Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Oct 19, 2019
Kashmir target killings: It will get worse in days ahead

The brutal killing of three non-locals has raised serious questions on tall claims of the government regarding the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. On 14 October, a truck driver from Rajasthan was killed while returning from an apple orchard. The second attack was against Sethi Kumar Sagar, a daily wage laborer from Chattisgarh who was killed in Pulwama district of South Kashmir. On 16 October, Charanjeet Singh, a fruit trader from Punjab was shot dead and his friend injured in a targeted attack in Shopian, once again in South Kashmir.

These attacks will surely ring alarm bells in the security establishment.  Targeted attacks on non-locals have been a rarity in recent years in Kashmir. The last such attack on non-locals was in 2017 when Amaranth pilgrims were targeted. And the last time migrant workers were attacked was in 2006 in Kulgam, where 16 workers were killed.

The immediate impact of these murders will be on the fruit trade. On one hand, the government has made every effort to ensure that the horticulture produce is marketed despite the disruptions that came in the wake of restrictions imposed after the abrogation of Article 370. In reaction, the militant groups have employed the tactic of targeting traders, businessmen, and laborers to enforce and prolong the ‘civil curfew.’ In the tussle between the two competing narratives – one of normalcy and the other of shutdown – innocent workers and traders are falling prey to bullets of militants.

These attacks have happened against the backdrop of an advertisement campaign launched by the government to influence the general public to end the shutdown and ensure attendance of students in schools. It is clear that the militant groups are now reacting on the ground to the government moves for restoring normalcy in the valley.

Ironically, a day after the killing of the fruit trader, advertisements promising travel concessions, appeared in the national newspaper asking tourists to visit Kashmir. The tag-line: “paradise awaits you” is, to say the least, preposterous. Inviting tourists to the valley at this point in time will only put their lives at risk because the spate of recent killings suggests that the terror groups are seeking to target not just the locals but also non locals to instill fear and terror.

  The murders of the non-locals also give rise to pertinent questions regarding the larger security scenario in the Kashmir Valley. Before the abrogation of Article 370, and the security and communication lockdown that followed, the security forces appeared to have near-total domination on the ground. Figures revealed by the government a few weeks before 5 August  show that the infiltrations, recruitment of local militants and also the terror incident had reduced drastically in comparison to the last year.

However, after 5 August,   the counter-insurgency operation came to a grinding halt, mainly because the security apparatus was tasked to deal with the law and order situation, which acquired priority. Analysts pointed out that the communication lockdown hampered the flow of intelligence and thus the operation could not be carried out. In fact, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir admitted in an interview that the frequency of operations will increase as the restoration of mobile communication has increased the flow of intelligence.

Last time when such halt in operations happened for a month, it was during the Ramazan ceasefire of 2018 which provoked harsh criticism from the hawks. Critics at that time said that the ceasefire will ensure the consolidation of militant groups. Compared to the 30 days of the Ramazan ceasefire, the recent halt in operations continued for about 70 days. In these 70 days, only a handful of operations happened – dubbed as chance encounters - in which 6 militants were killed in the valley. Much like it happened during the Ramazan ceasefire, the halt in operations seems to have led to the consolidation of militant groups and allowed them to re-strategise.

Similarly, the number of infiltrations that remained very low post-Balakot airstrike, have spiked in the last 70 days. Last month, the J&K Police chief had claimed that 60 foreign infiltrators had successfully entered the valley. Another report published towards the end of August suggested that 20 local boys had gone missing after 5 August and security forces suspect that they may have joined militant outfits.

The fresh infiltration will act as a shot of steroids to terror outfits operating in the valley. The foreign terrorists, who are considered to be better trained, will also fill the void of leadership in LeT and JeM. Ergo, the recent killings of the non-local traders and workers are only an indicator of what is on the anvil. The attacks on civilians, both local and non-local will increase, so will the attacks on tourists and the workers of political parties, particularly BJP. Panchs and Sarpanches who have come in support of the central government will, unfortunately, be at the risk for months to come.

There is no doubt the aftermath of the decisions taken on 5 August 2019, has created a fertile ground for exploitation by Pakistan. The absence of any political activity has created a political vacuum which compounds the already worsening security situation. It remains to be seen whether this political vacuum will throw up a widespread militant movement similar to that of the 1990s or change the course of history in Kashmir. However, the recent spate of civilian killings surely indicates that the worse is yet to come.

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