May 2016 News

Growing Local Support For Militancy Has J&K Cops Worried

1 May 2016
Times of India
Aarti Tikoo Singh

Srinagar: There are only around 200 active militants in the Valley, with most concentrated in south Kashmir. But it's not their numbers that are worrying security agencies; it's the growing local support for militants in their strongholds. 'If there's a militant holed up in a congested part of the city, I'll think several times before taking action. In fact, it's likely I'd let him go. This is because the scene today is very different from a few years ago. Today, I have to deal not only with the militant in a hideout but local residents as well, who will come out cheering for him or pelting stones on my men,' a senior police officer in Srinagar said. Highly demoralised by media's constant criticism over human rights violations, the Army too finds itself on the defensive, constantly fighting, along with militancy, the battle of perceptions. 'We're now in a phase where we end up being in both a counter-insurgency operation and a law and order scene. The line between the two is disappearing,' an Army officer told TOI. The notable success, a plug in infiltration, has led to a spike in home-grown militancy. Of the 200-odd militants, sources said, only 30 or so may be Pakistanis. Foreign mercenaries, police sources said, are mostly in north Kashmir. What worries the security forces more is the 'unarmed militant' and his supporters in Kashmir. 'An armed militant is a known threat and we know how to fight him. But an unarmed militant is camouflaged in public. We don't know who he is and what threat he and his supporters can pose,' a police officer said. Counter-insurgency specialists in Kashmir attribute the growing discontent to various factors. For example, children born in the 1990s, who grew up in a conflicted, homogenised, and Islamicised society, and a repressive state, have come of age. 'They haven't seen anything better. They haven't seen peace and co-existence. So they are spontaneously, on their own, at the forefront of mob violence. They need just a small trigger to turn violent,' a civil servant said. Officials see these new trends as 'a portent of a new indigenous warfare'. Stonepelting, protests, and mass participation in militants' funerals are very cost-effective ways of thumbing their nose at India, an officer said. More people show willingness to participate in such acts of defiance because it is relatively innocuous. 'What can we do if people go to militants' funerals? We respect the sentiments of people as it's not a matter of celebration for us if a local militant is killed. After all, he is one of us,' an Army officer said. Cops said people don't mind being associated with stone-pelting either. 'There are hardly any societal consequences attached to it. There was stigma to militancy; it was difficult for militants to find a match in marriage. Stone-pelting and funeral participation are not stigmatised because we (the Army and police) show restraint. At the most, we pick up a few stone-pelters, counsel them and let them go. So it is convenient to support it,' said a senior cop. 'All this unrest is essentially conveying the same old message of 1990: they want separation. They don't want to be a part of India,' a lawyer sitting at a police station said.