Eight members of the Army, one of them a Major, and 17 terrorists are reported to have been killed in a series of encounters between patrols of the Army and five different groups of terrorist infiltrators from the Pakistani territory in densely forested areas of the Kupwara district of Jammu & Kashmir. The encounters, which started on March 20, lasted five days.
The Army stated that the encounters were the result of proactive action taken by it on receipt of human intelligence about the infiltration of terrorists. The Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), which has claimed responsibility for the encounters, has tried to project them as in response to a surprise action launched by it which, according to it, started with an ambush of an Army patrol.
Media reports described the encounters as one of the fiercest gun battles in that area in recent years. The infiltration of the LeT terrorists into the Kupwara area and their encounters with the Army patrols have come in the wake of a significant improvement in the ground situation in J&K last year, which made possible the peaceful holding of the elections to the Legislative Assembly. The elections saw a record voter turn-out.
Addressing a media conference on December 25,2008, Kuldeep Khoda, the director-general of police of J&K, had said:
Terrorist violence showed a remarkable decline of 40 per cent in 2008 as compared to 2007.
Civilian deaths at the hands of the terrorists, which reached a peak of 1413 in 1996, came down to 164 in 2007 and only 89 in 2008.
48 political activists, including a minister, were killed by terrorists during the 2002 election campaign. They could not kill a single political activist during the election campaign of 2008.
For the first time, 2008 witnessed the best ever performance of the police and the security forces on the human rights front.There was only one complaint of death in police custody and no complaint of disappearance from police custody.
At the same time, he warned against complacency and pointed out that there were still 800 trained terrorists----300 of them foreigners, mainly Pakistanis---- in the State waiting for an opportunity to step up terrorism.
Since the elections in November-December last, the improvement in the ground situation achieved by the security forces last year continued to hold, but there was an increase in agitprop incidents in the urban areas in the form of orchestrated demonstrations over allegations of violations of the human rights of local residents by the security forces.
Through the present infiltration and the consequent clashes lasting five days, the LeT has sought to achieve three objectives----firstly, to demonstrate that it is still a force to be reckoned with and secondly, to convey a message to the people of J&K that despite the so-called action taken by the Pakistani authorities against the LeT after the Mumbai terrorist attack in response to international pressure, the LeT's terrorist acts in J&K will not be affected.
Thirdly, the LeT has also sought to strengthen the arguments of those in the West such as David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, who claim that unless attention is paid to solving Indo-Pakistan differences on the Kashmir issue, jihadi terrorism in the Indian territory will continue in some form or the other.
When he was the President till August last year, Pervez Musharraf used to make a distinction between acts of terrorism in J&K which he projected as a legitimate freedom struggle not amounting to terrorism and acts in Indian territory outside J&K which, he admitted, were acts of terrorism. He did not deny the activities of the LeT in J&K, but projected it as an indigenous Kashmiri organisation having root causes for its actions. He did not accept that the LeT was active in the Indian territory, outside J&K.
The encounters between the Army and the LeT in the Kupwara area during the last five days clearly show that Asif Ali Zardari's government is following the same policy as Musharraf.
It is following a policy of legitimising the terrorist acts of the LeT in J&K and, at the same time, pretending to co-operate with the Government of India in the investigation of the LeT's terrorist strike in Mumbai.
The heavily forested Kupwara is not the sprawling urban Mumbai. Encounters within forests have nothing in common with encounters with terrorists entrenched inside urban buildings and going on a shooting spree in crowded public places in a big city such as Mumbai.
But there are disconcerting similarities between what happened in Mumbai between November 26 and 29,2008, and between what has happened during the last five days in the Kupwara area -- simultaneous, well-orchestrated attacks on multiple targets, whether static or moving army patrols, a skilful use of hand-held weapons and gadgets such as GPS systems, suicidal and not suicide terrorism, strike, stay and fight tactics instead of the hit and vanish tactics and an ability to keep the encounters with the security forces going for a long time in order to make an impact on the local population and the international community through dramatic media reports.
In the weeks before the polls, it will be the aim of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the terrorists sponsored by it to step up violence in J&K through so-called indigenous Kashmiri organisations and to encourage elements belonging to the Indian Mujahideen and its ally the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which have not committed any major act of terrorism after the Delhi blasts of September,2008, to strike again.
These have to be factored into our security plan for the elections.