Shopian/Baramulla: For the first time since 2016, recruitment of local youth into terror ranks and the number of terrorists operating in the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir have come down, forcing Pakistan intruders who were lying low to become active, ThePrint has learnt.
While there is a larger sense of normalcy in the terror-hit region as well as among the defence and security establishment there, the forces are hoping that situation will continue to improve.
South Kashmir, often referred to as the den of terrorism, had around 140-150 terrorists operating over the last five years. Now, there are only 74 left in the region, according to the list maintained by security forces.
Recruitment of local youth by terror outfits in the region has also come down. Figures with the security forces show that since January this year, only four youth have been recruited in South Kashmir, while the same number for January-February last year stood at 13-14.
Such has been the sense of calmness that there is hardly any stone-pelting taking place in South Kashmir following encounters. Security forces said that phone and internet lines are no longer cut during operations.
They further said that flow of human intelligence regarding presence of terrorists has also seen an upward trend as the army focuses on kinetic operations to take down terrorists, as well as non-kinectic moves to bond with the civilian populations, especially the youth.
In North Kashmir too, the situation has seen greater normalcy with lesser recruitment of youth into terror ranks and terrorist-induced incidents, army officers said.
According to official data, 142 young men from across Kashmir had joined terror ranks in 2021, which was lower than the 178 in 2020.
In 2019, which saw a stringent lockdown following the abrogation of Article 370, recruitment was at 117. In 2018, the figure stood at 210.
There had been sustained increase in terror recruitment since 2016, when local militant Burhan Wani was killed, which had led to large-scale protests.
Even in terms of infiltration from the LoC (Line of Control), 2021 saw 31 terrorists successfully managing to enter the country despite a ceasefire agreement between the India and Pakistani armies being in place.
The year 2020 had seen 36 successful infiltrations from the LoC in the Kashmir sector. Sources said terrorists have also started using the LoC from the Jammu side, as well as the International Border (IB) in the Punjab sector, to infiltrate.
In 2019, there were 130 infiltrations from LoC while in 2018, the figure stood at 143.
As far as the number of terrorists eliminated is concerned, 2021 witnessed 171 of them being killed in encounters with security forces. This included 149 local and 22 Pakistani terrorists, according to official data.
Interestingly, in 2021, 84 local terrorists were either apprehended or had surrendered. This figure was higher than of the three previous years. While 2020 witnessed 81 apprehension/surrenders, the figure stood at 49 in 2019, and 58 in 2018.
In another sign of normalcy, Kashmir Valley received 6.3 lakh tourists in 2021, as compared to 0.02 lakh in 2020 and 5.25 lakh in 2019.
As far as casualties of forces personnel is concerned, 2021 witnessed 21 fatalities in comparison to 31 in 2020, 53 in 2019, and 47 in 2018.
Situation in South Kashmir
Maj Gen Prashant Srivastava, general officer commanding (GOC) of the Army’s Victor Force — which is in charge of all anti-terror operations in South Kashmir — told ThePrint that the situation is changing and there has been “immense improvement”.
He asserted that there is a “greater amount of enthusiasm, greater positivity, and yearning for normal life” among the public.
“There is a greater sense that people want to be part of change. The situation is far better than what it used to be a few years back. Recruitment is down, neutralisation has gone up, human intelligence inputs have started coming in, there is tourism and education institutions are buzzing,” said Maj Gen Srivastava, who is the first para officer to head the crucial Victor Force.
He added that traditionally, the number of terrorists in South Kashmir stood at around 150 over the last five years.
“Last year, the number had come down to 120-130 terrorists. This year, because of the absolute information we are getting, we have been able to bring the number, for the first time in the chapter of terrorism in J&K, to below 100. Today, as we speak, there are 74 terrorists in South Kashmir,” he said.
Maj Gen Srivastava said the primary reason for this is that “while killing of terrorists has gone up, recruitment is not taking place”.
He said that around 120 local youth had joined terrorist groups in the region last year. The number was 13-14 in January and February 2021, while the number for the same period this year stood at just four, he added.
Maj Gen Srivastava said that while the forces are focusing on the kinetic domain, there is an equal focus on regular interactions with the civil population, especially the youth.
Dormant Pak terrorists become active
This increasing normalcy has also resulted in Pakistani terrorists, who were lying dormant till now, becoming active in South Kashmir.
“The numbers (of Pakistani terrorists getting killed) have increased only in the last few months. To be precise, in last three and half months, nine Pakistani terrorists have been neutralised. This needs context. Recruitment is not taking place and local leadership has been targeted. These people (Pakistani terrorists) had to come out since it is a make or break situation. They had to come out to entice violence,” said Maj Gen Srivastava.
“Each time they will come out in the open, they will be neutralised. The bulk of these have been here for some time, and those killed include some who were here for 2-3 years,” he added.
The GOC of the Victor Force further said that stone pelting incidents have come down during operations, while human intelligence inputs regarding presence of terrorists have gone up.
“In the last three and half months, there has been no stone pelting. At times, as a precautionary measure, we lowered the levels of communication (cutting of internet and phone communication). We don’t do that anymore,” he said.
Asked again, he said, “None whatsoever. We had some top leaders who have been neutralised but not one incident where stone pelting has taken place. That is a sign of change. Post neuralisation of a Jaish fellow, we had people coming out and thanking us and saying he had made their life hell.”
Situation in North Kashmir
The situation in North Kashmir is well under control, Maj Gen S S Slaria, the GOC of Kilo Force, which is in-charge of operations in the region, told ThePrint.
North Kashmir too has seen lesser recruitment of youth into terror ranks and terrorist-induced incidents, he said.
In 2019, there were 250 incidents of stone-pelting, but only four such incidents took place in 2021, he said.
“If I talk about north Kashmir, the situation is largely peaceful and moving to normalcy. Terror incidents, stone pelting, posters being put up and waving of ISIS flags, bandh calls, hartals have gone down,” he added.
Maj Gen Slaria further said that economic activity and tourism has gone up and students are going to school.
“When I look at these parameters, we are moving towards normalcy, the situation is largely peaceful,” he said.
The GOC said that the army is focusing on two sets of operations.
“One is of course kinetic operation, which is focussed on counter-terrorism. We are focusing on intelligence based ops with minimum collateral damage. The other focus is on non-kinetic ops. The population is the centre of gravity and we are engaging them in a positive manner. Giving them opportunities for skilling, coaching classes… we are engaging at various levels,” he added.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)