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Stone pelting: Jihad's new weapon

By Brigadier S K Chatterji (retd)
September 15, 2010 11:04 IST
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The jihadis use stone throwing to draw fire from the security forces and cause casualties so that Kashmir is on the boil for a little longer.

The solution to the turmoil is not concessions, but good governance, feels Brigadier S K Chatterji (retd).

The recent agitation involving a deluge of stones thrown on police forces in the Kashmir valley, has, in effect, written a new page in the books of asymmetric warfare.

With a fading insurgency, dipping public support and dwindling number of jihadists, the separatists and radicals have found a novel weapon in Jammu and Kashmir: stone pelting.

The modus operandi has involved recruitment of a hundred odd stone pelters, with a large percentage of children amongst them, in a few areas of J&K. These cadres assemble as per a schedule that is circulated via Twitter, Facebook, SMS and such other means. Over ground workers of separatist and terror outfits muster men, women and children to congregate at the appointed place and time.

The crowd agitates forcing the deployment of police forces, and the core cadre starts pelting stones. The mob mentality takes over, the situation turns violent with the crowd braving the riot control arsenal till they draw fire.

It leads to the death of a few more, thereby providing the fodder for the Kashmir valley to remain on the boil, a little longer.

A couple of seasons ago, the method adopted by jihadists was grenade lobbying with children being used for it. The ruthlessness of the radicals while using children, was amazing. The safety pins of grenades were removed before putting it in a child's hand, leaving him no choice but to throw it. However, the children failed to throw grenades accurately resulting in the casualties being primarily Kashmiri civilians.

A wave of resentment in the populace forced the jihadists to call a halt. Today, the same child is pelting stones for about Rs 470 a day, in a sub-continent where millions live on less than about Rs 94 per day.

The goal is also to sell it as a mass movement in J&K. The stone throwing has been compared to the Intifada (uprising) in Palestine. However, this is anything but a mass movement.

Tourism is amongst the more established industries in the Kashmir valley. A couple of seasons ago it was difficult to get a house boat on the famous Dal Lake in Srinagar without having booked months in advance. The stone pelting movement has been undertaken during the tourist season that starts around April and goes on up to October.

With the valley in turmoil, the average Kashmiri has taken a hard hit. They surely did not want any such trouble, and definitely not in the season when it would be detrimental to their annual earnings, the most.

The organisations behind the whole movement belong to the separatist and jihadi groups. It is been guided by the likes of Masarat Alam Bhat, who has already promised that the movement would intensify after Eid ul Fitr. Also involved are separatist leaders like Ayesha Andrabi of the Dukhtaraan-e-Millat, recently arrested by the state government.

There are also legitimate political parties that would like to see the current dispensation in Srinagar, a product of a democratic election, in discomfiture.

It is also a pity that the State's reaction to a growing violent movement has been hopelessly rudderless. It failed to arrest the leaders in time, and stop the congregations despite the date, time and place of such activities being openly announced.

A cycle of violence, with islands of stability interspersed in between, is repeatedly witnessed in J&K. Consequent to the state assembly election in 2008 with an overwhelming turnout, defying all separatist calls and radical threats, a period of stability came to the fore.

The situation was aided by a forward deployment of the Indian Army that brought down infiltration from across the Line of Control with Pakistan.

Militancy was all but over; its back broken. However, the jihadis changed tactics. They came out with stones, evoking an emotional response.

The objective remains to create a perception of the state authorities being brutal; a repressive regime that responds with a bullet to a mere stone being thrown at it.

In most insurgency affected areas globally, the inability to fully implement the clear (the terrorist), hold (governance of the area cleared) and build (infrastructure and institutions) strategy is apparent.

Post the armed forces achieving dominance and providing the space for political activity, the build strategy is plagued by an inept administration and corruption. Add to it, mainstream political party members retaining links with terror groups, allowing the jihadists a re-run of the cycle of violence.

The story in Afghanistan is not too different, nor perhaps the course of events in Iraq.

There is hardly a constituency left in J&K that espouses a merger with Pakistan, today. Those who raise the banner of independence are also fully aware, that within days of such independence, Kashmir will be taken over by the jihadis and there will be no such civil liberties as the current model that allows the protests.

The leadership of elements perpetuating violence in J&K has long been hijacked by Islamist terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the Hizbul Mujaheedin. The call for liberation is a tool in the quest of extending their radical boundaries further.

Jammu and Kashmir requires clean governance and enforcement of law and order, and not another package of concessions. Concessions will only spur the adoption of another asymmetric weapon by jihadi movements.

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Brigadier S K Chatterji (retd)