Ceasefire in Valley faces challenges

“Ceasefire” is between two nations or armed forces, and not between a nation and militant groups operating within it. The ceasefire in 2000 lasted for just 58 days, during which, over 170 civilians were killed by militants, while the Srinagar airport and Doordarshan were attacked. PTI file photo

After Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s appeal, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced a unilateral ceasefire by security forces in the Valley. While he mentioned the word “ceasefire,” the logical term would be “Non-Initiation of Combat Operations” (NICO) as was used when it was last announced by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in November 2000.

“Ceasefire” is between two nations or armed forces, and not between a nation and militant groups operating within it. The ceasefire in 2000 lasted for just 58 days, during which, over 170 civilians were killed by militants, while the Srinagar airport and Doordarshan were attacked.

The announcement by Singh has been welcomed by former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar, along with Mehbooba. She even requested Pakistan and militants to adhere to it. Singh also mentioned that it would “help the peace-loving Muslims in the state to observe Ramzan in a peaceful environment.”

He added that security forces are not to launch operations during this phase but “reserve the right to retaliate if attacked, or if it is essential to protect the lives of innocent people.” The statement, well worded, does not place security forces in barracks or prevents their normal operational actions.

The state government stated that 33 civilians, 28 security personnel and 72 militants have been killed till April since the beginning of the year. Most of the militants who have been eliminated this year are locals, who rarely stray away from their home bases, and survive with the help of stone-pelters.

They usually display themselves with weapons on social media sites rather than challenge security forces. Most are neither trained nor motivated to challenge the security forces, hence, rarely survive as militants. Most of the civilians killed are those attempting to disrupt encounters by pelting stones or are caught in the crossfire.

Mehbooba’s call was aimed at slowing down this unending cycle of violence in the Valley. However, militant groups and stone-pelters are not bound by this ceasefire. Lashkar has already stated that it would not adhere to it, instead would escalate violence in the state.

Within an hour after it was announced, an encounter commenced in the orchards of Shopian. It is the right moment for Mehbooba to appeal to local militants to surrender and observe Ramzan with their families. However, that has still not been done.

The call by Mehbooba is possibly for political purposes and to garner local sympathy. In all other Muslim nations where terror groups operate — Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq — there has never been any mention or a call for peace during Ramzan, either by militant groups or the state.

The central government, already facing difficulties in the state, probably took this approach to satisfy the PDP. Therefore, the announcement appears more political than a serious withdrawal of security forces. The government is aware that it has the situation fairly under control, and hence, would be unwilling for a reversal.

Enhanced attacks

Pakistan, which continuously breaks the ceasefire along the Line of Control and targets Indian posts and villages, would never accept or adhere to it. It would continue to attempt to push through militants and may even seek to enhance attacks on security forces through its already inducted militants. In this scenario, Indian forces cannot let their guard down.

What would this ceasefire imply for forces on the ground? It cannot imply that they stay in barracks, opening doors for militants to boost recruitment, pressuring locals and targeting isolated security posts.

While the state instructed the security forces to retaliate only when they were attacked, but by doing so, the security forces will lose their advantage over militants. Therefore, they would have to take a middle path, which implies adhering to the ceasefire while not losing the advantage.

Area domination operations would intensify as forces cannot allow free movement for armed militants. Free movement implies enhanced militant recruitment. Anti-militant operations would be launched on confirmed intelligence; forces may preclude the launch of cordon and search operations during specific timings to avoid hurting religious sentiments.

Areas around religious assemblies of local population would remain under the scrutiny of the local police. The army may reduce roadblocks and searches in built-up areas but would monitor routes out and in. The anti-infiltration grid would be enhanced to prevent further induction. Firing on an army patrol or movement would imply breaking rules of the ceasefire to launch specific operations. If stone-pelters interrupt, they will retaliate.

If there has to be peace during Ramzan, political parties need to interact with the masses and seek their support in keeping militants out and avoid hostile engagement with security forces. The NICO can never be one-sided. The public need to be more cooperative now.

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Ceasefire in Valley faces challenges

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