Bandipur operation is an ominous sign for terrorists in J&K

Indian army in Jammu
Soldiers from the Indian Army (Representational image) | Photo by indianarmy.nic

While it’s incorrect to declare ‘victory’, India seems to be on the right path when it comes to anti-terror operations in Jammu and Kashmir.

Even as Dineshwar Sharma, the government-appointed interlocutor, returned after his first reconnaissance of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and a round of meetings was underway in Delhi, the government gave directions for the continuation of focussed and hard anti-terror operations in Kashmir. Within days of those directions, the Bandipur operation on 18 November resulted in one of the biggest achievements in anti-terrorist operations this year. Six terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Taiba were gunned down by the Army’s 13 Rashtriya Rifles, in conjunction with the J&K Police and the CRPF.

Operations against terrorists have two connotations in J&K. First is the counter-infiltration (CI) mode, in which the Army has established a strong and dominating grid along the LoC belt, in depth up to 20 km. This deployment is in layers. Since the strength of infiltrating terrorists can be very high, the attrition levels too are high, resulting in operations in the past where as many as 10-15 terrorists have been killed in a single encounter. These days this number rarely exceeds six infiltrators because terrorists have reduced the size of infiltrating groups to avoid high attrition.

The second mode is that of hinterland operations, or what may also be termed as counter-terror (CT) operations. In the late 1990s and before, the elimination of six or more terrorists in an encounter was considered normal and the frequency was reasonably high. That was because the Valley was full of terrorists who roamed in bands. When the attrition levels increased, the mathematics of terror started to fall in our favour. This was from 2004 onwards, once the LoC fence was operationalised. The Army could eliminate more terrorists in the hinterland than the rate at which they infiltrated.

The terrorist leadership evaluated the situation and decided to reduce the strength in the operational groups. Instead of the usual six, the terrorists began living in pairs, sometimes trios. This reduced the quantum of terrorists killed in contact operations. It was a strategy of the LeT in particular, which then needed many more over-ground workers (OGWs) for guidance to the foreign terrorists (all LeT terrorists are generally Pakistanis) for frequent movement to avoid the security dragnet.

Of course the most important issue here was the need for and existence of a large network of ‘safe houses’ in which foreign terrorists resided. In fact, I once celebrated when one of my units killed five high-level terrorist leaders who had got together for a conference in the Lolab Valley on 13 July 2011.

Ominous signs for terrorists

While a single operation is never sufficient to give us a trend, I can see a few ominous signs for the terrorist cadres. One is the drying of funding. Even OGWs need funding. The call for azadi and radical ideology can only keep passion and commitment going up to a point. Beyond that, it is a question of money.

The NIA’s recent actions and maintenance of continuity with these is having its effect. The lower strength of OGWs means a smaller number of safe houses too. So, terrorists from Pakistan have to stay for shorter periods in fewer homes, and thus have to be in larger groups. This offers greater potential for success to the ever-hungry Rashtriya Rifles troops.

Post-operation analysis will soon tell us whether this eliminated group was a resident terrorist group or a recently infiltrated one. Either way, there can be no denying that the phenomenon of infiltration is impossible to stop; the most the Army can do is contain it as much as possible. Secondly, more youth have been recruited to terrorist ranks in South Kashmir than the number killed or neutralised this campaigning season. So, we are almost back to square one in the numbers game.

The direction of the central government to the forces to not dilute the focus and intensity of operations is wise. Winter can sometimes be a period for a tactical pause when the Army, in particular, gets on to other things like reviewing conventional warfare plans and conducting war games.

My experience in Kashmir tells me that winter is a ‘high kill’ period, but this fact is not registered in the psyche of the forces due to lack of continuity management. With changed circumstances, now is the time to ginger up intelligence. But intelligence does not come cheap. There is a need to spend more money. If this advice is heeded I am quite certain we have a partridge hunt in the offing this winter.

Too many times in the past we have declared premature victory in the fight against Pakistan-sponsored terrorists and separatists. My sincere advice — victory is not on the horizon yet; it’s too complex a term. We just have to ensure that the CI/CT grids remain intact, and there is no attempt at premature dilution.

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