant resurgence has upset many an assiduously nurtured security myth in the Valley. Over the years, security establishment in the state had been claiming near disappearance of militancy. It wasn’t only security establishment which was in this self-congratulatory mood; official and public opinion in the country was also the same. A large section of the national media, even otherwise loathe to question official wisdom - more so, on Kashmir - have happily played along with this line.
In post-September 11 world, Kashmir, for the most part, has been relegated to a footnote. Besides, violent nature of the political conflict in the state easily lent itself to the new terror description which fundamentally shifted the US perception of the situation in the state.
This in turn even impacted the positions of India and Pakistan on the state, with Islamabad losing the credibility of its “moral and diplomatic support” to Kashmir cause.
India, on the other hand, suddenly found takers for its “secular” standing on the state which went a long way in depriving the armed campaign in the state of its essentially ‘Azadi’ credentials. Ironically, it was this paradigm shift in the situation that along the way created the conditions for one of the most promising dialogue processes on Kashmir between the two countries in 2004.
However, the dialogue process came to a grinding halt after 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which 166 people were killed. On February 10, 2011, India agreed to resume talks with Pakistan but after border skirmishes earlier this year in which Pakistani troops allegedly beheaded two Indian soldiers, the process has been stalled once more. New Delhi has made any fresh engagement with Pakistan conditional on Islamabad stopping terror activities against India from its soil and acting against perpetrators of the Mumbai attack. But in Pakistan, it is beginning to be seen as New Delhi’s attempt to back out of its side of the bargain and a repeat performance of its devious diplomatic art of taking its interlocutors on an endless merry-go-round.
Does this in anyway explain the revival of militancy in the state. After running out of favour for some years, has militancy again become relevant to Kashmir plot, as a necessary instrument of leverage? There is one more explanation, and a scary one. Is Kashmir now becoming an inextricable part of the Great Game being played out in Afghanistan? Political observers here feel that the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 might again provide militants from there a “cause” in Kashmir.
Hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani’s often repeated statement that gun has a role in resolving the vexed Kashmir problem, is self-explanatory. “Gun is a factor in the solution of Kashmir issue. Gun is a factor till we don’t achieve freedom. When militancy broke out in 1990, it created fear among Indian troopers in Kashmir, which no one can deny. There was a sense of upper hand,” he says.
However, he has also been advocating, “Our policy is that we won’t use even a stone in our struggle. We have no direct contact with them (militants) and we won’t use the gun in our struggle.”