On guard in Kashmir Time not ripe for demilitarisation

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MUCH has been written and said about demilitarisation in Jammu and Kashmir. While some of the political parties, including the PDP that is part of the ruling alliance, have been quite vocal in calling for demilitarisation, the security establishment has consistently maintained that the situation is not yet ripe for substantial reduction in the number of troops stationed in J&K, particularly in Kashmir Valley. An objective assessment of the pros and cons of demilitarisation is called for. 
By all yardsticks of measurement, a fair degree of normalcy has now returned to J&K. Unlike a decade go, the road arteries are open to civilian and military traffic, schools, colleges and hospitals are functioning normally, trade and commerce are looking up, development has picked up pace, tourists are visiting Kashmir in droves and political leaders are able to freely address small crowds at street corners. 
The Kashmiri youth are no longer volunteering to join the so-called Jihad despite continuing threats and coercion by various tanzeems. However, though infiltration from across the LoC has been checked considerably by the army, incidents of sporadic violence – grenade attacks, IED blasts and random killings of civilians – continue to be unacceptably large in number. 
Intelligence agencies estimate the number of terrorists in J&K as varying between 1,500 and 2,000, including a hard core nucleus of about 400 to 500. Regular encounters continue to take place between these mercenary terrorists and the security forces. Counter-insurgency operations are now being conducted by the army very selectively. 
These are based on confirmed intelligence and are specially designed to be non-intrusive so as not to cause any harassment to the Kashmiri people. Massive cordon-and-search operations at the crack of dawn, that had been the hallmark of the early-1990s, have long since been discarded. The refrain today is to let a terrorist go where there is even an iota of doubt, but ensure that no innocent civilian is harmed. 
The army and other intelligence agencies intercept 15,000 to 20,000 radio and telephone messages from the ISI handlers and JeM and LeT controllers across the LoC to terrorist leaders in J&K every month. Most of these are orders to guide and control operations and messages to motivate area and district commanders to do more to be more pro-active. About 1,200 to 1,500 trained terrorists are reported to be waiting in 50 to 60 in training camps-cum-holding areas across the LoC in POK and in other parts of Pakistan for infiltration orders from the ISI. 
Clearly, the remaining roots of militancy in J&K now lie across the LoC and in Pakistan. The Pakistan Army and the ISI have opted to lie low for the time being as they cannot afford to fight on three fronts simultaneously: proxy war with India in J&K and elsewhere; counter-insurgency operations against the al Qaeda and Taliban forces on the western front with American forces breathing heavily down their necks and threatening to launch raids across the Durand Line into Pakistan; and, crippling internal instability in the NWFP and Baluchistan and urban areas. 
Hence, the present rapprochement process with India is not a long-term strategic change of heart for peace with India but a tactical ploy to lull India into a sense of complacency and to mollify the international community. The ISI is keeping the machinery for infiltration and terrorist activities well oiled and can raise the ante again whenever they need to, for example if things tend to spin out of control on the domestic front. 
Under these circumstances, demilitarisation in J&K is a sensitive issue from the security point of view. By definition demilitarisation means 'to eliminate the military character of', 'to prohibit military forces or installations in' and 'to replace military control with civilian control' (Oxford Dictionary). A duly elected civilian government rules in J&K and by no stretch of the imagination can the 'character' of J&K be described as military in nature - unlike in the Northern Areas across the LoC or in Myanmar. 
Through a three-tier deployment, the army maintains a constant vigil on the LoC to counter infiltration attempts. It also conducts counter-insurgency operations along with the Rashtriya Rifles in the hinterland of J&K based on accurate intelligence. The physical presence of the J&K police, J&K armed police and the central police and para-military forces (CPMFs) ensures human security in the towns and the security of government property and sensitive installations. 
Rear area security, that is, keeping the road arteries open for traffic and simultaneously preventing the terrorists from using these for their operations, is a responsibility that is shared by the army and the CPMFs. Large-scale operations are no longer being conducted at night, but vigorous patrolling prevents the terrorists from moving unhindered and striking at will. 
Sustained intelligence gathering operations, which rely on both electronic and human intelligence, seek out terrorist hideouts and sanctuaries so that these can be destroyed. The operational aim is to keep the terrorist groups on the run, deny them logistics sustenance and to wear them out by allowing them no rest, so as to eventually demoralise them and force them to surrender and join the mainstream. 
The present situation can only be described as a strategic stalemate. The security situation is not getting much worse but is improving only marginally. In case the army and other security forces pull out of J&K prematurely, the terrorist groups will be able to establish their control over large areas and the writ of the civil administration will no longer run. 
They will also rest, recoup and re-group, launch fresh recruitment drives and set up a network to raise funds. Attacks on security forces convoys and non-separatist civilian political leaders will again increase and incidents of rape and loot will come to the fore. The J&K police and armed police are neither trained nor suitably equipped to successfully fight foreign-trained mercenary terrorists. These issues need to be seriously addressed before demilitarisation can be considered. 
The writer is Additional Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi