Joint command, local engagement foils for Jammu terror attacks

Indian Army personnel during a counter-terror operation after terrorists ambushed an Army convoy, in Kathua district, Tuesday, June 9, 2024.  Photo | PTI

Five Indian Army soldiers were killed and five injured on Monday in an ambush by militants in Badnota, a village about 80 km from Jammu’s Kathua district. The attack coincided with the eighth death anniversary of Burhan Wani, the poster boy of terrorist organisation Hizbul Mujahideen, who was killed in an encounter in 2016. This was the fourth militancy-related incident in J&K this month, in which six militants and two soldiers were killed in south Kashmir in separate encounters. The incidents came days after the new Chief of Army Staff General Upendra Dwivedi’s first visit to forward locations along the LoC in Poonch, where he reviewed anti-terror operations and arrangements for the Amarnath Yatra.

The Pakistan-backed militants’ shift in strategy to target security personnel and pilgrims in the Jammu division is new. They are expanding the area of conflict from the Valley to the Hindu-dominated Jammu, which till October 2021 was much quieter. Things changed after the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. Since October 2021, Jammu has witnessed a series of terror attacks that have claimed at least 43 lives, while Kashmir has experienced a gradual shift towards relative peace. The latest infiltration and attacks by well-trained, heavily-armed militants from across the border are timed to occur before the impending assembly elections in the Union territory.

The heightened militancy seeks to challenge New Delhi’s narrative of the return of normalcy to J&K after August 2019 and to create a sense of disquiet among the people who are looking forward to local representation in politics, employment opportunities and statehood. Militant attacks resulting in deaths give ammunition to the opposition, which is already questioning the Centre’s handling of security in J&K. If provocation continues, the ceasefire will be at stake.

Pakistan, roiled by severe political, economic and security troubles of its own, needs a face-saving diversion. There is nothing more useful for the Pakistani deep state than to bring Kashmir back to the table. It is a calculated risk they seem willing to take. So the Jammu region, with around 65 percent Hindu population, is their new playing field. For India, a joint command in J&K is a must for seamless coordination and accountability. Back-channel diplomacy and more engagement with locals must also be given a fair chance to prevent further escalation.

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