Kashmir: have grenades, will lob

The past month has witnessed a surge in militant attacks in central Srinagar. On Sunday, Jaish-e-Mohammad militants hurled a grenade at the CRPF camp in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk area, killing four civilians and seven security forces personnel. Lal Chowk is a busy market place in the heart of Srinagar. The attack happened at rush hour. This is a period of heightened tension in the Kashmir Valley and separatists had called for a shutdown on February 9 and 11 to mark the anniversaries of the hanging of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Butt, respectively. Security in Srinagar and other cities was therefore high. Still, militants were able to breach the heightened security measures to carry out the attack. On the eve of Republic Day, militants carried out two grenade attacks in Srinagar. Then, as now, multi-layer security arrangements were in place across the Valley. Most of the attacks in recent months are grenade attacks targeting the CRPF. Grenades seem to have become the weapon of choice of the militants, perhaps because they are easily concealed and need to be simply lobbed at the target. Grenade attacks do not need training, planning or coordination.

Security forces claim they are on top of the situation and that many militants have been eliminated. This is true. However, the death toll among the security forces is not trivial. Over 252 militants and as many as 91 security personnel were killed in encounters in 2018. Worryingly, the number of civilians killed in militancy-related incidents has grown sharply. There were 61 such killings between 2014 and 2016. In 2017 alone, the figure was 53, surging to 86 in 2018, according to figures provided by the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management. The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society puts the civilian death toll at 160 last year. Civilians died not because they were caught in the cross-fire but because many were targeted. The victims were tortured and executed as they were suspected of being ‘informers.’  The violence in Kashmir is getting dirtier by the day.

The Narendra Modi government’s strategy of relying solely on the use of force in Kashmir is not quelling the militancy. On the contrary, it is pushing an increasing number of local boys into picking up arms. In the past, executions and torture of civilians were carried out mainly by foreign militant groups. That has now changed, with the predominantly local Hizbul Mujahideen said to be behind the execution of civilian ‘informers.’ The attacks in Srinagar show that militants are not deterred by tight security. They can be expected to step up attacks on voters and candidates in the upcoming general elections. The security forces and government must prepare to prevent this.

 

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Kashmir: have grenades, will lob

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