women demanding release of an activist Aasiya. Below Sardar Qayyum
Peace Round the Corner But Jihad Also Escalating
By Praveen Swami
DELHI, September 27: Finding the truth about Jammu and Kashmir
(J&K) is an exceptionally easy business: facts to substantiate
just about any prediction one might wish to make litter its landscape.
peace, as optimists claim, around the corner? Easily proved. Violence
has been in steady decline since 2002; tourist traffic to Srinagar
is at record levels; marriages are once again being held, as tradition
mandates, late at night; power supplies and the road network have
improved; some in Kashmir's tiny Pandit minority, which was forced
out of the State when the jihad gathered momentum in 1990, are
considering returning to their long-abandoned homes.
evidence that the jihad in J&K could be on the verge of reinventing
itself, rather than dying a slow, unlamented death, is every bit
as easy to come by. In just the past eight weeks, Indian soldiers
have recovered 3,000 kilograms of explosive material in the Kashmir
Valley, a record haul that exceeds the entire quantity discovered
between January and end-September 2004.
groups have also demonstrated considerable inventiveness in bypassing
Indian counter-measures, rendering at least some well-established
defensive postures redundant. New tactics for penetrating the
fence along the Line of Control (LoC) have also been adopted.
All of these are signs that the severely-degraded leadership of
terrorist groups, notably the Hizb ul-Mujahideen (HM), is starting
to get its house in order once again.
of the new explosives recoveries have consisted of freely-available
chemicals like potassium permanganate and aluminum powder. While
these chemicals have a wide variety of legitimate applications,
notably in the construction and mining industries, skilled bomb-makers
can use them to fabricate improvised explosive devices.
devices made with these substances are, kilogram for kilogram,
less effective than conventional military explosives, their effectiveness
has been demonstrated around the world - presently and notably
in Iraq, where they have been used with considerable effect. Interdicting
the movement of such chemicals into J&K, given India's notoriously
poor controls on the production and sale of hazardous materials,
is near-impossible. Officials worry that that the shift away from
military explosives like RDX is designed to lend credibility to
Pakistan's claims that it is not giving military support to terrorists
officials also have reason to be worried by the creativity displayed
in the use of improvised explosive devices. For the past several
years, all movement along major roads in J&K has been preceded
by what are called Road-Opening Parties (ROPs), which check routes
for mines and improvised explosive devices.
such checks are carried out early in the morning. While anti-sabotage
checks carried out by ROPs have by no means always been effective,
they did for the most part help protect Indian military movements.
Now, however, terrorist groups have found a way to evade the checks.
In two recent bombings of military convoys, terrorists drove cars
fitted with explosives along with regular traffic once the ROP
had completed its work.
then overtook the targeted military convoy, and parked the vehicle
some distance ahead. The explosives-rigged car was detonated as
the convoy passed. No real solution has been found for this tactic,
since stopping civilian traffic when roads are put to military
use is not a workable option.
defence establishment is also discovering that the new fence along
the LoC is not quite the infiltration-proof barrier it was advertised
to be. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently noted, cross-border
infiltration has declined in recent weeks. However, this was preceded
by unusually high levels of infiltration this spring when terrorists
took advantage of weather damage to the LoC fence. Yet, the problem
a remarkably candid interview to Frontline magazine,
the XV Corps commander, Lieutenant-General SS Dhillon, noted that
infiltrating terrorist cadre were now equipped with barrier-penetration
tools, and had received training on mock versions of the fence
in camps in Pakistan. One common expedient, for example, was to
clip a bypass on to the electric trip-wires laid through the fence's
concertina rolls, and then cut a way through. As a consequence
of the high early-summer infiltration, violence has risen this
summer - relative, that is, to the quiet of spring - a fact Prime
Minister Singh also expressed concern over.
some in the security establishment, the message is clear: J&K's
largest terrorist group, the HM, is slowly recovering from the
decimation of its field leadership in 2003 and 2004 . Ibrahim
Dar, who handles the HM's current Srinagar-area operations, and
who recently returned to J&K from Pakistan, is believed to
be working to insulate his organization from Indian communications
intelligence penetration, notably by using couriers to send messages
rather than rely on wireless or cell phone traffic. Sohail Faisal,
an HM operative with over a decade of field experience, who was
recently appointed its south Kashmir 'divisional commander', has
made similar efforts to revive the HM's shattered organizational
serious, though, is the threat? Indian intelligence and defence
analysts are divided, along predictable lines. Some believe that
the intense western pressure on Pakistan, coupled with its internal
ethnic, political and economic crises, make it unlikely that it
will allow a significant escalation of the jihad to take place.
however, believe that Pakistan wishes to continue to use the jihad
as a source of leverage within J&K, and is in the process
of finding means through which its secret war against India can
be made self-sustaining.
certainly, suggests that the second proposition is not as strange
as it might at first seem. Contrary to popular perception, the
jihad in J&K did not begin in 1990; only one phase did. Pakistan-backed
covert groups operated with some success in the State through
the 1950s, with minimal external support.
from mid-1960 to 1972, did the Master Cell and Al-Fatah, which
had considerable political impact, despite the limited scale of
their military operations. It is worth noting that many of those
who became senior leaders in the ongoing jihad, cut their political
teeth - and learned their operational skills - in these earlier
is, of course, entirely possible that what we are witnessing in
J&K might just be the death throes of a war that history has
already passed by. It costs nothing, however, to at least consider
the possibility that the lull now being experienced is just the
eye of the storm.
writer is Chief of Bureau in New Delhi and Deputy Editor of Frontline
Magazine. This article was first published by SAIR at http://www.satp.org