Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir government has justified the ban on high-speed internet in the Union territory citing the low number of terror related incidents. But the security establishment in the Union territory is anticipating a “hot summer” as the ban won’t be able to effectively contain the numbers.
Speaking to ThePrint on condition of anonymity, several officials involved with counter-insurgency expressed concern over the rising violence in the region over the last few weeks. They said the ban on high-speed internet won’t change Pakistan-backed militant strategy for this year.
This comes even as five security force personnel, including two Army officers, were killed in an encounter in Handwara Saturday.
The officials also expect the insurgency to increase in the north Kashmir region for the first time since the encounter of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in 2016. The northern region had seen relatively lower insurgent activities in the past decade as compared to south Kashmir.
The comments come after the J&K government Wednesday responded to a petition filed in the Supreme Court to seek restoration of 4G internet service in J&K. In its response, the government said “108 terrorist related incidents” took place between August 2019 and April.
In the comparative period between August 2018 and April 2019, there were more than 450 such incidents. The numbers stood at around 300, 200 and 160 in the same period for the three years prior to that, the officials told ThePrint.
Terrorism related violence includes encounters, terror attacks, civilian killings, grenade attacks, abductions and so on, according to police.
The number of incidents fell after August 2019 when the J&K administration enforced a communications blackout and a clampdown on movement. It was followed by months of shutdown by Kashmir residents who were opposing the Modi government’s decision to scrap the erstwhile state’s special status (Article 370).
Why the number of incidents fell
According to senior police officers in Jammu and Kashmir, a change in terror strategy and the lockdown enforced ahead of scrapping of Article 370 were major factors behind the reduced levels of violence last year.
They pointed out that recruitment of local militants and infiltration of foreign terrorists didn’t see any fall during the lockdown.
“The militants used the post-August quiet to regroup and recruit. However, they have not been able to, or decided not to carry out any major attack in the Valley or beyond,” said a senior police officer, before adding a caveat.
“Although the decrease in violence coincided with the communication blackout and the subsequent increase in violence, what we are witnessing now is happening when all communication channels, barring high speed internet, are functional. It doesn’t mean that reducing internet speeds will change the 2020 militant strategy backed by Pakistan,” said the officer who didn’t wish to be named.
ThePrint had reported last month how security officials saw emergence of new militant outfits in Kashmir as the start of a “violent campaign”, which existing terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad couldn’t undertake amid growing international scrutiny over them.
In the apex court, the J&K administration said that of the 108 incidents in these eight months, 99 were reported from Kashmir and 9 from Jammu.
It added, “30 civilians lost their lives, while 114 civilians were injured in terrorist related incidents. 20 security forces personnel were martyred and 54 SF personnel were injured. 76 terrorists were killed apart from the arrest of 132 terrorists/ suspects.”
However, since 25 March, when a nationwide lockdown was imposed, 57 persons have been killed in Kashmir, including 31 militants, seven civilians, six CRPF men and two J&K police personnel.
The deaths also included five Army personnel killed in a close combat in the first week of April in Keran sector in north Kashmir’s Kupwara. Among the six slain CRPF men were three who were killed by a lone terrorist in an attack in Sopore, believed to be from the newly floated militant outfit, The Resistance Front.
“We suspect that militant groups will continue to escalate violence in the coming months,” said a counter insurgency official posted in south Kashmir.
“There are few concern areas, one being that despite infiltration reported last year, there haven’t been many encounters in which foreigners have been killed. This means that the FT’s (foreign terrorists) are not moving, which in turn could mean more recruitment of local boys and of impending attacks,” said the official on condition of anonymity.
The security establishment is also concerned about resurgence in stone pelting incidents at encounter sites, mostly aimed at either protesting the presence of security forces or helping the militants flee by sabotaging the encounter.
According to two senior police officers, after several months, April recorded the first pellet injuries during a protest near an encounter.
“Seven to eight people received pellet injuries in an encounter in Shopian’s Melhora area last week. Another woman received a bullet injury during one such encounter in south Kashmir last month,” said a third police officer who didn’t wish to be named.
“Because most of the encounters in the past eight months were brief, scope of subsequent violent protests was less but in some encounters now, we have been witnessing stone pelting incidents,” said the officer.
“One reason for the stone pelting could be the authorities decision to bury unidentified local militants in graveyards other than those in their native villages,” said the counter insurgency official quoted above.
Last month, J&K police buried people they said were unidentified terrorists killed in encounters at a graveyard designated to bury foreign terrorists. Kashmiri families later turned up to claim the bodies, causing tensions in several parts of south Kashmir, particularly Shopian.
The third police officer said the security establishment was now bracing for a “hot summer”, a speculation amplified by reports of “missing youth”.
“We have been getting reports of several youth missing in Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam. We are ascertaining whether they have joined militant ranks or not,” said the officer, adding that it seemed terror groups would likely escalate violence in parts of northern Kashmir this year.
The insurgency in north Kashmir had remained a low-scale affair after the encounter of Burhan Wani. This might change.
“In Sopore we have reports of 10-12 militants getting active past month. They include Pakistani nationals,” the officer added.