The terrorists had targeted policemen and their families but cold blooded killings were far and few.
The aim of targeting the JKP personnel was to create dissensions in its ranks, force them to dither and be demotivated in performing their duties.
Lieutenant (Lt) Umar Fayaz, a product of a school in Anantnag, joined National Defence Academy (NDA) in December 2012 and passed out as a commissioned officer of the Indian Army in December 2016. He was allotted 2 Rajputana Rifles as his unit, an honour any young man would have been delighted to receive. This is the unit, which captured Tololing during the Kargil conflict in 1999 and was designated bravest of the brave among a few infantry units of the Indian Army. On his first leave after joining the unit, Fayaz was attending a wedding near South Kashmir's Shupian town, some distance from his home town of Kulgam, when he was kidnapped by terrorists, who barged into the event with full knowledge of his presence. Taken away without any resistance from locals his bullet-ridden body, apparently also tortured, was found some distance away, on the road.
The successful entry of Fayaz into NDA was celebrated by many in the Valley as much as the success of so many other young Kashmiris, who crack the civil services and other competitive examinations and repeatedly find recognition in different sporting and cultural activities. Young Kashmiri women, in particular, have made it a habit to exhibit their talent in no mean way.
Entry into the officer cadre of the Armed Forces is not new. We have some very accomplished Kashmiris who have performed and achieved much in the three Services. However, ever since the commencement of militancy in 1989, there has been some reluctance to look at the Armed Forces as a career due to the separatist pressure. Yet there have still been odd cases of passion and courage and this trend was just beginning to manifest into something bigger.
It's good for people to know that Kashmiri Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists all join the JAK Light Infantry or the JAK Rifles as jawans beside having vacancies in other arms of the Army. The Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force and Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP) are also very popular in terms of recruitment. One has to remember the Kashmiri tendency of preferring government jobs to entrepreneurship and proclivity towards service industry. It does happen with people in conflict ridden zones where employment becomes a huge challenge.
I have laboured a bit in reminding about the bursting Kashmiri talent and its tendency to accept all the opportunities being thrown at it by mainstream India. In the same breath, it is also good to remember that even after Burhan Wani's death on 8 July 2016 and the mayhem that Kashmir witnessed, there was no let up in the long lines at army and police recruiting centres. Many of those who threw stones also registered for recruitment. This has been a trend for long and not something new and I did point out in earlier analyses that a tehsil like Tral (Burhan Wani's township) had given more loyal and patriotic soldiers to the army than terrorists to the Hizbul Mujahideen.
Obviously a keen mind in the terrorist cadres, separatists or the sponsors in Pakistan observing the trends and reading our analyses took a long term view of the indicators; some deft intelligence work indeed. That mind must have registered that in spite of the passions of Islamism and separatism, the need for rozi roti and Indian strategic communication efforts would drive Kashmiri youth away, as was being witnessed in the long lines in front of JAK Light Infantry Training Centre. The recognition talented Kashmiris were receiving in Bollywood and in the sports field would create a new generation that would compete with Burhan Wani and Pakistani cricketers for the role model space in Kashmir. This is unacceptable in the campaign to create alienation and antipathy against India.
In a TV panel discussion that I was part of on 10 May, the anchor proudly displayed figures to show that 94 per cent of Indians polled perceived that the killing of Lt Fayaz was out of baukhlavat or desperation. That is where he and the 94 per cent are all wrong because their response was from the top off the head and not from experience and analysis. This is no desperation, it's a deep and well-thought strategy, which only a devious but extremely sharp mind can conceive. It has a long-term aim and its implications for India are extremely negative. The killing of Lt Fayaz preceded by the killing of five Kashmiri policemen and two bank guards signifies a change in the nature of militancy, where there are no qualms about who the victims are; Kashmiris are no different to others.
In the history of Kashmir's militancy there have been stereotypes, which have come to form perceptions even in military minds. The Al Firan kidnapping of five foreigners in 1995, the beheading of one of them and disappearance of others stamped the viciousness of the foreign terrorist. By and large the impression of local militants was that they were more benign, did not target locals or politicians and lacked the killer instinct. None of this is actually true, as witnessed in numerous beheadings of sources, killing of sarpanchs and even elimination of Ikhwans (counter groups). It's however true that none of these were executed with any strategy. We witnessed one off killings of local Territorial Army, Home and Hearth personnel, but most of these were personal feuds and too spaced out to give perception of any strategy.
The terrorists had targeted policemen and their families but cold blooded killings were far and few. The aim of targeting the JKP personnel was to create dissensions in its ranks, force them to dither and be demotivated in performing of their duties. The JKP is no mean police force. Having seen many a brave Kashmiri policeman in operations, I salute their resilience in the face of such intimidation. Since they did not wilt under duress, the choice of sending a stronger message fell on the selection of a military target.
Obviously someone was keeping tabs on Lt Fayaz's movements. This is hardly surprising considering the vast network of agents that the separatists and terrorists have. The intimidation of JKP policemen has also led to a dilution in the intelligence capability of the security forces (SF). But what are the implications of this event and how should these be avoided in the future, is what the reader would wish to know.
The first implication is that it's now a no holds barred situation. The gloves should be off as far as the army and other security forces are concerned. There is nothing benign about local militancy and let that sink into every soldier's mind. That does not mean a spree of intimidation of locals but more discretion and more energy. The numbers in South Kashmir as far as army deployment is concerned have not moved in sync with threats. These must be reviewed.
To throttle the freedom of movement of terrorists and simultaneously handle agitation there is a need for more police and more army. Kulgam needs an RR Sector HQ. During the heyday of high-level militancy in the 1990s it always had one. More units are immediately required in the Weebagh, Kulgam and Shupian triangle. It has to be back to basics type operations; many checkpoints, many cordon and search operations, source development and even search and destroy operations in the numerous karewas and forest clumps, which dot this area and its flanks.
What should be worrying the security man's mind; this is for the senior army and policemen? It should be the extent to which the local terrorists are willing to go. Progressively, I would look at threats such as targeting of Indian tourists to paralyse an already stricken economy, the targeting of Amarnath Yatra, for the sheer intimidation and lastly a potential resort to suicide bombing. None of this may happen but when you deal with snakes and scorpions, who run this campaign from across the border, one should preferably allow threats to be perceived from flights of fancy.