2013: Watershed year for Kashmir Mujahideen

Inam ul Rehman | KD

“On specific information about the presence of militants in Sopore,” wrote one of the widely read English newspapers, ‘Greater Kashmir,’ “Special Operation Groups party led by Deputy Superintendent of Police, Muhammad Iftikhar Choudhary was rushed to the area.” The reporter quoting official sources further wrote, “The SOG men travelled from their Sopore base camp to the area in a private TATA Sumo followed by a police vehicle.” (‘ASI killed, 3 cops injured in Sopore attack’, Jan 08).

A cursory look at the report reveals that police used its  to track down militants. Up to driving in a civil passenger vehicle everything went according to the plan. But on reaching the exact spot— which their informer had pointed out— the SOG party came under fire and lost Assistant Sub Inspector, while three others sustained injuries. Militants also decamped with the arms of the SOG.

It might have been a trap laid for them. It was not for the first time that troops felt to such baits over past couple of years. In April last year militants had killed four policemen in the same northern town. Reportedly militants informed forces that burglars were prowling in the area. “As the cops reached the spot, the gunmen present in the area started indiscriminate firing on them killing all the four cops on the spot and decamping with three service weapons.” (‘4 cops killed in ambush,’ GK April 27). On the same day unsurprisingly forces claimed they came under fire in southern Auentipur. (“Firing on Army patrol in Awantipora,” GK, Jan 08). Next day troops claimed to have killed Wasim Ahmad Dar in the encounter in the South Kashmir town. So the killing of the police officer was revenged on the same day.

A closer look would tell readers that after troops suffer fatalities, in the corresponding days, claims of couple of militants being killed have been made.

For the first time in 25 years of armed resistance against the India state, the year 2013 proved a watershed for guerrillas. In that year more troops were slain then the militants. (‘Violence kills 204 in Kashmir in 2013’). It means that pro resistance fighters have not only stabilised their casualty levels but are now hitting targets. In any guerrilla warfare casualty levels of rebels are always higher. So far the trend in Kashmir has been that every death of trooper has resulted in killing of 3.73 militants plus if you add civilian casualties that ratio doubles.

However, 25 years of resistance against the Indian state has made pro freedom fighters, taking up new strategies. They are no longer sitting ducks of 1990s. Today guerrilla attacks are specific and most of these attacks appear to have been carried out with a lot of strategy. This has even led to a near zero casualty. The relentless propaganda against their tactics of attacking in civilian areas perhaps forced militants to adopt a policy of mapping important targets. Brutalities of troops while responding to the attacks have made militants so defiant that in Central Kashmir’s Chodur town they killed a police officer in broad daylight and walked away. (‘SHO killed in Chadoora attack,’ GK Dec 02, 2013). Months before that a video circulated on social networking site showedhow couple of armed men pinned a truck full of troops at Bypass road near Hyderpur and gunned them down. It was just a day before Indian Prime Minister was scheduled to visit Kashmir. (‘Militants attack army convoy at Hyderpora Bypass’ Kashmir Times, June 25, 2013). No civilian got injured and militants strolled away.

2013: Kashmir's Hizbul Mujahideen ambush an Indian Army convoy in Hyderpur, Srinagar killing 9 IOF

2013: Kashmir’s Hizbul Mujahideen ambush an Indian Army convoy in Hyderpur, Srinagar killing 9 IOF.

Over the years as armed rebels continued to decrease, the state patted itself for bringing conflict stabilization. During the past five years troops have regularly pointed out that not more than 200 militants are active in Kashmir. But they are no ordinary men. They are ideological drenched, sophisticated (but do not rely on gadgets that can make them meal for troops), lethal and importantly act stealthy. After attacks they are not bothered who owns the responsibility. Much to the chagrin of troops they also decamp with arms and use them against pro state forces. Unlike the militants of late 80s and 90s they are seeped in Islamic ideology. Those who started armed uprising against Indian State where concerned with ambiguous “International Community” reaction. They had this illusionary belief with arms in hands Azaadi would be gained within few years. They relied on an ideology that didn’t sustain them. Their ideology didn’t result in widespread followers and in five years time they had run out of steam, out of men and disillusioned. They drifted and got assimilated in government jobs, some became contractors, suppliers while some got absorbed in journalism. Those who thought it below their dignity formed own factions. Only few became wise and started to invest in Azaadi movement with conviction.

In 90s the state was extremely luck to get cheap forces in the form of renegades or Ikhwan to counter pro resistance fighters. The state paid them no salary, no ammunition and no boarding. However, since 2003, the state was forced to amalgamate them into regular forces. (‘Mufti government disbands SOG,’ TOI Feb 25, 2003). As such it increased the already burdened state with more forces. But contrary to the expectations the Special Operation Group was not successful in countering pro freedom fighters. The state sucked young intelligent minds into official positions of SOG. But again the ploy failed as most of them after working there in lure of promotion shifted toward civilian police. Some of them are today working as SDPOs, DySPs and SPs in civilian police knowing fully well that in order to be accepted into the society they have to erase their past record. Renegades were denied burial grounds and their families were social ostracised. Those who are heading or part of SOG understand that.

The state was focusing its energy for 2014 but to its dismay already 2013 proved to be a Waterloo. The state kept drumming that militancy has declined. (‘Militancy incidents decline but security forces’ toll goes up,’ KT Dec 29). However, the death rate of troopers was astounding. Add to it routine suicides and fratricidal killings of troops in conflict zone. No regular army comes at cheap cost. But Indian state believes that with over 33 million taxpayers they can sustain more than 700 thousand troops in Kashmir for enough of duration. What they are ignoring is the feeble voices that are now questioning keeping Kashmir under their belt. Arundhati Roy, Gautam Navalakha and Pankaj Mishra are blatant voices of dissent against Indian rule in Kashmir. But now emerging writers and journalists are also questioning Indian engagement albeit in soft language. These Indian writers, journalists and intellectuals use alibi of mass alienation, gross HR violations, reducing troop levels, lifting AFSPA and empowering Kashmir. For the fear of reprisal in any form these people use soft language but they surely are raising perturbed questions to Indians. The state has given free hand to non-state actors to thrash or threaten any person for using referendum and RSD words. While suppressing any pro Kashmir voice the state is forgetting that volcano before bursting often bursts in such forms.

What couple of hundreds militants are doing is not unique. Every guerrilla fight is based on discipline and stealth. Kashmir pro freedom fighters learnt the lesson after two decades. Today those who operate guerrilla operation get easily mixed with crowds. They don’t show valor in public. They are not worried whether Afghans come for their support or not. In 2013 they have shown the mettle of grinding one of world’s largest army. They are not bothered for flack like earlier fighters were crazy for. They are least bothered what pen-renegades and newspapers publish. Unlike in past they don’t threat any writer. They have understood that media is cheap form of intelligence for intelligence agencies. Over the couple of years they have grown and become stronger. Death for them is success. Their ideology and belief in life hereafter is giving them strength. The state has understood that. That is why they are focusing part of their strategy to ‘Sufi Islam’. But the state received shock in 2013 when one of the ‘godman’ who claimed to be a Sufi saint was caught sexually exploiting girls. In order to dilute the issue the state circulated that the ‘godman’ was not a Syed (Syed in Kashmir are ‘official’ Sufis and saints who have monopoly on this trade). Thereby raising questions: who provides them so much capital and publicity? The state is now trying to wean away youth from Islamist ideology and laying red carpets of entertainment, sports and other activities.  In all these activities girls are promoted. Even for cutting ribbons and anchoring programmes women are given preference. This sexuality of situation, the state thinks, would enable them to metastasis the ideology laden resistance movement of Kashmir. Despite that pro resistance people have grown from weakness to strength.

Revolution is not about how much mass support you have. It is always how disciplined and how long one can hold on. The difference between victory and defeat is not weapons, armies or resources it is who is prepared to stay for long. Laden with Islamic ideology pro freedom fighters have in it to pass the baton to many more generations. They don’t have paucity of time. Death is martyrdom for them. They harbor no illusions and are entrenched for a long war.

The state has exhausted its brutal tactics and has been unable to counter the moves of armed fighters who have breached walls of state in recent times. Because India is a huge state and therefore it acts slowly. By the time it puts one strategy in place militants would come up with new. Year 2013 showed that the state is no god.

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