Terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir has two elements - the smaller local involvement, and the larger Pakistan's proxy war. In the past two decades the Jammu and Kashmir Police, central police organisations, para military forces and the army have together contained the situation effectively. With the active assistance of the local population, to a large extent, black sheep have been neutralised.
The army having fenced almost 500 km plus of the 740-kilometre-long Line of Control (LoC), effective electronic measures and multi-tier grid has managed to stem the flow of terrorists. However, the situation is far from 'normal'.
The latest army intelligence assessment accessed exclusively by Headlines Today says:
•There are approx 2,500 terrorists undergoing training in PoK/Pak.
•There are approx 400 terrorists operating both north and south of Pir Panjal.
•20,000 'released' terrorists can be exploited by elements across.
•There are 42 active terrorist camps in Pakistan.
•There are a large number of active launch pads across the LoC.
We will talk about the local elements a little later, lets for a moment concentrate on Pakistan. Can terror survive in J&K without Pakistan Army/ISI recruiting, training, arming, funding and supporting terrorists? The answer clearly is no. Has Pakistan stopped training, arming and launching terrorists? The answer again is no.
Terrorism in J&K is a part of Pakistan's war on India. This, the army calls the 4th generation of hybrid war. Pakistan army regulars, irregulars, criminals and terrorists are all waging war on India by different means. In JK the much maligned Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is just a tool - an enabler - to fight this war.
As far as perception is concerned - the AFSPA needs to go. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is completely right the situation is improving and as a test case - from Srinagar and Budgam, where the army has not operated from in the past half a decade at least - the Act can be lifted. Both the J&K police and the CRPF (which is facing an uphill task dealing with the Maoists - because of poor training, tactics and deployment) are confident they will be able to handle the situation in Srinagar and Budgam.
No arguments there. We saw how the CRPF and J&K police 'controlled' the rioters and stone pelters in Srinagar last summer. One flag march by the Army, pelters knew the state means business and they quietly melted away.
At the same time it is also a fact that there have been no terrorist related incidents in Budgam - barely 10 kilometres from Srinagar since 2008. And even before that in 2006 and 2007 there were only two incidents each year. The J&K police perhaps, have the best intelligence grid in the valley.
In Srinagar town, the army has not operated since 2005 (except the symbolic flagmarch in 2010- which had the desired result).
But what when AFSPA is removed and there is a situation that warrants army's involvement? Has that been wargamed? No. First all the pros and cons should be extensively debated and wargamed, then a decision taken. Here a decision has been taken without even taking the army into the loop.
The state needs one spark to explode - for people to start spilling out on the streets. From Shopian drowning to Amarnath land protests to Srinagar stone pelters - last three years were extremely hot. In every situation, the army was on heightened alert; often strengthening the grid - backing up the police.
Suddenly in one peaceful summer - should army's enabler powers be curtailed? In a proxy war (unless we say J&K terrorism is not Pak's proxy war) there are no islands of peace. If security forces operate without enablers - the vacuum is filled by forces inimical to the state.
What does Army's internal assessment say:
•Pakistan's agenda on J&K has not changed.
•There is a nexus between the Pakistan Army, ISI, separatists & terrorists.
•Pak Army and separatists want Indian Army dis-empowered .
•Terrorists will use non-AFSPA spaces to fester and grow.
•Even if army has not operated in Srinagar & Budgam there is an active-Int Grid.
On Chief Minister Omar Abdullah saying it is a long standing demand of the people of the state to revoke AFSPA, top ranking sources point out:
•There were over 450 protests in the valley in 2011. Not one against AFSPA.
•In Poonch-Rajauri there were protests for army re-deployment when troops were relocated.
•There are no 'islands of peace'. Situation in Srinagar & Budgam peaceful because of proactive operations.
•Area domination, intelligence gathering and security of assets and lines of communication are all a part of the proactive strategy.
•If AFSPA removed from Srinagar and Budgam, the vital assets and vital points will be vulnerable to terrorist action.
In my detailed interaction with both commanders operating in the area and those involved in higher management of terrorism one thing was clear. Nobody wants Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to lose face. When the matter was raised in 'Regional committee' the army gave its recommendations justifying the retention of AFSPA in February 2011.
After February 2011, till the time that Omar Abdullah went public in October - there was no communication between the state government and the army on the issue.
A senior officer said that at a recent Unified Headquarters meeting a detailed presentation to highlight the complexities of the internal security situation and proxy war were given.
Are politicians only looking at the short term goals? One may or may not agree with army's big picture but it merits a mention here.
The army assessment of Pakistan's strategy in the coming years is - enhanced focus on J&K in the years to come. Pakistan balances Afghanistan, Pakistan's own internal security situation and engagement in J&K depending on who applies more pressure - USA or Pak trained terrorists.
With the US downsizing from next summer (2012) - this will reduce pressure on the Taliban in Afghanistan and more terrorists will be available to send across to J&K.
Elections in the US (2013) and India (2014) will see changes in the regional dynamics.
India's tenure at UNSC ends in 2012. Pakistan and OIC can then increase UN attention on J&K.
"The terrorists are desperate for non-AFSPA pockets to use as safe havens to strike and return to safety and also use as training ground for new crop of indigenous terrorists. Let us study the way situation evolves next summer. In case peace prevails, the army would be more than happy to return to fortify the LoC," a top commander said.
Is one more summer too much to ask for?