At a time when J&K and the country are pre-occupied with fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, eight security personnel, two militants and a civilian lost their lives in fresh violence in Handwara. Earlier five militants and five soldiers including four para commandos had died in an encounter at Kupwara. Three CRPF jawans have also lost their lives in ambush in Sopore. This shows a steeply rising graph of violence in Kashmir and doesn’t augur well for the summer ahead.
Security forces haven’t suffered such a huge loss in the ongoing violence since February 2019 when 40 CRPF personnel lost their lives in a suicide attack on the bus ferrying them from Jammu. Also, the violence has blown up in our face at a time when militancy in Kashmir had been giving all indications of being in retreat. According to police estimate there are around 250 active militants in Kashmir, of which around sixty have been killed since January. Besides, recent months have witnessed a drop in Kashmiri youth taking to arms that was expected to lead to a progressive dwindling of the number of militants.
But Handwara violence has turned these calculations on their head. It has made it clear that the militancy is here to stay as the infiltration remains an ongoing phenomenon, the hi-tech border fencing notwithstanding. And the militants that are crossing over are highly trained and battle-hardened, What is also important is that almost all the militants who carried out these attacks or were killed are Kashmiris. This should be of serious concern for the security agencies. This means there is a renewed local recruitment into militancy.
Import of rising North Kashmir violence, however, goes beyond its heavy toll. Its significance lies in that the militancy in the Valley is not a lost cause that it was expected to be in the wake of nullification of J&K autonomy – doing so, may have, on the contrary enhanced the rationale for an armed struggle. That infiltration is taking place regardless and the militants who are coming include Kashmiris should make the authorities take note. And if the influx of militants continues, as looks likely, it could confront New Delhi with a formidable challenge in the months to come. As it is, the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped the flow and the melting snow along the LoC is likely to give fillip to these arrivals.
One way for New Delhi to tackle is to go down the predictable route: kill more militants and suffer intermittent losses of security personnel and occasionally strike Pakistan too. We have run this gamut many a time and eventually it ends up nowhere. Time for Centre is to think out of box and try political outreach instead, something that in the past has opened up possibilities of peace in the region.
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