The loss of two Army officers – a Colonel and a Major- and Deputy Superintendent of Police of Jammu and Kashmir Police, in a gunfight in Kokkernag, Anantnag in South Kashmir on Wednesday, has violently interrupted a spell of normalcy in Kashmir, where “ terrorists were on run” was a given in the last couple of years. That the encounter is still continuing, with several columns of army having closed in on area where undulating mountains and dense forests offer a challenge of their own to neutralize two to three terrorists of Lashkar-e-Toiba , manifests seriousness of the situation . It is nothing new in Kashmir, but that it has come at a time when the narrative and optics of normalcy had engendered a sense of permanent peace coming back to the Valley, is alarming. This should ring bells in the right quarters, though it is certain that the terrorists involved in this attack would be neutralised sooner or later, but the impact of the incident at this point in time is far wider than the area of the encounter or the neighbhourhood.
It’s a moment to pause and think, how terrorists could do all this in an era where it is given that the people have abandoned their support for terrorism and were veering around the idea of permanent peace in their homes, surroundings, villages and towns.
It is for certain that the terrorists involved in the killing of the three officers will meet their nemesis. Security forces will go all out to neutralize them. That may happen sooner than later. It’s just not to take revenge for the supreme sacrifices made by the men in unform, it would be motivated by the larger goal of eliminating terrorists and their ecosystem, as also to instill a confidence among the people that terrorists cannot have their way yet again.
In this particular incident, all the men in uniform were officers. One of them Colonel Manpreet Singh, Commanding Officer of Rashtriya Rifles, the wing of the army engaged in anti-terrorism operations in the hinterland of Jammu and Kashmir. The loss of a commanding officer in gunfight, speaks of two things that the top officers were leading the men of all other ranks from the front in dangerous operations against terrorists who had all the advantage of the location, that they could spot the columns of army and police, and target them. There are genuine concerns whether this was a gun fight or an ambush. Whatever be the case, the fact is that the Army and police suffered huge losses. These losses are beyond the killing of the valiant men in unform in the leadership role, its impact on the ground situation is far wider than just in terms of numbers.
This incident may be brushed as one off incident, which is common in a conflict-riddled area, and the fact to be read alongside side is that Kashmir has been a witness to more than three-decades of militancy where such encounters have been quite common. That is part of Kashmir’s continuing history, and it cannot be written off by anyone. In the same line, it is also true that Pakistan has been sending terrorists from across the border, equipping them with arms and ammunition, funding them with drug money. This is a whole set of circle and which are rolling wheels within wheels.
Now, after this incident, read in the backdrop of the two major ambushes in Poonch and Rajouri, the border belt along the Line of Control, in south of Pir Panjal region of Jammu province of the Union Territory, in which 10 soldiers were killed, it makes a worrying study of a new pattern of ambushes. Security forces are trapped and targeted in the situations in which terrorists apart from targeting soldiers and policemen, are guided by their goal to change the perception that everything in Kashmir has become safe, and no one can reverse the situation. Of course, one or a couple of incidents across Jammu and Kashmir cannot reverse the situation that has been brought about by the relentless efforts of the security forces and J&K police, but what cannot be prevented is a whisper that things are not all that safe and secure. This does challenge the script and the optics of complete normalcy where terrorists cannot do anything to disturb peace. The interruptions caused by terror attacks of this high magnitude impact overall thinking in the Valley. And this becomes particularly so when the real ground situation after such attacks starts looking different from the hyperbolic lexicon and high-resolution optics.
What is required is that the security forces, in particular, the army should devote its time and energy in not only neutralizing terrorists but also the whole idea of terrorism. It is not a game of bullets versus bullets, had that been the case the terrorism would have been in its grave by now. This has not happened, therefore, there are certain loopholes which have not been plugged so far.
This also raises certain questions, whether the army that kept on referring to the changed dispensation in Jammu and Kashmir in the past four years as providing momentum to anti-terror operations, was being realistic? Indeed the change in the ruling dispensation in J&K, backed by the Centre, in pursuance of zero-tolerance to terrorism, did make a difference – the shift was from eliminating terrorists to neutralizing the terrorists and their ecosystem. That is to trace and target terrorists irrespective of their place of origin- from across the border or from within Jammu and Kashmir, and to demolish all their sources of shelter, logistics and fundings. There was a lot of push in anti-terror operations at all levels. It is also true that the burden of the past over three decades could not unloaded in just four years.
The gaps should be filled without any delay.
(Arun Joshi is author of “Eyewitness Kashmir; Teetering on Nuclear War and senior journalist based in Jammu and Kashmir, writes on South Asian affairs)
Disclaimer: This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write-up have nothing to do with www.prameyanews.com.