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Sunday, 27 July 2014

From Today's Papers - 27 Jul 2014

Joining the dots: Events in Kashmir are worrisome
Return of street violence, agitation over global Islamic events, border skirmishes, all point to a possible return of the 2008-10 disturbance in Kashmir. The security establishment needs to take note
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
Anyone who follows J&K affairs and particularly its security aspects should be changing mental gears at this time. The ‘bad year’ predictions for 2014 in relation to Kashmir, made in 2011, are appearing ominously correct. There appear to be dark clouds on the horizon. Events in Kashmir usually unfold very quickly and without any correlation but those who can join the dots faster on either side of the divide come out the winner. All was quiet till just a few weeks ago, but a chain of events has occurred which must engage the minds of those who observe Kashmir. It is similar to 2008, when assessments went horribly wrong and subsequent street turbulence lasted three years.

Afzal Guru’s hanging in February 2013 and shoddy handling of the episode upset Kashmiris. Yet it did not explode and many believe the emotional hurt was such that it hit the psyche but its impact did not manifest in the form of violence; an unusual phenomenon given Kashmir’s history of unrest. A year and a half later there appear to be straws in the wind that may be indicators of something brewing afresh. Let us start with reports of young Kashmiris with university degrees suddenly taking to militant ranks; an indication of the degree of angst among the youth. Social media is exploding with alienation. This needs no instigation from across the LoC. Yet, there is no shortage of rhetoric from across, from the likes of Syed Salahuddin who ensures that his utterances find their way to the Kashmiri media.
Then there are incidents such as that at Tral where the situation after the Army’s killing of a JeM terrorist deteriorated rapidly, leading to a mob destroying two police bunker vehicles during the Namaz-e-Janaza. The killed terrorist was a Pakistani; this was not unusual after the death of foreign terrorists some years ago but in the recent past the practice was usually reserved for local ‘martyrs’.

It is the last fortnight’s events that cannot be glossed over. A traffic accident at Zainakut on the outskirts of Srinagar left seven dead under the wheels of an Army truck. Not many would realise that the Army’s lumbering convoys, needed for the logistics of the force deployed on the LoC and in Ladakh, are a symbol associated with raw power and dominance of the Army. Militarily, this may be a psychological plus point to control a situation, but it becomes negative once the military situation is under control and the process of reconciliation begins. Realising this, the Army had toned down the aggressiveness of its convoys in 2011. This had sent a wave of positive energy in Kashmir. The accident has led to questions from many young Kashmiris about the Army’s sincerity to the reconciliation process. In Kashmir, a simple accident can become a trigger for much more.

Two other unconnected events have occurred almost simultaneously in North and South Kashmir. For the first time in the rich tradition of support rendered by Kashmiri Muslims to the Shri Amaranth Yatra we find an aberration. A difference of opinion among some local pony owners and ‘bhandara’ workers at Baltal, a base camp for the yatra, blew out of control, leading to the torching of tents belonging to the locals. While the situation was brought under control, it is not easy to undo the damage to the psyche in as complex a socio-political environment as Kashmir.

Even as this drama was underway at Baltal, processions and stone-throwing mobs appeared in the sensitive towns between Anantnag and Kulgam. Nowhere in the world has the physical expression of condemnation of Israel over the Gaza bombings been as strident as in Kashmir. But in the midst of it, stone throwers appeared as if by design and attempted to make their statement of street power as seen in 2008-10. The police responded with crowd control methods but as it invariably happens, a youth was killed, leading to more unrest, raids on houses of troublemakers, night-time arrests and the usual intelligence-related actions, and led to spiralling of turbulence.

As if to link the two events, Srinagar witnessed the raising of the first flags of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) at Jamia Masjid. This came in the wake of recorded statements issued by Al-Qaeda that Kashmir too was on its agenda, an event that in isolation could have been dismissed for lack of seriousness. However, seen in the light of the vitiated environment of the Valley, this statement too becomes one of the dots that need to be joined.

This is election year, and the political environment is hotting up. The political alliance that ruled the state stands broken. The Jammu region is alienated from Kashmir, politically and socially. A new government is in place at the Centre and its response is being put to test. The government has reacted with surprising transparency by sending a written advisory to the state government to take adequate measures to control the deteriorating security situation. The transfer of J&K’s most experienced police officer, Shiv Sahai, to assume charge of law and order is also a sensible action. There have been well publicised visits by the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and Army Chief to the Valley and they would have been adequately briefed on the emerging situation.

Yet, in Kashmir’s security landscape many things remain unnoticed until much later because of the inability to join the apparently unrelated dots. The trans-border firing and attempted infiltration over the past few days in Jammu division and along the LoC may also appear unconnected, but there is a pattern. Distracting events always precede an explosion in the Valley. It is not necessary that it will happen in exactly the same way as in the past. The wily adversaries are innovative. Kashmir’s media and intelligentsia need to counsel people, especially the youth, about the negative fallout of a return to 2008-10 in the vain hope of giving a boost to the flagging separatist movement by exploiting external events in the Islamic world.

Joining the dots is never easy, more so in Kashmir. But to disprove the ominous predictions of 2011, the establishment would be ahead of the situation if it does the exercise in seriousness, at least till the Assembly elections.

The writer is a former GOC of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Senior Fellow of the Delhi Policy Group and Visiting Fellow of the Vivekanand International Foundation.
National war memorial soon: Centre
President, PM pay homage to martyrs on 15th anniversary of Kargil Vijay Divas
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 26
President Pranab Mukherjee today led the nation in paying homage to the martyrs on the 15th anniversary of Kargil Vijay Divas. The Central government said it would soon finalise the site for the construction of the National War Memorial.

In his message, the President lauded the courage and valour of the Indian armed forces and called upon them to “continue to do their duty on our frontiers with honour and dedication”.

On his part, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “We remember the indomitable courage and sacrifice of our armed forces. The nation salutes these brave martyrs.”

Later, Jaitley said he and the Service Chiefs would soon visit the Princess Park area close to India Gate to take a decision on the location of the war memorial, “where names of all those who sacrificed their lives for the country will be written.”

For a long time, the armed forces have been advocating a war memorial and the previous UPA Government constituted a Group of Ministers under the then Defence Minister AK Antony to sort out inter-ministerial issues, including location.

There were reservations over building such a memorial near India Gate after the Antony Committee decided that it be located in that area. During 2013, the then Delhi Chief Minister opposed the proposal to construct the memorial in the India Gate area.

The Princess Park area has a single-storey complex, where service officers and staff have residential accommodation. Jaitley today said the site was among the best available in the India Gate area.

“It is a large piece of land and I think it is appropriate for the war soon as details are finalised, we will have to get sanctions from all departments,” he said.
Army busts militant hideout in Ramban
The Army today busted a militant hideout in Ramban district of Jammu and Kashmir and recovered arms and ammunition.

Based on specific intelligence inputs, a joint operation was launched by local Rashtriya Rifle Battalion and police at Nachlana-Gudber area of Ramban district today, a Defence spokesman said.

The operation resulted in the recovery of two pistols, ammunition and war equipment from the busted hideout, he said.
Modi hosts farewell dinner for outgoing army chief
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today hosted a farewell dinner for outgoing Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh.

Gen Singh's wife Bubble Singh, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjeet Singh, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and senior government officers were present on the occasion, an official statement said.

Gen Singh retires on July 31 and Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag has been named as the next Chief Of the Army Staff.

In his last days in office, Gen Singh is visiting all the operational commands of the force.
India’s defence preparedness better today: Army chief

SRINAGAR, Jul 25: Army chief Gen Bikram Singh today said army is fully geared up to take on challenges.

He said India’s defence preparedness is much better today than it was 15 years ago. Gen Singh assured that the army is fully capable of safeguarding the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Army chief was talking to media at Drass. He was in Drass on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of ‘Operation Vijay Diwas’. He paid tributes to the soldiers who laid down their lives during Kargil war, some 15 years back.

The government is totally committed towards ensuring that the needs of the Army are met and the force is "fully geared" up to take on the challenges, outgoing Army Chief General Bikram Singh today said.

During his interaction with media, Gen Singh said, "As chief of army staff, I want to assure you that your army is stationed at the border and has the ability to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.

"As you know that I am hanging my boots on July 31 and I thought what better way of saying goodbye to the profession than coming here and laying a wreath," he said.

Asked if things have changed in terms of deficiencies in the army since Kargil War, he said, "Yes, things have changed. Let me tell you all the armies have deficiencies. It is not only that the Indian army has deficiencies. But things are being made up. The present government is totally committed towards ensuring that our needs are met. Our deficiencies are met. So let me assure you that your army is fully geared to take on the challenges. I personally guarantee you that.”

Replying to a question, Gen Singh said the life of a soldier has improved since the Kargil incursions took place in 1999.

"It has improved by leaps and bounds in a very distinct manner," he said.

"The aspirations of the force with regards to the security needs are being addressed by the government. Let me assure you that the present government is definitely committed towards ensuring that the aspirations of our soldiers are met," he said.

On ceasefire violations by Pakistan, the army chief said, "As you very well know that this kind of firing has been on and this thing has been happening almost every month and every year, but let me assure you that your soldiers are taking necessary action whenever required."

Asked about the absence of senior army officers, who were part of Kargil war, from the function today, Gen Singh said he cannot comment on it as they might have had prior commitments.

"Look I cannot comment on that. It is possible that they are abroad, they are busy. They might have prior commitments. But let me assure you that each one of those officers has a commitment towards this cause," he said.

Gen Singh later interacted with war widows present at the function and distributed gifts among them.

Army chief arrived at Drass today. He was received by Lt Gen DS Hooda, army commander, northern command and Lt Gen BS Negi, GOC, 14 Corps.

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