April 12, 2013
by Team SAISA
New study points to future challenges
As militancy in Kashmir ebbed, declined and waned by the beginning of last decade, tourism became the next big summer phenomenon to talk about. However, this was short-lived seasonal event as street protests gripped the imagination 2008 onwards. Two summers have since been relatively peaceful even as the stone warriors are still potent enough on the streets. This spring it is a different question for the forthcoming summers –is militancy about to return in some big, small or modest way?
Sensing the Lashkar’s heart
Ever since it’s beginning over two years ago this column has always batted for India-Pakistan reconciliation and atmosphere of peace and trust between two countries. There is no other way actually. Particularly for peace and stability in Kashmir the Indo-Pak cooperation is most important. Having said that, it is very important to get Pakistan curb the human resource and infrastructure that foments violence and terrorism not only in different parts of India but also in Pakistan.
Islamabad’s denial mode doesn’t help the situation. Kashmir has deep political discontent and there is no reason to deny its existence. The issues between the Centre and vast sections of people of the state have been historic and nothing credible has actually happened to address those. However, except for the initial years, all manpower and arsenal for the violence has come from across the borders. This is actually not any new revelation. The reason why this issue is being invoked today is a new study the Counter Terrorism Centre (CTC) under the aegis of United States Department of Defence.
The report titled ‘The Fighters of Lashkar-e-Taiba: Recruitment, Training, Deployment and Death’ researched together by Don Rassler, C. Christine Fair, Anirban Ghosh, Arif Jamal and Nadia Shoeb brings interesting aspects on past trends and future possibilities of Lashkar engagement in Kashmir. The authors have studied biographies of 900 Lashkar militants, almost all of Pakistani origin, who died while fighting in Jammu and Kashmir or elsewhere in India. As high as 94 percent of the Lashkar fighters have listed Kashmir as fighting front. This is sharp contrast to popular beliefs in India.
Many previous studies (Santhanam, Sreedhar, Saxena et al) as also most of the Indian security establishment view LeT as a pan India threat with Kashmir merely as an entry route. The CTC study also claims that most of the specialised training to LeT cadres is imparted in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan administered Kashmir. It is interesting to note that the report finds more than half of the Lashkar militants’ deaths in frontier districts of Baramulla and Kupwara in the Valley and Poonch in Jammu. As the report discovers that a vast majority of LeT cadres are the Punjabis and drawn from areas like Bahawalpur, Gujarat, Gujjaranwala and Sialkote in Pakistan’s Punjab one could find reasons why they mostly concentrated in the peripheral districts of Baramulla, Kupwara and Poonch. In fact Poonch was the first place in Jammu and Kashmir for the first LeT signatures. LeT made its presence first felt in October 1994 with massive ambush of an Army patrol killing five soldiers. However, its arrival was noticed in February 1993 with a dozen odd militants in Poonch. In the subsequent months the outfits spread its presence in different parts of the state but Poonch, Baramulla and Kupwara remained its key battlefields.
Eye at Afghanistan
The report under discussion comes with a terse caution: ‘While it is difficult to predict the directional priorities of Pakistan-based militant groups after the United States reduces its role in Afghanistan, especially in light of the internal security challenges faced by Pakistan and the state’s own shifting threat priorities, historical precedent suggests that some of these militant groups will reorient to and invest more broadly in the conflict in Kashmir’.
The timing of this report or any other study on South Asian terror projects is most significant as the region discusses possible security scenarios after US pullout from Afghanistan, due in 2014. Keen eye on the emerging security scenario and great strategic games on Afghanistan-Pakistan axis is crucial in context of Kashmir. Even as a new breed of security experts talks loud about the changing jihadist dynamics in the regions but there are few important factors one cannot lose sight of. The Pakistani militants groups started operating in Kashmir in a big way after Soviets pulled out from Pakistan. Clearly, there were freed up energies which took eastward direction and spent years fighting in Kashmir.
Decade of 1990s was of intense battles in Jammu and Kashmir. Militant groups engaged the security forces in all corners of the state before marked decline in operations 2002 onwards. The political and security establishments at national and state level compete to claim credits for bringing the levels of militancy down but the clearly external factors were clearly dominant in reducing militant footprint in Jammu and Kashmir. The US and NATO forces arrived in Afghanistan in 2001 and this when the Pakistani militant groups found the challenges towards the western borders and beyond more important to take on. It was this factor that took attention of Pakistani militants away and incidents of violence began declining trend in Kashmir. Every subsequent year in last decade has seen constant decline in the militant power in the state.
However, the present and the next year are most defining. It is certainly difficult to predict possible scenarios in Afghanistan but one thing is for sure that after US pullout most of the Pakistani militant groups would be free enough to concentrate elsewhere. As Lashkar lists Kashmir as most preferred battlefield the coming months are of anxiety. It is, of course, essential to tighten the borders and enhance the vigil but the political process is of far greater importance. As one sees that most of the terror human resource comes from across the borders and not from within Kashmir itself, a satisfied and contended Kashmir would deny space external elements posing threats to peace.