Taking On Terror

Amid escalating threats, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) needs to fortify its security framework with a robust and adaptive strategy. The recent terrorist attacks raise questions about the adequacy of surveillance, the speed and coordination of response efforts, and the overall resilience of security infrastructure in the region

By Neeraj Singh Manhas

Opinion

 

As a researcher originally from Jammu and Kashmir, and having spent most of my life in Jammu city, I have observed that Jammu stands out as one of the safest regions. This sense of security is primarily due to the presence of garrison towns surrounding the city, coupled with the local population’s strong trust in the defence and paramilitary forces. In stark contrast, Kashmir has borne the brunt of insurgencies, resulting in significant disruptions to daily life and societal stability.

ads

My observations and experiences have propelled me to engage in in-depth discussions with fellow academicians from universities and think tanks. Together, we delve into the extensive history of insurgency and conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, characterised by periods of intense militant activity. These conversations often explore the complex socio-political dynamics and the enduring impact of conflict on the region’s development and its people’s lives. Through these dialogues, we aim to gain a deeper understanding of the region’s challenges and contribute to the discourse on peace and stability in Jammu and Kashmir.

The attack, occurring in a region known for its religious significance, not only disrupted the spiritual journey of many pilgrims but also tarnished the perception of safety in areas previously considered secure. The strategic choice of Reasi underscores the terrorists’ intent to target high-profile, symbolic locations to maximise psychological impact

To provide a chronological context for my argument, I would like to start with the terrorist attack on June 9, 2024, which had profound and far-reaching implications, shaking the sense of security and stability in Jammu and Kashmir. The assault on the bus carrying pilgrims from Shiv Khori Shrine to Vaishno Devi resulted in the tragic loss of nine lives and injuries to approximately 30 others. This incident instilled a pervasive sense of fear and vulnerability among the local population and visitors alike.

The attack, occurring in a region known for its religious significance, not only disrupted the spiritual journey of many pilgrims but also tarnished the perception of safety in areas previously considered secure. The strategic choice of Reasi underscores the terrorists’ intent to target high-profile, symbolic locations to maximise psychological impact.

Mountain Terrain from Shivkhori Shrine Cave to Reasi District

Source: Author’s Own Compilation

The situation further deteriorated with subsequent attacks on June 11. These included assaults in Sohal and Saida Village in Kathua’s Hiranagar district, as well as an attack on an Indian Army post in the Chattargala area of Bhaderwah, Doda. These incidents collectively intensified the sense of insecurity, highlighting the escalating threat and the challenges in maintaining peace and stability in the region.

big bang

These coordinated strikes underscore the terrorists’ capability to orchestrate multiple attacks across different regions, challenging the effectiveness of existing security measures. The presence of foreign militants armed with sophisticated weaponry, such as US-made M4 rifles, indicates a well-funded and organised threat supported by external actors. This complicated the security dynamics in the region significantly.

The immediate aftermath of these incidents necessitates heightened vigilance and a reassessment of security protocols to protect both civilians and military personnel. These attacks also prompt broader discussions on counter-terrorism strategies at national and regional levels, emphasising the need for improved intelligence, stronger inter-agency coordination, and enhanced community engagement to counter the evolving threat landscape.

huges

TRF Attacks in J&K

Source: Authors Own Compilation

Broader Security Implications

The terrorist attack in Reasi signifies a potentially concerning shift in militant activities into regions previously considered less volatile. Traditionally, areas such as Reasi, known for their religious significance and relative tranquillity, have not been primary targets for militant activities. This change in strategy by terrorist groups suggests a deliberate effort to extend their influence and disrupt peace across a broader geographic area. By targeting a bus carrying pilgrims in Reasi, the militants aimed to strike fear into the hearts of both locals and visitors, thereby destabilising regions that were previously deemed safe. This tactic not only broadens the scope of their operations but also creates an environment of uncertainty and insecurity, which can have long-lasting socio-economic repercussions.

Analysing the tactics and objectives of the militants involved in these attacks provides critical insights into future threats. The use of sophisticated weaponry like US-made M4 rifles and the coordinated nature of the assaults indicate a high level of planning and external support from Pakistan-backed groups. The choice of high-profile, symbolic targets such as pilgrims and religious sites reveals the militants’ intent to maximise psychological impact and media coverage. Understanding these patterns will help the security forces anticipate and mitigate future threats more effectively.

Evaluating the effectiveness of current security measures is crucial in light of these attacks. Despite the presence of numerous checkpoints and patrols, the ability of terrorists to carry out such a devastating attack points to potential gaps in intelligence and response strategies. It raises questions about the adequacy of surveillance, the speed and coordination of response efforts, and the overall resilience of security infrastructure in the region. Addressing these vulnerabilities requires a comprehensive review of existing protocols and the implementation of more robust security measures.

These coordinated strikes underscore the terrorists’ capability to orchestrate multiple attacks across different regions, challenging the effectiveness of existing security measures. The presence of foreign militants armed with sophisticated weaponry, such as US-made M4 rifles, indicates a well-funded and organised threat supported by external actors

Regional Stability

The recent terrorist attacks pose a significant threat to regional stability, particularly impacting tourism, communal harmony, and cross-border security.

  1. Tourism Impact:
    • Economic Driver: Tourism, especially religious tourism to sites like Vaishno Devi, is a critical economic driver for Reasi and the surrounding regions. These shrines attract millions of pilgrims annually, contributing substantially to the local economy through hospitality, transportation, and various ancillary services.
    • Economic Threat: The attack, by targeting pilgrims, directly threatens this economic lifeline. Fear and uncertainty induced by such incidents may deter visitors, leading to a sharp decline in tourism revenue and adversely affecting the livelihoods of local businesses and workers dependent on this industry.
  2. Communal Harmony:
    • Exacerbating Tensions: Such attacks have the potential to exacerbate communal tensions. Jammu and Kashmir is a region where communal harmony is crucial for maintaining peace and stability. The terrorist groups often aim to sow discord and provoke sectarian violence to further destabilise the area.
    • Promoting Unity: In this context, it is essential for local leaders and community influencers to promote messages of unity, resilience, and mutual support. By fostering a sense of solidarity and collective resistance against terrorism, they can help prevent any communal backlash and mitigate the divisive impact that militants seek to create.
  3. Upcoming Amarnath Yatra:
    • Heightened Threat: A particular concern in the context of regional stability is the upcoming Amarnath Yatra, scheduled from June 29 to August 19, 2024. This annual pilgrimage is one of the most significant religious events in the region, attracting thousands of devotees. Given the historical pattern of attacks by groups like the Resistance Front (TRF), which have specifically targeted religious gatherings since their active involvement in J&K from 2020 to 2024, there is an elevated threat to the safety of the pilgrims.
    • Security Measures: Ensuring the security of the Amarnath Yatra will require a comprehensive and coordinated effort involving enhanced intelligence operations, increased security personnel deployment, and strict vigilance along the pilgrimage route. Special attention should be given to vulnerable points and logistical arrangements to ensure the safety and smooth conduct of the event.

The attack, by targeting pilgrims, directly threatens this economic lifeline. Fear and uncertainty induced by such incidents may deter visitors, leading to a sharp decline in tourism revenue and adversely affecting the livelihoods of local businesses and workers dependent on this industry

Timeline of TRF Attacks (2020-2024)

Date Incident Details Location
5 April 2020 Two TRF militants killed five Indian PARA SF before being killed themselves Keran
18 April 2020 TRF militants ambushed Indian forces, killing at least three and injuring 2 more Sopore
3 May 2020 Five Indian security forces personnel, including a Colonel, a Major, and an Inspector of SOG, killed by TRF Handwara
5 May 2020 Four CRPF personnel and one disabled local civilian killed, five CRPF personnel injured, and two rifles stolen Handwara
21 May 2020 TRF militants attacked a CRPF/JKP party, killing two personnel and injuring a third Handwara
8 June 2020 TRF militants assassinated a Kashmiri Pandit village head (sarpanch) Anantnag
1 July 2020 TRF militants ambushed Indian forces, killing two and injuring 3 more; a sixty-four-year-old civilian killed Sopore
8 July 2020 TRF militants killed 3 civilians, including a local politician, his father, and brother Bandipora
25 September 2020 TRF militants assassinated Babar Qadri, a prominent local lawyer Srinagar
6 October 2020 TRF militants attacked the residence of a local politician, killing the PSO of the BJP leader Srinagar
30 October 2020 TRF militants ambushed and killed three civilians who were BJP workers Kulgam
8 November 2020 TRF militants encountered Indian forces during a search operation; three Indian Army personnel, 1 BSF personnel, and three TRF militants killed Poonch
23 December 2020 TRF militants threw grenades at a CRPF party and fired upon them, killing two and injuring another Srinagar
31 December 2020 TRF militants assassinated Satpal Nischal, a jeweller Srinagar
19 February 2021 TRF militants killed two local policemen Srinagar
29 March 2021 TRF militants killed one policeman and two councillors during an ambush on a meeting of municipal councillors from the BJP Sopore
1 April 2021 TRF militants killed one local policeman during an attack on a politician’s house Sopore
22 June 2021 TRF militants assassinated a CID Inspector Srinagar
27 June 2021 Alleged TRF militants killed three, including a local police officer, his wife, and daughter Pulwama
7 August 2021 TRF militants killed one local police officer and injured another Kulgam
5 October 2021 TRF militants assassinated Makhan Lal Bindro, a Kashmiri Pandit businessman Srinagar
7 October 2021 TRF militants assassinated two non-Muslim teachers, including one Hindu and one Sikh, in a school Srinagar
9 October 2021 TRF militants killed two policemen Srinagar
13 September 2023 2023 Anantnag encounter Anantnag
09 June 2024 2024 Reasi attack on pilgrimage bus, killed nine people Reasi

Source: Author’s Own Compilation

Recommendations for Strengthening Security

To effectively counter the evolving threats in J&K, a multi-faceted approach that combines technology, community engagement, specialised counter-terrorism measures, and enhanced protection for vulnerable groups is imperative.

To effectively counter the evolving threats in J&K, a multi-faceted approach that combines technology, community engagement, specialised counter-terrorism measures, and enhanced protection for vulnerable groups is imperative

  1. Implement Advanced Surveillance Technologies
    • Aerial Surveillance: Deploy drones equipped with high-resolution cameras and real-time data transmission for extensive aerial monitoring, especially in remote and difficult-to-access areas.
    • CCTV Network: Establish a comprehensive network of CCTV cameras at strategic locations, including key transportation routes and religious sites, to aid in continuous monitoring and quick identification of suspicious activities.
  2. Adopt Specific Counter-Terrorism Measures
    • Targeted Operations: Conduct precise operations against known militant hideouts and safe havens to disrupt terrorist networks and reduce their operational capabilities. This requires reliable intelligence, meticulous planning, and well-coordinated execution with the help of Over Ground Workers (OGWs).
  3. Enhance Protection for Pilgrimages
    • Upgraded Vehicles: Upgrade vehicles transporting pilgrims to bulletproof models to provide protection against potential attacks.
    • Road Clearance Operations: Ensure thorough road clearance operations by the army and other security forces in coordination with the Intelligence Bureau. Joint efforts in route planning and real-time intelligence sharing will help pre-emptively address threats and secure the pilgrimage paths.
  4. Motivate and Support Village Defence Guards (VDGs)
    • Training and Equipment: Provide regular training, adequate equipment, and financial incentives to boost VDGs’ morale and enhance their operational readiness.
    • Collaboration: Encourage collaboration between VDGs and formal security forces to create a more cohesive and resilient security network capable of responding swiftly to emerging threats.
  5. Policy and Infrastructure Enhancements
    • Funding and Equipment: Increase funding for local security forces to facilitate the acquisition of advanced equipment and support extensive training programs.
    • Infrastructure Development: Develop robust infrastructure, such as secure communication networks and well-equipped command centres, for effective coordination and response.
    • Inter-Agency Cooperation: Foster greater cooperation between different security agencies and streamline intelligence-sharing mechanisms to enhance overall security operations.

Way Forward

A holistic and multi-dimensional approach is essential to bolster security and stability in J&K. The PM Modi 3.0 administration is expected to bring a comprehensive and strategic approach to addressing the security and stability challenges in Jammu and Kashmir. Through enhanced security measures, technological advancements, strengthened governance, socio-economic development, and proactive diplomatic efforts, the administration can significantly mitigate the threat of terrorism and foster a more secure and resilient environment for the region.

-The writer is Special Advisor for South Asia at the Parley Policy Initiative, Republic of Korea. He has authored and edited six books and has various research interests covering Sino-Indian border issues; Transboundary Rivers; Water security; Defence, and Indo-Pacific studies. He tweets @The_China _Chap. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda