Jammu Hots Up


Coinciding with the installation of the new government, the militancy saw an upsurge in Jammu region, reports Jahangir Sofi

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With people glued to the TV sets to watch the swearing-in of the Narendra Modi 3.0 government, a militant appeared at Teryath (Poni belt) and started firing towards a bus that was on its way from Shiv Khouri to Katra. A bullet, as police said later, hit the driver Vijay Kumar, who lost control of the vehicle and it rolled down into the gorge.

By the time Modi took the oath of office at 7:15 pm, on June 9, the entire border stretch was witnessing crowds of civilians, cops, paramilitary men and soldiers locating the dead and the injured of the ill-fated bus. This was the first instance of its kind in which fugitives hit a bus and it met a worst road accident. Rescuers saw unforgettable scenes including the one in which one victim had fallen out of the rolling bus and was seen hanging on a tree.

Nine passengers were declared dead and almost all others were injured. On pilgrimage to Hindu revered sites, they were mostly from Utter Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan. The operation of rescue completed within a few hours but the injured eventually reached GMC-Associated Hospital in Jammu at around 11 pm.

“I bent down and hid my two children under the bus seat as bullets were being fired from hills,” Bhawani Shankar, a resident of Delhi, was visiting Vaishno Devi for his marriage anniversary, told reporters in the Jammu Hospital. “Those 20-25 minutes of horror will stay with me forever.”

Ruby Verma (22) and her cousin Anurag Verma (16) from Uttar Pradesh were among the deceased. Ruby’s brother, Banshi Verma, said, “We never imagined something like this would happen on a pilgrimage.”

Militancy Shifts

The bus attack in Reasi marked a chain of militancy-related incidents in the Jammu region that has now the dubious distinction of being the capital of the erstwhile state and the new Rajdhani of militancy too. This upsurge has prompted concerns and discussions in the security grid as the chain of incidents involving the Shivalik and Pir Panchal foothills came at a crucial time.

While Kashmir has remained the main militancy theatre since the late 1980s, Jammu is now witnessing an upsurge.

Like Kashmir, the Pir Panjal range, and the Chenab Valley have remained serious security challenges for most of the last 35 years. Off late, however, the militancy ebbed to a large extent, unlike Kashmir. For most of the last five years, Kashmir witnessed massive counter-insurgency operations as a result of which militancy is numerically curbed hugely. However, recent incidents indicate a troubling shift, with the Pir Panjal and Jammu regions now emerging as new hotspots for militancy.

The surge was visible with frequent and lethal attacks recently. The bus attack was the major of all the attacks. There were incidents in Kathua, Doda, and other parts of the Jammu region, highlighting the escalating threat in areas previously considered relatively calm and peaceful.

A top police official in the region said the back-to-back attacks, have put the entire Jammu region on high alert as the region witnessed four encounters in which two militants and a CRPF man were killed in Kathua while five soldiers, two policemen were also injured during another counter-insurgency operations in Bhaderwah, Gandoh areas of Doda.

Police authorities said the slain duo in Kathua were part of the newly infiltrated group, and from their possession, IEDs, grenades, and US-made M4 carbine were recovered.  Jammu’s Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Anand Jain, told reporters that two militants, who had recently ‘infiltrated’, entered a house in Hiranagar’s Saida Sukhal village and asked for water.

Upon receiving this information, police teams were dispatched to the spot and one of the militants was killed in the first instance. The second militant, he said, was armed with a US-made M4 carbine assault rifle, was holed up in the forested region and was killed too.

These were events in quick succession. On June 11, around 7 PM Kathua encounter started in which two militants and a CRPF trooper were killed. The same night, in the Chatharkala belt on the Baderwah Pathankot highway, a police post was attacked, in which five army men and an SPO were injured.

On June 12 evening, in Balase Gandoo (Doda), a police patrol party was fired upon in which one cop was injured.

Jamia Masjid Rajouri on April 5, 2024 (Jumatul Vida). Pic: Guftar Ahmad

Uncomfortable Questions

The spurt in militant attacks has sparked widespread condemnation from various political parties. The BJP government, which has been promoting the narrative of restored peace and normalcy in the erstwhile state after the abrogation of Article 370, faces significant challenges to its credibility. The opposition, including the Congress and resident parties, have criticised the government for its perceived failure to ensure security in the region.

“We are very concerned about the series of terrorist attacks happening in Jammu,” Congress’s Jammu and Kashmir president, Vikar Rasool Wani told a presser. “What are the security agencies and the government doing in the state? The government made a lot of noise in Parliament that it has improved the situation in J&K by removing Article 370 and making it a Union territory. They also sought votes in the parliamentary election on this. Be it the prime minister, the home minister or other big leaders of the BJP, everyone made such claims. But today, the situation has reached such a level that a series of terrorist attacks.”

Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah too expressed deep concern over the resurgence of militancy in the region.  “It is unfortunate to see areas that had previously been cleared of all militants see a return of militancy,” Omar regretted in a post on social media platform X.

On its part, the BJP government has been arguing that the surge in the number of tourists to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir has been more proof of normalcy since 2019, while Congress has slammed the Modi government for the worrying security situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

Pre Reasi Situation

The militancy is up and kicking in the region and it is not a very recent phenomenon. In May, militants had targeted a convoy of the Indian Air Force in Surankote (Poonch), resulting in the death of one airman and injuries to four others. While the security forces had launched a massive search operation in the area for many days, there was no trace of militants.

On May 31, a brief exchange of fire between militants and security forces took place in Poonch’s Marha Buffliaz after security forces had launched a night search operation in the area. Once again, militants managed to give a slip by taking advantage of darkness.

Now, the recent attacks have emerged as a fresh challenge for the security grid. The fact that militants have been able to strike in Reasi is worrying given the more than two-decade-long peace and calmness in the region.

In a recent incident, two top officers of JK police, the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Jammu-Samba-Kathua range and Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kathua had a narrow escape in the encounter, which lasted for a few hours in Hiranagar (Kathua).

Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh, accompanied by Chief of the Army Staff General Manoj Pande and General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi in Rajouri on December 27, 2023

In December 2023, the Army was accused of torturing three people to death in Topa Pir village in Bufliaz, after militants killed five soldiers in an ambush on vehicles carrying army personnel through the dense forests. The Bufliaz episode was the fourth such attack in 2023, underscoring how the attacks were rapidly shifting from Kashmir to the mountainous regions of Jammu that are closer to the LoC.

Publicly accessible information suggests that in 2023, there were 134 militancy-related killings in 2023 across Jammu and Kashmir of which the Pir Panjal region (Rajouri and Poonch) accounted for 53 deaths, roughly 40 per cent. Of the 53 slain, 19 were soldiers.

Understanding the Shift

After August 2019, as the security grid carried out a sweeping crackdown on militancy in Kashmir, the insurgency turf seemingly spilt over to the Jammu region. However, a section of the experts thinks the redeployment of troops to the Line of Actual Control (LoAC) in Ladakh amid tensions with China has reduced the military presence in the Pir Panjal and Jammu regions, creating security gaps. However, people, who understand the area insist the region’s geography is much bigger a challenge.

A photograph taken from a distance in Pir Panchal felt after Pakistani shells landed in the forests

While the authorities are investigating the chain of events, some people have started pushing a narrative that the attacks must led to the postponement of the assembly elections. The leader in propounding this theory is former Army Chief, General (retired) VP Malik.

“Don’t rush into the elections in Jammu and Kashmir by September,” Malik told a news channel. “Consolidate gains in Kashmir. A few successes terrorists have in Jammu will spur terrorism even in the Valley. More important than Assembly Elections by September 2024 is securing Jammu and Kashmir. Postpone elections by a year.”

“Yes, please feel free to give in to these extremist forces so that they have a sense of achievement. You have NO gains in Kashmir if militant outfits are able to derail the elections that the PM, HM & Election Commission have committed to holding before the SC deadline of 30th Sept,” Omar Abdullah reacted in a tweet. “What’s more surprising is that this has come from an army officer who saw Lok Sabha polls happening in J&K soon after the Kargil War & during height of militancy in 1999. What a shame!”

DGP Speaks

Director General of Police (DGP) RR Swain who visited the region admitted that there was a security challenge in the Jammu region. The police and the security agencies are mapping their resources to give a befitting reply to foreign militants, he said.

Jammu Kashmir DGP, RR Swain visted the cop who was injured in an encounter at Kota Top, Kerloo,Bhalessa, Doda on June 13, 2024.

“Police and security agencies are mapping their resources to counter foreign terrorism in Jammu region and we will give them a befitting reply,” Swain said, insisting the region has a difficult terrain comprising forests, streams and hillocks. LG Manoj Sinha presided over a security-related meeting and stated that the militants would be wiped out.


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