Hard Lesson: Guard The Peace

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BASHIR ASSAD

The heaviest burden on earth is of a father having to shoulder the coffin of his child. How unfortunate that a father is who has to bury his son!

In the last 35 years, Kashmir – thanks to the deadly violent conflicts – has witnessed hundreds and thousands of misfortunes wherein fathers had to perform the last rites of their sons who got consumed by such conflicts.

The latest entries to the list are the ill-fated fathers of three officers in uniform, killed by terrorists in south Kashmir’s Kokernag area on September 13 in an ambush laid down by terrorists in the remote Gadole village. The heart-wrenching scenes of the retired DIG of Jammu & Kashmir police Gulam Hassan Bhat laying to rest his 29-year-old son Himayun Bhat, a Deputy Superintendent with the J&K police, in Srinagar.

Himayun was a 2018 JKPS batch officer and had got married just 18 months back. He is survived by his one-month-old child and his widow. And can anyone find words to describe the agony of his father who has just buried him? No word exists in any language of the world which could describe the mental state of Gulam Hassan Bhat after the death of his young son.

Death by natural circumstances can still be somehow accepted as destiny, but in Kashmir, it’s a tough task for fathers to accept their sons’ untimely deaths as a result of violent conflicts. And the number of such fathers who have lost sons to such conflicts has outnumbered the same of those who died due to other reasons.

Way back on July 2, 1999, the then Information and Broadcasting Minster late Pramod Majan, while inaugurating DD Kashmir at SKICC in Srinagar, had truly commented: “In times of peace, a son buries his father; while in war, it’s the father who buries his son and how unfortunate that father is”.

The killing of the three officers – Colonel Manpreet Singh who was commanding 19 Rashtriya Rifles unit in Kokernag; Major Ashish Dhaunchak of the Indian Army; and Deputy Superintendent Himayun Bhat of the JK Police – has suddenly reminded us that we live in a war zone.

Busy celebrating the hustle & bustle in the streets with business booming, a record tourist influx, functioning educational institutions… we had no idea that vultures had positioned themselves yet again and were fixing targets. This again reminds me of the words of a wise man that ‘peace is illusive, until the last gun falls silent’.

Over the last six months or so, I have been cautioning the military establishment that terrorists are somehow shifting their base from other south Kashmir districts to Anantnag district. There were some undercurrents and my assessment was purely on the basis of ground realities. There had been more than one observation on the basis of which I had suggested that terrorists were probably consolidating their presence in Anantnag district.

The first pointer was when six-seven young boys went missing during this period from the Anantnag district while no such missing reports had come from either Shopian or Kulgam districts. These boys going missing was the first indication that terrorist organisations were desperate to set foot in Anantnag district.

Then foreign terrorists, including one son of a slain local militant, were also reported to be moving in the upper reaches of the district.

Over the last eight months, there have been no kinetic operations in the area. According to intelligence reports, many foreign terrorists have been camping in all the four south Kashmir districts – Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama. The Kokernag encounter has taken place exactly a month after the Hallan Kulgam encounter in which three Army jawans were killed. Local terrorist Uzair Khan is defined to be the mastermind of Gadole Kokernag encounter.

The participation of foreign terrorists in the said encounter cannot be ruled out, taking into account the modus operandi involved in the encounter. As reported in one of our editions, kinetic operations not taking place can be attributed to drying up of the human intelligence input because, of late, the J&K police have decided not to incentivise the human input. We have also detailed how technical deterrence has virtually come to a halt because terrorists are using some applications for communication which are not only end-to-end encrypted but are also made operational without the internet. The sequence of events suggests that terrorists have a nod from across the border to carry out fatal attacks; this indicates a shift in the operational tactics of terrorists and their over-ground sympathisers.

Secondly, the vigil by the security and intelligence was let loose in the district on the premise that the district, by and large, was peaceful over the last few years. There was more focus on Shopian and Kulgam followed by some pockets of the Pulwama district while Anantnag was out of sight to a great extent.

In both contexts – kinetic operations and soft power – not much was done in the Anantnag district and well, terrorists went ahead and took advantage of that situation.

We have lessons to learn here. Very crucial lessons.

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