Srinagar: Ahead of the winter, Jammu and Kashmir is witnessing a spike in violence against security forces who have faced high incidence of casualties this year despite a remarkable decline in militancy-related incidents, official and public data reviewed by The Wire shows.
While 30 security personnel lost their lives in 151 incidents of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir in 2022, the toll of security forces in the union territory has reached 22 in just 52 incidents till September 22 this year, according to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), which monitors violence in J&K.
Of these, official data shows that eight security personnel were killed in Kashmir which includes two Army officers and a J&K Police officer among four personnel who were gunned down in a single incident in south Kashmir’s Kokernag region last week.
“Four civilians, including a Kashmiri Pandit, were also killed in terror incidents in the valley this year,” Vijay Kumar, Additional Director General of J&K Police, told The Wire.
While violence is subsiding in Kashmir, the number of casualties suffered by security forces in Jammu, which was declared militancy-free some years ago, has nearly doubled. The theatre of militancy has seemingly shifted to Jammu’s Pir Panjal region which bounds the valley from the west and the south.
The Pir Panjal conundrum
A chain of mountains in the lower Himalayas, extending from Gulmarg in north Kashmir to Kishtwar in the south from where it stretches into Himachal Pradesh, the Pir Panjal region comprises Poonch, Rajouri and Reasi districts of Jammu division which is home to lush forests and some of J&K’s highest peaks.
Pir Panjal has reportedly turned into a haven for foreign infiltrators – sneaking into J&K from the Line of Control (LoC) – and even local militants, many of whom are believed to be taking shelter in the region’s dense forests which have natural caves shielded under thick vegetation cover.
According to reports, an unspecified number of foreigners, aided by local militants and some civilians, are shuttling the Pir Panjal region, which separates Jammu division from Kashmir Valley, and even reportedly crossing back the LoC into Pakistan occupied J&K (PoJ&K) after carrying out deadly attacks on security forces and civilians.
Official data shows that more than two dozen army soldiers and dozens of civilians have been killed in militant attacks over the last two years in Pir Panjal.
In the last fortnight alone, security forces and militants were caught in at least six face-offs across the union territory, including in Srinagar, the capital, where an unidentified militant opened fire on a truck of Central Reserve Paramilitary Forces (CRPF) in Khanyar locality on September 18 but wasn’t able to cause any damage.
Four of these face-offs took place in the Pir Panjal region or its adjoining areas. Some of these face-offs have turned deadly, resulting in the killing of six security personnel, including three officers, in one of the longest anti-militancy operation in Kokernag.
At least seven militants were also gunned down over the last two weeks, of which six militants are believed to be foreigners.
The increasing activity of militants in Pir Panjal region has prompted officials to relook at the winter strategy for containing militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. Officials and reports said that the trend of increasing violence points to the possibility of fresh infiltration along the LoC.
Officials said that the uptick in violence is consistent with the past trends as foreign militants try to sneak across the LoC before the winter snow on high mountain passes makes J&K inaccessible.
Significantly, for the first time in two years, the Indian Army has accused Islamabad of violating the 2011 Ceasefire Agreement that the two countries vowed to uphold in 2021, by providing “fire support” to a group of infiltrators in north Kashmir earlier this month, two of whom were later gunned down.
While insurgency-related violence has quieted, the number of active militants breached the double-digit mark achieved last year to reach 107 in May this year, including 71 foreign militants. This has raised red-flags in the security establishment.
However, a national English daily reported that only 81 militants were active in Kashmir in the month of August. The report excludes the number of ‘hybrid’ militants, a new term used by J&K Police to describe the militants who have not been identified due to their undercover roles.
Uptick in militancy
Official data and media reports suggest that there are 15 active militants in Jammu region with two of them believed to be foreigners. But the manner in which the militants are shifting bases between Kashmir and Jammu indicates that the number could be on the higher side.
More than 70% militants active in Jammu and Kashmir are affiliated with Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba outfits which, officials believe, operate under the banner of Peoples Anti-Fascist Force and The Resistance Front.
According to official data, over 600 overground workers of militants in J&K have been arrested and charged with anti-terror laws with most of them incarcerated in jails outside the union territory.
Meanwhile, in a significant development, the chief of Jammu police was sent on a central deputation earlier this week while the head of Central Reserve Paramilitary Forces’ Kashmir operations was prematurely repatriated by the Union home ministry.
Mukesh Singh, a 1996 IPS officer, who served as the Additional Director General of J&K Police, Jammu, (ADGP) since 2019, has been sent on a central deputation with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) for five years, officials said.