Srinagar: Killing a gun-wielding terrorist is the easy part, according to Lieutenant General D.P. Pandey, Commander of the Srinagar-based Chinar Corps. It is the “white collar terrorists” who are the actual “terrorist factories”, he added, and sought to differentiate between terrorists and the “ism” of terrorism.
In an interview to ThePrint, Lt Gen. Pandey said it is important to identify the correct disease and malaise for sustainable peace and stability in Kashmir, and not end up just treating the symptom — gun-toting terrorists.
He said the security situation in the Kashmir Valley has improved, and there is an actual drop in recruitment of educated local youth into terrorist groups. However, he added that terrorist recruiters are now trying to attract vulnerable teenagers — a challenge the Army is looking to counter.
The Chinar Corps (15 Corps) Commander, who is responsible for the Kashmir Valley and the Line of Control (LoC) in the Kashmir sector, also welcomed the agreement with Pakistan since 25 February 2021 to observe the 2003 ceasefire, saying it is a boon for border villagers.
However, he said incidents of terrorists attempting to infiltrate into Kashmir continue.
“In the last two years, especially since the ceasefire, we have covered a lot of ground, both in security and development. We have hardly had any stone-pelting incidents, a few protests and bandhs have happened for issues relating to electricity or water,” he told ThePrint.
Lt Gen. Pandey, who is on his career’s seventh tour of duty to Kashmir, said the number of terrorist-induced incidents and targeted killings have also dipped drastically, even though there was a concerted effort in September/October to cause a spurt in violence.
The top Army officer in Kashmir said one good development was that voices that have remained silent for a long time are now speaking against the nexus of terrorism and its support mechanism.
The ‘ism’ of terrorism
Explaining the nuances of terrorism in Kashmir, which he also described as a victim of “conflict economy”, Lt Gen. Pandey said, “For many years, people have mixed the terrorist and the ‘ism’ part. They have just given a word — terrorism.”
“It is very easy to neutralise, kill, isolate or take a terrorist out of circulation. But the aspect of ‘ism’ is much more enduring and remains in society for a long time, and is run by a nexus, a leadership of prominent people of society which drives the numbers towards becoming terrorists,” he added.
“To have peace in the long term, we need to work on the ‘ism’ aspect, which is basically radicalisation through running a conflict economy, through drugs, through education which is flawed or which leans towards radicalisation. These are the issues which need to be targeted. There is a whole government approach (needed) in which security forces also play a very important role,” he said.
Lt Gen. Pandey said that, for long, the armed forces felt this was not their task, “but I think for ‘ism’ to be controlled, security forces have a key role”.
“I have got company commanders, young soldiers who are spread out in the entire Valley and they have started understanding the difference between terrorists and ‘ism’. They understand that killing a terrorist in much easier, we will be able to entrap him, and he has a life cycle of a few days to a few months,” he said.
“They (young soldiers) have also understood the importance of ‘ism’ and are reaching out to the local population to explain to them what is happening and how they need to read signs of a youth gravitating towards terrorism,” Lt Gen. Pandey added.
Difference between overground workers, ‘white collar terrorists’
Lt Gen. Pandey said there needs to be a distinction between overground workers of terrorist groups, who transfer arms and money from one place to another, and “white collar terrorists”, who play the bigger game.
“I can kill one terrorist, but these white collar terrorists are the terrorist factories. They are the ones responsible for identifying which youth fits the bill to become a terrorist. Thereafter, they will poach him, isolate him, radicalise him and, controlled by masters from abroad, will ensure he gets a weapon,” he said,
He added that while the security forces went after these gun-wielding terrorists, nobody was paying any attention to white collar terrorists.
“And this gentleman or lady, a prominent member of society, was actually poaching on that very society to turn youngsters into terrorists, while their own family members were getting a good education, government jobs, and have houses all over the country,” he said.
Lt Gen. Pandey said one of the critical components of the terror nexus were members of the Kashmiri diaspora spread across the world.
“Majority of them have not set foot once in Kashmir and they are using social media to reach out, radicalise, spread false narratives of victimhood under the pay and guidance of their masters abroad,” he said.
The corps commander said that as the youth are getting exposed to these realities, they have started questioning them too.
Terror recruitment down, eye on teenagers
Lt Gen. Pandey said the number of terrorists present in the Valley in 2021 was around 250, which has now come down to 160. This number, he said, includes local terrorists and those who infiltrated from across the LoC and elsewhere.
“The most interesting part is the reduction in the number of recruits. In 2021, we had about 40 fewer recruits. But when I analyse the kind of recruitment taking place, an interesting trend emerges — you don’t find educated, empowered youth joining terrorists ranks, which was a wave sometime in 2016-18. That has ebbed,” he said.
Not finding educated young men, said Lt Gen. Pandey, recruiters “have started reaching out to teens in the age bracket of 15-17 years, when they are vulnerable”.
He said the terrorist recruiters are smart enough to identify a teen with domestic problems, whose parent, uncle or a near relative was a terrorist who was killed, or who is involved in drugs.
“So there is a careful selection taking place because they are not finding youth at large to pick up guns. And that (recruitment of teenagers) is a challenge we are now looking at,” he added.
He said because “white collar terrorists” who were targeting youth are now exposed, older youth in Kashmir are cautioned. The focus is now on the younger lot.
Lt Gen. Pandey said families have also started to understand this and are reaching out to both the police and the Army to wean away their children from the path of terror.
“Over the last year, a large number of such youth have been taken out of the Union territory” to ensure that they are able to study and focus on their lives as regular citizens, he said.
Situation at the LoC
Pandey described the reiteration of the ceasefire as a welcome step, saying it gives an opportunity for people in border villages to lead a normal life rather than be in constant fear of shelling and sniping by the Pakistan Army.
He said it was the Pakistan Army that sought the ceasefire, as they had their own compulsions, including a failing economy, tension on their border with Afghanistan, their own terrorist infrastructure, and the beating they got through retaliation by the Indian Army in ceasefire violations.
On the question of infiltration, he said there have been attempts and they will continue unless the orientation of the Pakistani establishment does not change.
He said those trying to infiltrate will be taken care of by the three-tier anti-infiltration grid. Those who still manage to sneak across will be tracked down in the hinterland, he added.
“We don’t have to just rely on technical intelligence, human intelligence has started coming. The Kashmiri people have realised what is happening and we are getting a lot of human inputs regarding terrorists,” Lt Gen. Pandey said.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)