Safety of unarmed civilians has to be paramount besides ensuring less collateral damage during encounters in Kashmir.With at least 20 dead and over 100 injured during two encounters and connected protests on Sunday, South Kashmir appears to be no less than a bloody hell. The deaths included 13 militants, 3 army personnel and 4 civilians; and the injured included people who are alleged to have gathered on the roads to protest while the encounters were going on. While Sunday’s violence is a reflection of the deepening crisis in Kashmir, there is need to question whether such a huge spiral of killings can be justified in the name of self-defence or collateral damage.
The strategic requirement of counter insurgency operations must not tide over the vital question of civilian safety and the success rate of such operations must not be weighed without factoring in the disproportionately huge losses the security forces themselves suffer during such operations. The extremely high casualty statistic (on all sides, particularly the civilian casualties) on Sunday has an ominous ring to it. The first thing that needs to be grappled with is the enormous complexity and delicacy of the situation. The readiness of young boys to pick up arms and fight the mighty Indian security apparatus and the willingness of people to assemble at encounter sites and break into sloganeering or violent protests signals the desperation of Kashmiris, particularly in South Kashmir where such incidents are becoming the norm. This reflects not just the voluntariness of an increasing number of Kashmiris to risk their lives in gunfights or street protests by standing in defiance in various ways but also their will to bleed the security forces, exhaust them and effect as many casualties of men in uniform as possible. Only a deeper engagement with these ground realities can enable a search for pragmatic remedies. The sheer hopelessness of the situation reveals not just the limited scope of military options but also that military strategies without being backed by a political process in Kashmir can eventually become more counter-productive. Sight cannot be lost of the fact that despite maintaining a high score of militant kills during encounters and steadily increasing their pro-active approach, the security forces have neither been able to minimise shocking civilian casualties, nor been able to evolve the cautious strategy of ensuring lesser losses on their own side. Needless to point out that even as more and more number of militants are getting killed in recent months, the total numbers are steadily progressing in multiples. Even more horrifyingly, the Valley is witnessing a push towards extreme religious radicalisation with terror groups like ISIS being held in reverence increasingly, even if the organization has still not made its presence in Kashmir, so far. This trend has dangerous ramifications beyond anyone’s imagination.
While the government needs to think beyond the military options in Kashmir and complement the counter insurgency operations by security forces by introducing genuine confidence building measures and laying the ground-work of process of engagement, the security apparatus may as well need to strategise its planning and actions in a way so that high casualty figures of civilians can be avoided. By targeting civilian mobs near the encounter sites with excessive military equipment, resulting in the horrifying 4 deaths and injuries to 100 others, the security forces appear to be obliterating the difference between the armed militants and the stone pelting protestors.
The question that begs an answer is whether this huge level of collateral damage was avoidable. Whether the army general supervising the two encounters on Sunday in South Kashmir was playing to the gallery with a display of machismo or his words were indeed intended, the sheer import of his remark that ‘the death of Lieutenant Fayaz has been avenged’, is worrisome. Military operations are dictated by security needs not the principle of revenge. If latter is the case, it is time for saner elements in and outside the official circles to grapple with not just the brutality of such a policy but also the inherent threat it poses to a democratic country. Kashmir situation is far too delicate and requires handling with caution, both with respect to words and actions, instead of reckless bloodshed which aids the process of pushing more and more youth to pick up arms. Unless course correction is made, Kashmir’s downslide into deeper anarchy and chaos cannot be arrested.
News Updated at : Tuesday, April 3, 2018