With four separate terror related incidents in the Kashmir valley in last 24 hours, militants have shown their intent that they are not going to accept the Union government's 'unilateral' decision to suspend combat operations during the holy month of Ramzan. There have been encounters in Tral and Shopian districts, even as militants fired upon troops of J&K police in Anantnag on Tuesday, in which three policemen sustained bullet injuries. Additional troops of central forces were rushed to the area to carry out cordon and search operations, official sources said.
“It is only a political decision. Terrorists are not going to accept it. They acted in a similar manner when the government announced suspension of combat operations in the year 2000. Thankfully, this time it is only for one month,” said a senior army official. Non Initiation of Combat Operation (NICO) was announced by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government from November 2000 to May 2001.
More than 180 security personnel were killed during this period while 240 militants were gunned down. The NICO period also saw 260 civilian deaths and over 500 others were injured.
Keeping in mind the real-time threat of terror groups, especially those enjoying support from Pakistan, using this opportunity to carry out attacks, the government has been cautious in its approach.
Conflicting versions came out on Wednesday about the way the Centre and the Mehbooba Mufti government were viewing this decision of suspending operations by security forces. While Mehbooba tweeted welcoming the “ceasefire”, the MHA officially clarified that the “suspension of operations during the holy month of Ramzan” cannot be termed as a ceasefire.
Senior security officials explain that while “ceasefire” will mean that security forces will not fire (which comes without any riders); Suspension of Operations means that the forces will not do Cordon and Search Operations (CASO) and room interventions in urban areas, unless militants fire at them.
The Suspension of Operations by security forces in Kashmir is drawn from the experience of the security forces handling the decades old militancy in the northeast.
“It is a classic example of how the government tries to nudge a situation to peace. This is how the security forces have learnt to deal with militancy over the last many decades. All the ways in which the Mizo Accord or Naga and Manipur insurgency since 1960s have been dealt with, has been based either on suspension of operations or later entering into a ceasefire pact,” said a senior intelligence official.
Notably, the CASO was re-started by the Army last year to clamp down on the rising militancy in the valley. That decision came after a gap of more than a decade keeping in mind the worsening security situation and attacks on security personnel particularly in militancy hit areas of Kulgam, Tral, Budgam, Shopian and Pulwama.
But a large section of people in the valley were clearly unhappy in the way the security forces were carrying out these operations. It was being felt that this was yet another reason for the growing sense of alienation among people.
The balancing act done by the Centre ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's proposed visit to the valley on Saturday is expected to bolster the Centre’s position since mainstream political parties holding significance in the political arena in the valley, be it PDP or Congress, have supported the move. The separatists have called it a “cruel joke” but they seem to be an isolated voice as of now.
What is noteworthy is that the intelligence brass is also viewing the government's SOO announcement as a message to Pakistan sponsored terror groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba that there will be no let up when it comes to dealing with them.
Intelligence officials pointed out that after Hizbul Mujahideen, it was the LeT which was being patronised by the ISI. While the Pakistan-based terror group was attempting to encash upon the growing sense of alienation and anger in the new locals, who were joining militancy in the valley, but the latter were neither supportive of Pakistan.
“These youth were visibly unhappy with the situation within the state prompting them to resort to violence. They were neither being trained or supported by the Pakistan-based terror outfits. This is a key reason why ISI is worried that the militancy in J&K is going out of its control,” said a security official.
The intelligence agencies are expecting Pakistan sponsored terrorists to use this opportunity to make attempts to stall any peace initiatives in the valley during the Ramzan period.
“We expect that Pakistan’s ISI will try to increase attacks by Pakistan trained militants. However, the security forces are well prepared to retaliate,” said a top security official.
The announcement of suspending operations has also given the government an opportunity to expose the Pakistan-based terror machinery before the international community.
The MHA has said that in the last few years, terrorists have indulged in large scale bloodshed not only in India but also in other parts of the World, even during the holy month (of Ramzan).” Whether the government’s move is able to “isolate the terrorists” and bring any tangible results on the ground, in terms of peace in the Valley, remains to be seen in the coming days and months.