New Delhi, Oct. 18: Tuesday’s killing of Kashmir’s education minister caps successive attacks by militants in the state since the October 8 earthquake ' a tragedy that has converted large brigades of the army from a counter-insurgency force into contingents of care-givers.
Since the quake, around 25 people have been killed in militancy-related violence. They include 14 killed in Rajouri, four in Doda, a CPM leader killed yesterday and today’s toll.
Ensuring disaster relief in a warzone has always been fraught with dangers. But there was a flicker of hope in the armed forces, the state administration and even in the Centre that the natural calamity will pave the way for a ceasefire of sorts between the underground and the security forces.
This hope was not unfounded. The United Jehad Council, of which the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, Kashmir’s biggest “indigenous” militant outfit, did announce on October 10 that it was suspending “operations” for the time being. It is not the Hizb but al Mansooriyan that has claimed responsibility for today’s killing.
With the ghastly attack, the hope of a temporary reprieve from the violence has been dashed. The army will now be itching to revert to its traditional role in Kashmir and the security forces in Srinagar ' the Kashmir capital is now the responsibility of the CRPF ' will be back to operations with hair-trigger nervousness.
“We did not expect militancy to cease with the quake. They (the militants) have made their presence felt again,” defence minister Pranab Mukherjee said here today after Ghulam Nabi Lone’s killing and the attack on CPM leader Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami.
Sources in the defence establishment also blamed the media for hyping a story that about 1,500 militants were killed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in the quake. Not much of the media took the line. But it was fed by the military intelligence without enough evidence that could be publicly presented to back up the claim.
They said the news would have provoked militants to take action to establish that they have not yet been done in.
The fact of the matter is that the temblor did not distinguish between militants and the army, and the civilian and the uniformed. It has killed people on both sides of the Line of Control irrespective of any political or semi-political category.
The toll is still being revised in daily estimates. In this situation, the claim that precisely 1,500 militants were killed was a simplistic ploy to grab brownie points through the media.
The immediate response of field commanders in the wake of the violence will be to go back to the drawing board and rethink the calculus of forces ' how many can be spared for relief-giving, how many will have to continue with counter-insurgency operations and how many will guard the LoC.
Troops in Kashmir are always under pressure but probably never more so ' except during wars ' than now.
Roughly six brigades of the army ' in Uri, Tangdhar, Kupwara, Baramulla and Poonch ' are involved in running relief camps, ferrying the injured, trekking with medical teams to reach remote villages through some of the toughest terrain and even rebuilding. Each brigade has to contend with a reduced number of troops for counter-insurgency.
At the ground level, this also means that each officer and soldier is multi-tasked. A brigadier supervising helicopter sorties in Tangdhar is also at the same time on the radio asking about patrols and searches and barricades. Leave has practically been cancelled for the duration.
Indeed, it has also meant that soldiers and officers from these contingents who were on leave are being called back to station. It is equally true that many in the army ' particularly doctors ' have volunteered to report for duty.
Some 50 columns ' between 2,500 and 3,000 troops ' are directly involved in running the relief camps set up by the army between Uri and Kupwara. They are backed up by Victor and Romeo forces of the Rashtriya Rifles north of the Pir Panjal who are giving material support to Operation Imdad, the relief effort.