Desperation enters Kashmir
25 May 2000
New Delhi: When Afaq Ahmad Shah, a high school student, blew himself and his Maruti car in an effort to assault the 15 Corps Head Quarters at Badamibagh Cantonment late last month, he became the first suicide bomber in the decade old militancy in Kashmir. Though previous attacks by the fidayeens on the security forces and important installations have been termed suicidal, these fail to technically qualify as such. A close look at these assaults will reveal that they were actually hit-and-run attacks where a group of militants engaged the security forces in battle and then managed to escape. Thus there has always existed a chance for an escape and the militants involved have never forfeited that option. Such attacks by militants, passionate though in their outbursts, cannot be called suicidal and have only taken place to attract media attention towards their cause. The media and to an extent even the government has erred in calling such driven militants suicide squads. It is essential to understand that suicide is an individual act and has never been a group act in the history of terrorism. The suicidal attacks of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in South Asia or by the Hamas in West Asia have always been carried out by a single suicide bomber, there have never been any suicide squads. There were simultaneous suicide attacks in Israel on the same day but different human bombs carried them out. After the first ever actual suicide bomb attack in Kashmir, the government and the media need to analyse its implications. If it is assumed that the attack was well-planned, that the suicide bomber was really motivated and knew what he was doing. But what could be its implications on the future of militancy in the Valley, the safety of Government and security personnel stationed there, as well as their morale? The threat of the suicide bomber will have serious implications on the security of the political leaders and top officers of the Army and police in the State. Whether car-borne, cycle-borne or simply on foot, armed with RDX and with the capacity to blow up everything in its vicinity, a suicide bomber can prove nearly unstoppable and the attack leaves little room for prevention. Though many political leaders in Jammu & Kashmir have been provided with tight security, suicide bomb attack will mean an extreme form of threat to the lives of these officers and leaders as well as to the public at large and poses a new dimension of challenge to the security experts. In the last ten years several high profile leaders, from Rajiv Gandhi to R Premadasa to Neelam Thiruchelvam, have been the targets of such attacks. This fear is bound to result in the leaders feeling insecure. Given the conditions in Kashmir, where the government is not very popular, such security threat is sure to increase the gap between the people and its leaders. The entry of suicide bomber in the ongoing militancy will mostly affect the security forces. It is not that the Armed forces would be daunted in their undertaking but are sure to feel uncomfortable in dealing with the public. The helpless and hostile situation, in which the security forces are operating coupled with the fact that the nature of militancy has changed ever since the Kargil war, may make themtighten their security operations, which would have a negative impact on the people. The nature of militancy has also undergone a thorough change. The recovery of huge quantity of RDX in the last couple of months would prove that militants have started relying more on the use of the explosive. RDX can be used in any simple improvised explosive device (IED) and even a small quantity of RDX can throw a jeep 30 meters up in the air and cause heavy damage not only to the target, but also to the surroundings. A bulletproof car can be torn into pieces by the skillful use of RDX. A suicide bomber can approach any governmental and security installations walking or on a cycle or in a car and blow up the entire structure. Even if the suicide bomber is caught before reaching its target, the triggering of the bomb, will serve its purpose, depending on the quantity of the RDX, he or she is loaded with. The increasing use of RDX and IEDs will have more human and material casualties, with less effort from the militants. Afaq Ahmad Shah, the suicide bomber, was a local Kashmiri youth. This must be underlined. It is time to revise the old views and perceptions that militancy Kashmir is Pakistan sponsored; that the locals are not involved and the militants are mercenaries; and that the growth of madarsas in Pakistan and Kashmir is the main reason for the militancy in Kashmir. While the recent suicide bombing does not disprove any of these, it has to be noted now that alienation among the Kashmiri people is a fact. The suicide bombing may be an individual act, by a thoroughly disillusioned or a highly motivated youth. It may or may not be followed by similar acts. But what needs to be realised is the existence of disillusionment, especially among the Kashmiri youths. The least that could be done is to start dialogue with every section and the State government should improve its record on administration before it gets too late.