Kathua terror attack: Why a military response isn’t enough

Five Indian Army personnel were killed on July 8 after terrorists ambushed a convoy in Kathua district in Jammu. This was the fourth terror incident in the state within 48 hours and the latest in a series of attacks in the last few months, especially in the Jammu region. As reported in the media, this reinforced a new trend of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir shifting south of the Pir Panjal.

The terror incident in Kathua stands out with several peculiarities vis-a-vis similar strikes in the Kashmir Valley as well as in other sub-regions of Jammu — Rajouri, Poonch and Doda. Terrorism and insurgency-related incidents are often characterised by local conditions. Straight-jacketing the Kathua attack within the overall pattern of such incidents in other pockets of the Jammu region may lead to ignoring nuances.

Kathua district is at the southern edge of the Jammu region, far removed from Rajouri and Doda. Even during the peak of insurgency in J&K, this district was by and large peaceful. In fact, it was on the list of suitable regions under consideration for the partial removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).

As per the 2011 Census, Kathua district comprises approximately 88 per cent Hindus, 10 to 11 per cent Muslims and one to two per cent Sikhs and others. These figures are in contrast to the demography of Kashmir: Rajouri and Poonch — Muslim majority districts — and the Chenab valley in the Jammu region in Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban where Hindus and Muslims are almost in equal proportions. The region has also not traditionally seen support for the insurgency.

A matter of concern is that no information on the movement of terrorists that carried out the cowardly act in broad daylight surfaced. This should lead the administration to include the local police. The gravity of the intelligence gap at the thana level is indeed worrying and warrants remedial action at appropriate levels.

Planning and executing a strike in Kathua district in a deliberate manner by employing automatic weapons, firing on army vehicles from multiple directions, and subsequently escaping and remaining at large for 48 hours point to terrorists’ increasing capabilities. What is needed is reinvigorating human intelligence, identifying gaps in technical intelligence and addressing them.

The message that terrorists and their handlers seem to be sending is that Jammu and Kashmir is not yet ready for assembly elections. The overarching agenda of the government must be the revival of the political process, come what may. The longer people are deprived of representation, the deeper the damage to the overall welfare and security of Jammu and Kashmir. In both the long and medium term, the region requires political, not military solutions.

In a democratic society, informed public discussion and debate always have the potential to facilitate sound policy-making. Sadly, we tend to stick to cliches on certain subjects. Our discussions in the mainstream media, especially electronic media, start and end with sensationalism about Pakistan. We are also emphatic about the pressure on the terror infrastructure, our counter-terrorism success story in Kashmir, etc. Pakistan and these other factors are important, but the discussion must also go wider and deeper. It is our people, our troops that are suffering and the local population is the most significant stakeholder.

There is much to introspect on. It is time to recall that Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, in his judgment approving the repeal of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370, recommended the setting up of a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”, as a part of the way forward. We need to embark on this journey and do much more.

The writer is a retired infantry officer of the Indian Army with experience of operating in Jammu and Kashmir. He currently teaches at OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana

© The Indian Express Pvt Ltd

First uploaded on: 11-07-2024 at 10:32 IST

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