SRINAGAR: North Kashmir’s Handwara belt that witnessed the killing of 11 persons including two army officers and various soldiers in separate incidents was a major development on the security front during the Covid-19 triggered lock-down. The incidents were commented upon by all the major newspapers in the Delhi and elsewhere.
Here are the editorials from various newspapers:
Narrow lens: Kashmir And The Need For Internet Access
Is the trampling of fundamental rights far easier than ridding the world wide web of evil?
The Telegraph, Kolkatta
May 6, 2020
In a landmark judgment earlier this year, which upheld the freedom of speech as well as the unrestricted right to expression, the Supreme Court had declared that access to the internet is a fundamental right. It now appears that the Jammu and Kashmir administration and the Centre do not share the court’s wisdom and inclusive vision on the matter. Responding to a plea filed by the Foundation for Media Professionals seeking the court’s direction to restore high-speed internet services in Kashmir, the state administration has made two observations that must be examined and debated. The submission said that restoring high-speed connectivity — the administration has only restored 2G services since the end of March — is likely to make it easier for militant organizations and their handlers in Pakistan to circulate propaganda on social media to foment trouble. The powers that be are also of the opinion — this is the heart of the problem — that protecting the sovereignty of the nation and the State and negating threats to public order warrant the curtailing of a freedom that the apex court has deemed fundamental. Access to internet, in the opinion of Kashmir’s administration, is merely an “enabler” of rights instead of being a fundamental right by itself.
The concern for security cannot be dismissed. Periodic violence — the encounter in Handwara is a case in point — continues to plague Kashmir in spite of the assurances of normalcy by the Narendra Modi government. The shadow of insurgency has strengthened the logic of prioritizing security over basic entitlements.
But there is another way of looking at the problem. Can the upholding of fundamental rights not be one way of dousing the fire of insurgency? Indeed, the granting of freedoms and an unhindered access to critical public utilities — the internet is one — have been known to reduce the trust deficit between people and governments. There is thus a need to find a balance between people’s rights and public security.
But the thrust, as always in Kashmir’s case, is to portray rights to be in conflict with national security. The administration’s argument that measures to check the misuse of the internet that are in place in the rest of India have limited scope in Kashmir is an example of hawkishness. If such a limitation does exist, what is preventing the State from investing in better technologies to make the internet a safer medium in Kashmir? Is the trampling of fundamental rights far easier — desirable? — than ridding the internet of evil?
Dangerous Drift: On Encounter With Terrorists Near Handwara
Encounters in Kashmir are on the rise, taking a disproportionate toll on security personnel
The Hindu, Chennai
May 06, 2020
The deaths last Saturday of four soldiers and a police officer in an encounter with terrorists near Handwara town in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district, call attention to, among other things, a difficult summer ahead. It is unusual and disproportionate for just a couple of terrorists to take down five highly skilled and motivated soldiers — a Commanding Officer of a battalion in the rank of a colonel, a major, two other ranks and a special operations group policeman in the rank of a sub-inspector — in a firefight. The details on offer are sketchy, yet provide compelling evidence of an operation that went horribly wrong.
On Saturday afternoon, receiving intelligence that terrorists were present in a house in Changimulla village, Colonel Ashutosh Sharma of 21 Rashtriya Rifles, Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh Kumar, Lance Naik Dinesh Singh and J&K Police Sub Inspector Shakeel Qazi, and possibly others reached the site which had a building and a cowshed adjoining it, and an intense firefight commenced. All the enemy fire came from the cowshed, not the building.
Then there was a lull for more than an hour during which the team apparently decided to approach the house and use the vantage of the upper floor to fire at the terrorists in the cowshed. They entered the house and there was a fresh firefight but no communication from the Colonel and his team. Then it was noticed that their communication instrument was being used by the terrorists. That is when realisation came all was not well, and firing ensued all over again. This time when it was over, there were seven bodies.
The way this operation ended will have ramifications, on both morale and operating procedures, on future operations of this kind that go on all the time in this shadowy theatre of proxy war. It is certainly a coincidence that has not gone unnoticed that though the encounter ended tragically, news or details of it did not percolate, till well after Sunday’s flypast and show of solidarity.
It should be evident by now to most that changing the nomenclature and status of J&K has not addressed any of the underlying causes of unrest and angst. Neither has it deterred Pakistan from its steadfast goals. Since the beginning of the year, in 127 days, as many as 55 terrorists have been killed in the region, roughly one encounter every two days. In the unhealthy vacuum that New Delhi has created since August 5 last year, such encounters have done nothing other than aid the impulse of the disaffected to embrace arms. As the dangerous drift in J&K continues, New Delhi must realise it has reached the point of diminishing returns and should look for ways to arrest this trend.
Handwara encounter: A New, Worrying Phase Of Militancy
Deccan Herald, Bengaluru
May 06 2020
Two major encounters have taken place between Indian security forces and militants at Keran and Handwara near the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir over the past month. Although several militants were eliminated in these encounters, there is reason for serious concern. The militants were well-trained. Not only were they able to engage the security forces for several hours, if not days, before being killed but also, they were able to inflict heavy losses on them. While the militants in the Keran encounter were local Kashmiris, those in the Handwara face-off were Pakistani nationals.
Apparently, after receiving training in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, they had just crossed the LoC into India. In recent years, most militants have been poorly trained local boys. Indian security forces were able to eliminate them easily largely because they were poorly trained. That could now be changing.
It does seem that angry local youth are now willing to cross over into Pakistan for training as they did in the early years of the militancy. And importantly, Pakistan is providing them the training. It is also pushing its own nationals across the LoC into India. The escalation in ceasefire violations by Pakistan in recent weeks had raised concern that Islamabad was using the shelling to provide cover to militants being infiltrated into India. Some 25-30 militants were reportedly infiltrated in April alone. The Keran and Handwara encounters are proof of such infiltration.
The Resistance Front (TRF), a recently formed group which India believes is a front organisation of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, was reportedly involved in the Keran and Handwara encounters. The TRF’s formation is worrying as it appears to be an attempt at unifying militants active in Kashmir. A divided militancy worked to India’s benefit as militants would fight and eliminate each other or provide India with input on their rivals’ hideouts. A unified militancy could prove to be more challenging for Indian security forces.
In August last year, the Narendra Modi government claimed that its decision to scrap Article 370 of the Constitution and the subsequent lockdown imposed on Kashmir would serve to wipe out militancy. Official figures of militants killed and of the fall in local recruitment were touted to support such claims subsequently. However, militancy seems to have returned to the Valley, and with renewed vigour. So long as New Delhi continues with its policy of repressing Kashmiris and fails to initiate a genuine political process, rage will push hundreds to fight Indian forces. It’s time the government changed tack.
J-K Attacks Give The Lie To Govt’s Art 370 Narrative
Pakistan-driven militancy tends to gain force when the rapport between the government and the people dissipates
The Asian Age, Delhi
May 6, 2020
First the killing by a group of terrorists — a mix of local as well as foreign elements — of an Army officer of such senior rank as a colonel, besides a major, two other Army personnel, and a policeman on counter-terrorism duty, near Handwara in North Kashmir last Saturday/Sunday, and then the mowing down of two CRPF jawans on law and order duty by terrorists — again in the broad Handwara area on Monday, ought to compel a re-evaluation of the security grid put in place since the constitutional autonomy of J&K was dismantled by the Modi government on August 5 last year.
If the Handwara killings impart urgency on account of the slaying of two officers, one of them the CO of 21 Rashtriya Rifles, the counter-terrorism force deployed in Kashmir, it has been evident for some time that the terrorism scene has hotted up in Kashmir well before the arrival of summer this year. In the first week of April, in the Keran sector near the LOC near Kupwara in North Kashmir, five Army commandos were killed in a hand-to-hand combat with a bunch of terrorists, who too were killed.
It is the regularity with which members of the security forces have been losing their lives in encounters, especially from the beginning of this year, that calls special attention to the security situation, which in the case of Kashmir is principally a derivative of the political situation in J&K. Pakistan-driven militancy tends to gain force when the rapport between the government and the people dissipates, as appears to be the case in recent times.
The gravity of the situation is evident from the fact that the security forces have had to work extra hard this winter, which is the time of year in which terrorists typically lie low on account of the forbidding cold and the snow-bound mountains at the LoC. According to one estimate, the forces have killed around 75 terrorists and lost 30-odd men. That’s a high ratio of loss on the government side, suggesting that the militants may have been well-entrenched.
Also, since the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016, it is the southern part of the Kashmir valley that had become the principal arena of anti-terrorist action. It is here that ‘Operation All-Out’ played out. But in recent months, the northern part of the valley too has evidently become active. This appears to be a new element in the situation.
When the government abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, stripped J&K of its statehood, separated Ladakh from it, and made J&K a centrally-governed territory as a UT, it proffered the laboured narrative that Kashmir’s special constitutional status conferred by Article 370 was the fundamental cause of the growth of a separatist sentiment in the valley. The striking down of this provision that had been duly ratified by the Constituent Assembly has clearly not offered the pathway to recovery in Kashmir, or extrication from the scourge of extremism and terrorism.
Dauntingly for the government, it is not just the predominantly Kashmir valley but also the predominantly Hindu Jammu region that has now begun to chafe at the abrogation of J&K’s special status and the consequent whittling of the political and economic privileges of the populace across J&K.
Handwara encounter is a wake-up call — there is no room for complacency, or let-up in addressing unresolved crisis in J&K
The Indian Express, Delhi
May 5, 2020
The encounter in Kashmir in which five security personnel, including a colonel, a major, a J&K police officer, and two soldiers, were killed by militants, is a disturbing reminder in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic of the Valley’s unresolved crisis. Last August, when the government stripped J&K of its special status and bi-furcated it into two Union Territories, an impression was created that all problems of Kashmir had been resolved, and the way cleared for J&K’s march towards peace and prosperity.
In fact, in the nine months since August 2019, Kashmir has been under two kinds of lockdown. The first one, imposed on August 3, in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370, has segued into the second, imposed to prevent the Coronavirus from spreading. But militant groups in the Valley have not vanished. Security forces killed 45 militants from August 2019 to March 2020. More than 200 others remain active. In recent months, some of the spike in shelling across the Line of Control has been attributed to attempts at cross-border infiltration. As the snow melts, there are likely to be more such attempts.
A new group — The Resistance Front — has begun taking responsibility for attacks in the Valley. The incident in Keran, in which five elite commandos of Para 4 were killed in hand to hand combat, and Saturday’s incident in Handwara, have been claimed by this new group. Security agencies believe it to be a front of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, which has gained notoriety internationally and has also been under some pressure due to the monitoring of Pakistan-based terror groups by the Financial Action Task Force.
Two things should worry security agencies and the government. One, there are no rival claimants for such attacks as there would be in the past when a new group made a claim — it may indicate that groups are now co-operating with each other. Even those eager to announce themselves at every opportunity, al Qaeda-linked Ansar Ghazwat ul Hind, and the IS, are silent.
Two, in Handwara as in Keran, local youth were among the militants. The double lockdown, and the complete absence of a political process, and the new definitions for who is eligible for domicile in J&K — seen as an attempt to change the demography of the Valley — have not won the government any friends among the people. Even the new J&K Apni Party has retreated into silence. Handwara should be a wake-up call to the government that it cannot continue to muddle through the Valley with the bureaucracy propping up the August 5, 2019 decisions on one side and the security forces on the other.
Handwara: India Must Act Strongly
Defeat Pakistan’s designs to inflict terror
The Hindustan Times, Delhi
May 04, 2020
Even the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) fails before Pakistan’s obsession with inflicting terror against India. The Handwara encounter, in which five Indian soldiers and a policeman were killed fighting a militant cell, is a reminder that through the pandemic, it has been business-as-usual along the Line of Control and in Kashmir. The past few months have seen a steady exchange of fire between Indian and Pakistani forces along the border, a parallel infiltration of militants, and concomitant terrorist activity in Kashmir. Rawalpindi’s recent rebranding of the existing militant groups in Kashmir as “The Resistance Front” does nothing to disguise the fact what is happening continues to be State-sponsored terrorism with Rawalpindi’s favourite Lashkar-e-Taiba at the forefront of the violence.
Pakistan has been ratcheting up violence in and along Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370. This is despite failing to persuade the international community to force India to reverse its decision, and the sanctions threat of the United Nations Financial Action Task Force. It is evident to everyone that India is not going to change what was passed in Parliament without opposition, and is now engraved in the Constitution. Pakistan knows this too, but what it is seeking to do is make India pay a price for effectively cutting Islamabad out of the future of the Valley. Pakistan should know that incidents like Handwara, however tragic, will do nothing to bend India’s will.
Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi laid out a new path for Indo-Pakistani relations, one that focused on trade and investment, tackling common development challenges and building personal bridges. It required, however, Pakistan to accept that the use of coercion to force territorial changes is no longer viable. The Covid-19 pandemic provided a perfect opportunity for Islamabad to at least explore this new path, using the excuse of a common viral enemy to put aside a legacy of animosity. Instead, PM Imran Khan chose to treat the pandemic as a non-event and the military, which still determines Kashmir policy, rejected the opportunity through violence on the ground. Pakistan must accept the new reality. But a nation born in bloodshed and sustained by violence will not surrender its delusions easily and peacefully. Which is why India should take into account these designs, anticipate challenges, and respond accordingly. Security forces will have to be at the forefront of this battle. The prize at the end will make it all worthwhile: The conclusion of the Kashmir conflict, a more united India and forcing Pakistan to, hopefully, give up terror as an instrument of State policy.
Kashmir encounter: Despite Te Coronavirus Pandemic, Pakistan’s Terror Factories Keep Running
The Times of India, Delhi
May 5, 2020
Five security personnel were martyred and two terrorists killed over the weekend in a fierce encounter in Kashmir’s Kupwara district. Among the soldiers who sacrificed their lives was Col Ashutosh Sharma, a decorated commanding officer of a Rashtriya Rifles battalion, while the slain terrorists included a top Lashkar-e-Taiba commander named Haider. Reportedly, the two terrorists were part of a larger group of seven terrorists who had tried to infiltrate the LoC in early April. Five of them were killed back then, but Haider and his partner managed to escape and this time took civilian hostages at Chanjimulla in Handwara, leading to the encounter.
The incident shows that Pakistan’s terror factories continue to operate despite the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, army chief MM Naravane has affirmed that Pakistan’s strategy of pushing terrorists across the border continues unabated. It’s likely that Pakistan is actually trying to take advantage of the Covid-19 outbreak and hit India with terror strikes when the latter is trying to control the epidemic. Plus, the nullification of special status of Jammu & Kashmir by New Delhi last year didn’t lead to the kind of unrest that Islamabad had expected.
All of this shows Pakistan won’t give up on terror no matter how difficult things become. In such a scenario, India needs to maintain vigil and strike back against any Pakistani terror designs. At the same time, keeping channels of regional cooperation open is wise as exemplified by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s video conference with all Saarc members to discuss a combined effort to fight Covid-19. New Delhi has no choice but to keep up outreach to Pakistan even as it fights the latter’s proxies, in the hope that Pakistan will one day give up on its chosen feud with India that is as relentless as it is pointless.