Treading a new path

Security forces would look to provide safe passage for Amarnath pilgrims

PTI6_22_2018_000134A High, tension: People at a recent encounter site in Anantnag district | PTI

WITH GOVERNOR’S RULE declared in Jammu and Kashmir on June 20, all boots are back on ground to resume Operation All Out. During the BJP’s alliance with the People’s Democratic Party, the latter had often called for restraint during anti-militancy operations. This time, however, the security brass knew there would be no PDP to do so.

Apart from heavy deployment of anti-militancy forces, 250 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force have been sent to Kashmir to provide safe passage to pilgrims during the Amarnath yatra. The valley might look like an armed fortress, but the security establishment has its reasons.

“A lot of manpower and logistics are required to neutralise a single militant, because he is on a mission to kill or be killed,” said a counter-terror official in Kashmir. “Today, there is a mix of foreign terrorists and local militants in the valley. We do not distinguish between them. A proactive approach will be adopted in the restive districts of south Kashmir to keep them on the run. This will put pressure on the terror infrastructure and ensure that they are not able to hold on in one area for long.”

Intelligence sources suspect that a majority of the most-wanted militants, three of them of Pakistani origin, could be hiding in interior parts of south Kashmir, which has recently been the hub of terror activities.

The Army will launch massive cordon and search operations, which have been the backbone of anti-militancy operations in the past few years. Since the re-launch of Operation All Out, Army sources said at least 20 such operations—which primarily means a house-to-house search to flush out hiding terrorists—have been carried out in various parts of south Kashmir.

Apparently, the Army believes that the Ramzan ceasefire had given the militants time to regroup and rearm themselves. Intelligence inputs have said that the funerals of militants have become a place to find new recruits—mostly teenagers—who gather at the cremation grounds and see militants being eulogised and the Army being vilified.

Also, since the gunning down of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in 2016, stone-pelting mobs have been a big challenge for security forces. So, this time, the CRPF and other armed police forces are carrying new anti-riot gear. This includes non-lethal weaponry to replace pellet guns, like the chilli-based Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide (PAVA) shells, which incapacitate the target for a few minutes. Then there are the stun shells, which go off with a loud bang and flash, creating fear and confusion among the mob. The last option is the pump-action gun, which is fitted with a deflector, so that the shrapnel of the pellets does not hit any protester above the abdomen.

“After the disturbance in the valley following the Burhan Wani episode, the CRPF has exercised restraint. We have a graded response to deal with stone pelters,” said Sanjay Sharma, CRPF commandant in Srinagar.

Restraint is the buzzword for the on-ground policemen, but the Army says the challenges are even bigger than those in 2016. “The stone-pelting mobs are now lobbing grenades, which have been supplied to them by the infiltrators,” said an Army official. “We have recovered night-vision devices, collapsible ladders, 15 to 20 grenades, GPS devices and advanced weapons from some of the terrorists. These grenades are being supplied to the ring leaders of the stone pelters.”

The Army is hoping that with the support of local police, which has been its primary source of intelligence, security forces will be able to carry out successful operations. “There needs to be coordination between the intelligence wings of all security forces. They cannot depend on a single source like the Intelligence Bureau or the state police for actionable intelligence,” said K. Srinivasan, former inspector general of CRPF who has also served in the BSF intelligence wing.

The security forces also need to instil confidence in the local population, and the Amarnath yatra, which has been on the terrorists’ radar for long, gives them that opportunity. Neither the local youth nor the security forces want the yatra to be a failure.

For the first time, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags have been put on all the vehicles carrying pilgrims. These vehicles are being monitored by the security agencies, and RIFD readers have been installed at several places along the route. “Our appeal to the people is to abide by the directions given by the security forces.

Anyone can stay in the camps set up by the paramilitary forces. We are there to protect them,” said Sharma.