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l March 2004 l

The Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

l Vol 3, No 10 l

C O M M E N T

J&K: Shifting Strategy of Subversion

K P S Gill


There are dramatic signs of shifting strategies in the covert war in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), as Pakistan reorients its position to take advantage of the rising sentiment in favour of peace, even as it seeks to sustain terrorism on Indian soil. The Muttahida (United) Jehad Council (MJC), which was shifted from Islamabad to Muzzafarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) in order to assert the pretence of its 'autonomy', has been reorganized; component terrorist groups have been instructed by the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to drop the expressions jehad, lashkar, jaish or mujahiddeen in their names in order to project a 'secular political' rather than Islamist image. As a result, three new 'alliances' have emerged: the Kashmir Resistance Forum (KRF); the Kashmir Freedom Forum (KFF); and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideeen (HM). The Hizb alone has been permitted to retain the 'mujahiddeen' in its name, since it is projected as an 'indigenous' Kashmiri group, as against the others, which are dominated by Pakistani and other foreign mercenaries.

Simultaneously, cries of 'human rights violations' by the Indian security forces, and orchestrated protests against these, are sweeping across Kashmir, even as terrorist groups escalate violence. The most significant of recent terrorist operations was, of course, the grenade attack on Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's political rally at Beerwah in Budgam district on February 27, 2004. Though a young woman in the crowd tragically lost her life, the Chief Minister was not hurt, and returned to the podium after a few minutes to continue with his address, even as the crowd reassembled in an unprecedented demonstration of solidarity in an area that, not long ago, was regarded as a jehadi 'heartland'. Significantly, at least 12 political activists, mainly from Sayeed's People's Democratic Party (PDP), have already been killed since January 2004, in anticipation of Parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for April-May 2004.

Nevertheless, the pressure on terrorist formations in the State is enormous, and rising. Overt support from Pakistan - including artillery cover that was routinely provided to infiltrating groups - has diminished, as the Pervez Musharraf regime comes under mounting international - particularly US - pressure for a wide range of transgressions, including its support to international terrorism and Pakistan's role in the proliferation of nuclear technologies to rogue states, including Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Counter-terrorist operations by Indian security forces have also been enormously successful over the past months, and, apart from a continuous stream of arrests and killings of terrorist cadres, most major formations operating in J&K have lost frontline leaders over the past months. Since May last year, after Prime Minister Vajpayee's 'offer of friendship' to Pakistan in April 2003, at least 27 frontline terrorist leaders in J&K have been killed, including, in the current year itself, Abdul Majid Wani, 'divisional commander' of the HM (February 24, 2004); Ishfaq Ahmad Rehmani, 'district commander' of the Al Badr Mujahideeen (February 21, 2004); Ehsaan Elahi, 'district commander' of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT, February 20, 2004); Rafeeq Ahmed Dar 'chief commander operations', Al Umar Mujahideeen (February 6, 2004); Ghulam Rasool Dar, 'chief commander operations', HM (January 16, 2004); Abbas Malik, 'district commander', Doda, HM (January 15, 2004); and Javed Ahmad, 'operational commander', LeT (January 13, 2004). The steady losses inflicted on the terrorist leadership have enormously affected operational capacities, and also brought pressure on 'overground' organisations, including factions of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) as well as a number of 'human rights' fronts to orchestrate systematic political campaigns, agitations, and judicial actions to blunt security force operations.

This has been a consistent strategy of terrorist groups across India - and not only in J&K - particularly in periods of terrorist reverses and of 'political negotiations' for the 'settlement' of conflicts. The modus operandi is particularly visible in what are being referred to as the 'Bandipore atrocities' involving two separate incidents in which six civilians were killed. The first of these, the killing of Mohammad Shafi Chechi of the Chithibanday village near Bandipore, was projected as a 'fake encounter' of an 'innocent civilian'. However, subsequent investigations not only established the fact that an exchange of fire did take place between Chechi and an Army patrol on February 5, but also that the body had subsequently been brought to his village, where his family and other residents failed to identify him. The body was subsequently exhumed on the family's request, and allegations were made that he had been killed in a 'fake encounter'. Investigators concluded that the family may have changed its story in order to secure some sort of compensation from the Government, which would only be forthcoming if Chechi were not involved in terrorist activities.

The second 'Bandipore incident' involved the killing of five civilian porters, again residents of Chithibanday, working with the Army, who villagers and human rights groups claimed had been killed in 'cold blood' and passed off as 'terrorists' by the Army. Subsequent investigations demonstrated that these accounts were 'not credible' and that the unarmed porters were, in fact, cut down in crossfire in which three Army personnel and six terrorists were also killed. There has, however, been widespread criticism of the use of civilian porters for Army duties in areas of conflict, and the Army has now taken steps to discourage the practice, though operational imperatives in the difficult J&K terrain make civilian guides and porters difficult to dispense with entirely.

The truth of the 'Bandipore atrocities' did not, however, deter 'human rights' and other political formations in the State, including both factions of the Hurriyat, from making these supposed 'excesses' the centre of a campaign of violent protests, which resulted in a succession of incidents, including the 'beating up' of civilians by the Army and the police, and these eventually culminated in police firing on a violent crowd of over 3,000 persons in Bandipore on February 27, 2004, in which one protestor was killed, setting in motion another cycle of protests against this 'atrocity'.

Another recent incident of the abuse of the human rights platform illustrates the pattern: in December 2003, two sisters complained that they had been shot by soldiers when they resisted attempts to arrest their brother. Subsequent investigations established that the girls had, in fact, been shot by a LeT terrorist, Inayatullah Khan, and had been told to lie about the incident or face reprisals. These incidents are not unique, and allegations of 'human rights violations' are routinely put out after virtually every arrest or encounter between the state's security forces and terrorist groups.

These are familiar stories. In the end 1980s and early 1990s, battered by sustained counter-terrorism operations, and with increasing political interference as a result of a number of terrorist sympathisers and former terrorists finding a place in the country's democratic processes due to the Centre's efforts to find a 'political solution' to the Khalistani terrorist movement in the Punjab, precisely the same pattern had been massively employed. The "sustained agitational and propaganda campaign… backed by narrowly targeted terrorist violence" in Punjab has been recorded elsewhere:

Calls for bandhs became a daily occurrence; jathas (groups) were sent to court arrest and gherao (organise sit-ins at) police stations after every police action or arrest of a terrorist… Each of these events became an occasion for the most inflammatory rhetoric, as political and religious leaders addressed the people in the most immoderate terms possible, constructing a false mythology of sacrifice and martyrdom around the death of every common criminal…This incendiary mix of politics, religion and intimidation culminated in a campaign of disruption that pinned down ever-increasing numbers of security personnel, progressively reducing the force available for operational duties… This strategy of quasi-political mobilisation was backed up by a massive and well-coordinated campaign by another group of terrorist front organisations masquerading as human rights activists… Every arrest victimised the innocent. Every action by the security forces was an 'excess', an atrocity. The countryside was rife with stories of these alleged 'police atrocities'; but in every case they were 'known' to have happened in 'a village nearby', to have been witnessed by a person invariably other than the narrator; they transpired in an indeterminate area of the mind that could not be identified on any map of Punjab, but which existed, at once, everywhere and nowhere. [Endgame in Punjab: 1988-1993]

This, precisely, is what is again being witnessed in J&K, and any assessment of current trends in the State, including the shifting pronouncement of the Hurriyat factions, must factor in the reality that these protests and agitations are part of a coordinated campaign to obstruct security forces from carrying out legitimate counter-terrorism operations, and to further the terrorist agenda by means that exploit the institutions and freedoms of democracy. Any aberrations and highhandedness by security forces, must not, of course, go unpunished. However, while allegations of human rights abuses must be taken seriously and investigated at the highest level, there is urgent need to understand, equally, the dynamic in which 'human rights' claims become an integral element of the negotiating strategy of the front organisations of terrorist groups and sympathetic political formations, as well as of the state sponsors of such terrorist groups and front organisations.

Author is Publisher, SAIR; and President, Institute for Conflict Management

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