From June 08, India has been victim of a new phase of terrorism and enhanced ISI activities. This spurt in ISI sponsored terrorism was presumably initiated by Lt Gen Nadeem Taj to divert attention from former President Musharraf’s mounting problems at home. The design entailed a deliberate escalation of tensions in J&K and a new phase of terror in the rest of India. The key characteristics of this renewed phase of terror are as under:-
The tactical effect of the Fence was felt in terms of serious degrades in the level of infiltration. This implied that the terrorists could not recoup or make up their serious losses, and the decline was sharp and steep.
- The ISI is now trying to build in the element of deniability in its operations by reducing the emphasis on high profile Tanzeems like the LET and JEM and relying instead on local Tanzeems with localized narratives (like the Indian Mujahideen). These do not use RDX or Plastic Explosives but use local materials like Ammonium Nitrate and Hydrogen Peroxide to cause a series of low intensity explosions that generate mass casualties. These terrorist operations therefore have a negligible logistical footprint and virtually no electronic signatures. Very high levels of human intelligence are needed to counter such sophisticated operations and these have caught the Indian Agencies by surprise.
- In J&K the ISI has changed its modus operandi and is now trying to change the focus of its operations from terrorist depredations to mass agitations on the Palestinian Intifada model. These agitations (as during the Amarnath Land Agitation) are primarily based on communal mobilization that exploits the Friday mosque congregations to pull huge crowds.
The sudden change in tactics and methodology seem to have taken our Intelligence and Security agencies by surprise. It would therefore be useful to examine the genesis of this new phase of terrorism in some detail.
Brief Historical Overview: Terrorism in J&K
The ISI had initiated the Proxy war in J&K in 1989-90. This campaign can be categorized in three main phases
- The Azadi Phase (1990-1995) The ISI had raised, trained and equipped the JKLF to initiate terrorism in the Valley. The JKLF based its struggle on the slogans of Azadi. By 1993, the JKLF had taken serious losses. It tried to find safe sanctuaries in the remote areas of Doda and Kishtwar to survive. By 1995 the JKLF was wiped out. A number of its cadres were turned around as ‘Ikhwanis’ or counter-insurgents. In 1996, Assembly and Lok Sabha Elections were held in J&K which restored political legitimacy to the state.
There is an amazing lack of concern in our media for the human rights of the victims of terrorism who are routinely killed in bomb blasts and IED explosions. These poor Indians die unsung.
- The Jihadi Phase (1996-2005) Pakistan now dumped the JKLF for it did not trust its agenda of Azadi. It had in the meanwhile raised a whole set of Jihadi Tanzeems like the Hizbul Mujahideen, Harkut Ul Ansar and Harkat Ul Jihad-E-Islami and pushed them into the Valley in a major way to launch struggle for the aecession of Kashmir to Pakistan. The ISI felt that the Kashmiri cadres could not stand up to the Indian Army and hence sent in a large number of Afghan, Pakistani and other Foreign Terrorists from its Afghan Jihad Corpus. It tried to widen the arc of instability to South of the Pir Panjal and under its Operation Balakote, it tried to spread Jihadi insurgency in the districts of Rajouri, Poonch and Udhampur. Concerted counte- terrorist operations, however, inflicted serious levels of attrition on the HM and allied Tanzeems. Pakistan now sent in the LET and JEM. Their training camps had been moved out of POK to the Afghanistan / Pakistan border but with the overthrow of the Taliban these were 9/11and brought back to POK. All these Tanzeems had suffered serious attrition as India raised more Rashtriya Rifles formations and increased force levels to counter the new Tanzeems and the widening of the arc of terrorism in J&K. The Kargil intrusions were designed to internationalize the Kashmir issue as a nuclear flash point and take the pressure off the Tanzeems by drawing the Indian Army away towards the LC and the border. This gave the Tanzeems a reprieve in the hinterland and a chance to revive their sagging fortunes. Counter-terrorist Operations were re-intensified and heavy losses inflicted on the Terrorist ranks in the years 2000 and 2001. By 2002 a positive degree of control had been achieved and, manifestly free and fair Assembly Elections were held in J&K under international media glare. The National Conference was defeated at the hustings and a PPP- Congress Coalition came to power. There was a widespread feeling of elation and empowerment amongst the people. This duly elected govt was virtually de-legitimized when a dialogue was started (under Western pressure) with the Hurriyat, which had refused to take part in the elections.The intention was to engage all parties to the dispute. However, over a period of time, this engagement of the Hurriyat and other secessionist elements appears to have delegitimized the electoral process and given the mistaken but wide spread impression that the elected state Govt would perhaps be replaced by the Hurriyat as the real representatives of the state.
- The Third Phase: Impact of the Fence A careful appraisal of the situation indicated that though very heavy attrition had been inflicted on terrorist Tanzeems, the constant Pakistani endeavour was to send in terrorist replacements and regenerate their force levels in J&K. To end this regeneration syndrome it was decided to build the LC Fence at huge cost. Views were initially divided, as it was felt that the heavy snow precipitation would damage the fence and lead to reccurring costs. However, all the Indian Army’s engineer resources were mustered and the fencing was completed in a record time. It proved to be a key turning point in J&K.
Phase Change in J&K
The creation of the Fence in J&K in 2004/05 had not just entailed the erection of a physical obstacle but also an electronic wall of sorts. The large scale employment of Hand Held Thermal Imagers (HHTIs) ahead of the Fence, had served to raise the attrition levels for infiltration. It had been Pakistan’s constant endeavor to continue to push in terrorists each year in summer to make up for the attrition inflicted by the Indian Army as also turn over its Tanzeem cadres for rest and relief. The erection of the Fence and the widespread use of Night Vision devices severely curtailed Pakistan’s ability to infiltrate or exfiltrate terrorists or provide any meaningful degree of logistics support. A distinct drop was encountered in the availability of ammunition and this had lowered terrorist morale.
Op Sarp Vinash In the Maoist dogma, every revolution needs a secure base area – where the guerilla/ insurgents can fall back for rest, refit and training. A major such base area had come up in the remote Hill Kaka area south of the Pir Panjal in the Rajouri, Poonch district. It lay at the convergence of a number of infiltration routes and was an ideal staging post for terrorists entering the Valley. From this sanctuary the terrorists used to control the population in Rajouri and Poonch. Operation Sarp vinash destroyed this insurgent base area. The operation was a major turning point in the counter-terrorist campaign and struck a major blow to the Tanzeems operating in the Rajouri Poonch area south of the Pir Panjal.
The erection of the Fence and the widespread use of Night Vision devices severely curtailed Pakistans ability to infiltrate or exfiltrate terrorists or provide any meaningful degree of logistics support.
The tactical effect of the Fence was felt in terms of serious degrades in the level of infiltration. This implied that the terrorists could not recoup or make up their serious losses, and the decline was sharp and steep. Concerted mopping up operations were launched in the wake of SarpVinash and concerted command and control attrition caused serious disruption and demoralization in terrorist ranks south of the Pir Panjals. By the end of 2005 there was an 80 percent drop in the levels of terrorist activities and near normalcy was restored.
The Fence was, however, disrupted in sections north of the Pir Panjal due to heavy snow precipitation. The ISI now focused its infiltration efforts North of the Pir Panjal. Bandipore (North of Srinagar) is a remote area that lies at the convergence of a number of routes of infiltration and was being turned into a Hill Kaka like remote sanctuary by the terrorists. It was from here that they exercised control of their cadres in Srinagar, which is the key center of Gravity of the counter-terrorist Battle in J&K. However it was handed over to the relatively inexperienced CRPF. This did lead to a slow down in the counter-terrorist campaign north of the Pir Panjal. The PPP State Govt. was keen to project an image of total normalcy and put lot of pressure to slow down operations.