A 22-hour gun-battle between security forces and militants who took refuge in a hotel in Srinagar after attacking a police outpost has raised doubts over the accuracy of security assessments that claimed a fall in militant capability and activity in the Kashmir Valley. The attack, which is the first major one in Srinagar in over two years, has shaken confidence as it has indicated that militants are able to strike in the heart of Srinagar and hold security forces at bay for almost two days. Security experts have been drawing attention to the sharp fall in militant attacks in the Valley. Indeed, 2009 was a milestone with militant attacks falling to their lowest ever since the eruption of the insurgency two decades ago and dropping by over 30 per cent compared with 2008. This had prompted the Centre to scale back army deployment in the Valley by around 30,000 and to cut paramilitary presence there as well. In fact, National Security Advisor M K Narayanan had even said that the improved security situation in Kashmir provided scope for further cutback in troop deployment in the state.
The standoff in Srinagar will prompt some to call on the government to hold off troop reduction in the Valley. It would indeed be a pity if the Centre heeds their demand. A dialogue is on between the Centre and separatists in the Valley as part of a larger peace process. The downsizing of military presence in the Valley is a vital component of that process, which has contributed to confidence building. Any move to reverse the decision on troop deployment will only serve to subvert the peace process.
There are sections in the government, the armed forces, among politicians, militants and separatists, as well as the public who have a vested interest in keeping the Kashmir cauldron bubbling. They are averse to the situation normalising in the state. They can be expected to use the Srinagar standoff to inflame public sentiments and/or embarrass the government. Jammu and Kashmir’s political parties, ever eager to exploit crisis situations to score points against each other, can be expected to engage in some theatrics in the coming days. They must bear in mind that shrill rhetoric is not in the interest of the people, whose welfare they claim is at the heart of their politics. As for the government, it must avoid a knee jerk response at all costs.