Counterforce targeting in J&K

According to a startling revelation made by the National Bomb Data Centre (NBDC) of the National Security Guard (NSG), India tops the list on the highest number of bomb blasts in the last two years. Some of the other key inferences from the report are: firstly, majority of explosions occurred in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the Northeastern states and Left-wing extremism-affected states; second, J&K witnessed a 121% increase in bomb blasts; and third, terrorists in J&K have preferred targeting security forces while elsewhere soft targets seemed attractive.

In military parlance, “counterforce” implies targeting an opponent’s military forces and facilities while “countervalue” denotes targeting the adversary’s non-military infrastructure like civilian population, economic targets and so on.

The number of deaths of civilian and security forces due to terrorism-related violence in J&K in 2016, as compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, stands at one and 60, respectively. Increa­sed counterforce targeting as opposed to countervalue targeting by terro­rists demands a distinct examination. So, the fundamental question would be: which are the terrorist groups operating and what does the trend denote?

The killing of Hizbul Mujahi­deen (HM) commander, Burhan Wani, on July 8, 2016 is considered by a few analysts as the trigger of the Kashmiri ire that resulted in increased terrorist violence in the state. This assessment is sufficient to chide the Indian state for offensive action against the liberation movement but does not serve an explanation for the increased counterforce targeting by the militants.

While his organisation stood for Islamisation of the state and has links with Pakistan, Burhan was certainly a face for the agitated Kashmiri seeking independence. The death of Wani has left the Kashmiri liberation movement in a void that is sought to be filled by warring militant factions, mostly pro-Pakistani groups.

The principal contenders for primacy in J&K militancy have been the HM, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). Since July 8, the three groups have challenged one another in repeatedly targeting military facilities and personnel across J&K, the deadliest being in Uri and Nagrota.

In this counterforce endeavour, by the eve of 2017, security forces had gunned down 60 militants while losing 40 on their side. The subsequent observation to be made is that the gunned down terrorists of Let, JeM and HM were foreign mercenaries of Pakistani origin.

The presence of these mercenaries must drive analysts against the logic that Kashmiri nationalism motivated by the death of Wani is responsible for increasing terrorist violence. On the contrary, it is the state sponsorship of terrorism by Pakistan that has enabled counterforce targeting by the militant groups.

All incidents of counterforce targeting have signified greater sophistication displayed by the terrorists from gathering intelli­gence to executing the operatio­ns. A local militant is manifestly incapable of achieving this feat without operational and tactical training from a professional military force. It is, thence, no surprise that the terrorists to security forces kill ratio is narrowing.

What needs to be done?
The options available to the security forces are both offensive as well as defensive. According to intelligence sources, Pakistan uses advanced technology to dig tunnels within a few hours to enable cross border infiltration. Border security, therefore, is the first line of defence against the dreaded terrorist outfits.

Here, the case for emulating the technology-driven Israeli border security mechanism capable of providing round-the-clock security has been voiced by experts and security officials for long. Alas, it is yet to see the light of the day. With the absence of sensors and other surveillance technologies, the manpower deficit BSF’s intelligence wing is left outstretched.

As the inner line of defence, having noted that the terrorists’ modus operandi has been counterforce targeting, the security forces — both army and the police — must work in tandem to uncover and eliminate suspected militants. On receiving warnings from national intelligence agencies, the security forces will benefit from launching follow-up intelligence operations to target suspected terrorists.

This will prevent the impending catastrophe instead of enga­ging the terrorists after the attack has commenced. Realtime or tactical intelligence can also direct the forces to beef up security around probable targets.

On the offensive, India must offset the ‘counterforce targeting’ terrorist operations with counterforce targeting operations of its own. Indian intelligence agencies have developed intelligence about the availability of several launch pads across the borders. The LeT and others are known to recruit Pakistani youth, radicalise their worldview and smuggle them into India from these launch pads under the appropriate conditions.

The Indian Army must conduct cross border raids and special operations targeting these launch pads, which to its credit have been conducted in the past. Doing so will reduce the burden on the BSF to constantly monitor the border, as the launch pads will have to be pushed deeper into the hinterland.

Instead of doing this, if experts rationalise the killing of Wani for increased counterforce targeting, counterterrorism in J&K will be unsuccessful and Pak- sponsored groups will loom at large in future.

(The writer is pursuing his M Phil at the School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi)

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