Know

Kashmir militancy: At a dead end, or not

Riyaz Wani | Updated on September 04, 2020 Published on September 03, 2020

Safe house: Soon after the Tral encounter in June, the police also declared Srinagar, the capital of the new Union Territory, militant-free   -  PTI/ S IRFAN

The death of the ‘last militant’ in Burhan Wani’s home town, Tral, is being hailed as a definitive nail in the coffin of militancy in Kashmir. But is it?

* Following the death of Mohammad Qasim Shah in June, Jammu and Kashmir Police have declared Tral free of militancy

* Burhan Wani, the slain Hizbul commander who helmed the second wave of militancy in Kashmir, was a resident of Tral

* The armed forces are also said to have eliminated a substantial number of insurgents in Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam, which had emerged as new militant hubs in South Kashmir

* The number of militants killed in Kashmir since January this year is 167

On June 26, three militants were killed in a 20-hour operation at Chewa-Ullar village in South Kashmir. One of them was Mohammad Qasim Shah, supposedly the last militant of Tral, a township that had in 2015 spawned a new wave of militancy in the Valley after a steady decline in acts of insurgency.

Helming this new wave was popular militant commander Burhan Wani, a resident of Tral. And he used social media to good effect, posting pictures and videos of himself and his fellow militants, shot in picturesque settings, to urge Kashmiri youth to pick up arms.

Wani’s influence doubled the tally of militants in Kashmir to 300 from 150, a number that had remained more or less constant for almost a decade. Subsequently, the death of over 100 people and the blinding of several hundreds by pellets used to quell the violence that ensued after Wani’s killing in July 2016 drove a number of young Kashmiris to join the militant ranks. From Tral, militancy radiated to the whole of South Kashmir and to parts of Central and North Kashmir, posing a fresh challenge to the powers in New Delhi.

Five years down the line, it seems this phase of militancy, too, has run its course. Following the death of Shah, Jammu and Kashmir Police have declared Tral free of militancy. This is a first in the history of Tral, which has always been a militant bastion, even in the years from 2010 to 2015 when fewer than 100 militants operated in the Valley, most of them foreigners.

Tral is a largely agrarian township with a population of around 30,000. The surrounding hills and forests serve as perfect hideouts for militants. For a place that triggered the second wave of militancy in Kashmir, Tral looks eerily calm. Most of its inhabitants are poor farmers and labourers, even though some of its young picked up arms against the establishment.

The death of Shah in the Chewa-Ullar encounter and the subsequent police declaration of Tral as militant-free is a significant development, one that is being interpreted as the end of militancy in Kashmir. The armed forces are also said to have eliminated a substantial number of insurgents in Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam, which had emerged as new militant hubs in South Kashmir. The number of militants killed in Kashmir since January this year is 167. In June alone, 17 gunfights led to the death of 48 militants — the highest monthly toll in a decade.

With the police putting the number of militants in the Valley at around 190 — of which 90 are foreigners — it might seem militancy in the region is staring at a dead end. Also, going by the number of encounters this year, militancy in Kashmir could be history by the end of 2020. There are more indications to this effect: Soon after the Tral encounter in June, the police also declared Srinagar, the capital of the new Union Territory, as militant-free, along with Doda, a district in Jammu division.

But the reality is not as simple. Militancy in Kashmir has often risen from the ashes. Data over the past two decades underlines this. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, which describes itself as the largest portal on data and news related to terrorism in South Asia, 1,708 militants were killed in 2000, 2,345 in 2001, 1,758 in 2002 and 1,504 in 2003. From 2004 to 2013, the number went down from 961 to 100 killings. And from 2014, the year that saw the deaths of 114 militants, the total started rising again to touch 167 in 2020. In 2018, the most violent year Kashmir witnessed in a decade, 271 militants were reportedly killed.

As the figures underline, militancy in Kashmir had come tantalisingly close to extinction in 2013, when the total number of active militants was estimated to be a hundred or thereabouts. But it didn’t. This time around, too, an epitaph is being written. And by no less than the region’s police chief Dilbag Singh. On June 19, soon after the death of eight militants in two encounters within a span of 24 hours, Singh told a media gathering that “security forces will ensure return of complete normalcy in Kashmir in the next few months”. On August 28 and 29, too, seven militants were killed in two successive encounters.

Does this take the J&K administration any closer to its ambitious goal of eliminating militancy from the Valley? Srinagar-based Naseer Ahmad, author of the graphic novelKashmir Pending, which focuses on the strife in the region, disagrees. “Militancy in Kashmir has gone through its highs and lows but never been wiped out. And it is unlikely that it will be,” he tells BLink.

As things stand, militancy is sustained by local recruitment and infiltration. A police estimate puts the number of local recruitment this year at 80, of whom 38 are dead. And infiltration from Pakistan is pegged at 26.

“Unless the infiltration and the local recruitment comes to a complete halt, militancy in the Valley won’t end,” a senior police officer said on condition of anonymity. “Killing militants does not eliminate militancy.”

Riyaz Wani is a journalist based in Srinagar

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on September 03, 2020
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.