A WAR ON MULTIPLE FRONTS
The spiralling unrest in Kashmir and recent Maoist strikes are giving the security establishment nightmares
AS THE MODI GOVERNMENT entered its third year in May 2016, internal security seemed to be well and truly under control. This was chiefly because two of its biggest internal security challenges— militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and Maoists in central India—had been tackled. It would seem sustained deployment by the nearly 1.2 million-strong central armed police forces, as big as the Indian army, had helped put a lid on the situation.
Just how fleeting that moment was has become clear this year. The Kashmir Valley in particular is on the boil again, suffering a cycle of militant violence and civil protest not seen in seven years. The new phase of civil unrest began last July, after the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter triggered an epidemic of stone-throwing against the security forces. A silver lining to this otherwise dark cloud, the online terrorism database South Asia Terrorism Portal noted, were figures that showed 2016 as having the lowest number of civilian fatalities in J&K since the beginning of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in 1988—just 14 deaths, the lowest in the past five years, even though the number of terrorist-related fatalities, 267, were a marked increase over the 174 deaths in 2015. The September 29 surgical strikes on terrorist targets in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir seem to have only momentarily stunned the Pakistani deep state as it restarted its machinery that recruits, trains and launches terrorists across the border.
This year, in a sudden flare-up in central India, Maoists killed more paramilitary forces in four months than they had all of the past year.
The Kashmir policy has multiple stakeholders. Even the Union home ministry, with its monopoly over Centre-
state relations, is only one of many stakeholders, which include the Indian army and the Prime Minister’s Office. Still it is one of the most significant players with its control over the intelligence services and the paramilitary forces, including the Border Security Force along the international border. Home minister Rajnath Singh monitors the disbursal of a Rs 80,000 crore assistance package for J&K announced by PM Modi in 2015.
One notable success for the ministry has been in blunting the ISIS recruitment drive in India. The ISIS threat came closer home through a toxic online recruitment machinery. At least 23 Indians are believed to have joined the outfit. Six are dead and two have returned and are under detention. A larger number among at least 30 potential recruits has been tracked, intercepted and arrested before they could leave the country.
The Northeast is another security worry as it is home to 13 of the 39 terrorist formations currently banned by the ministry. Violence in the region is at its lowest level in two decades. The South Asia Terrorism Portal estimated that apart from these 13 banned outfits, 30 other groups remain active in the region and 23 are in uncertain peace talks or have signed ceasefire pacts. The war against the Maoists involves five states, but this is where the home ministry plays a crucial role by rushing in paramilitary forces, funding infrastructure schemes, modernising the neglected state police forces and coordinating counter-Maoist strategies between the states.
Singh, who continued the development and security strategy against Maoists initiated by his predecessors, has reassessed the policy. He called upon cabinet members, from railway minister Suresh Prabhu to roads and highways minister Nitin Gadkari and telecommunications minister Manoj Sinha, to make presentations in a May 8 meeting with the chief ministers of states affected by Maoist violence. At the meeting, Singh launched a security operations doctrine, Samadhan—an acronym, apparently for the unwieldy objective of smart leadership, aggressive strategy, motivation and training, actionable intelligence, dashboard-based key performance indicators, harnessing technology, action plan for each threat and no access to funding. This even as there are critical gaps in his ministry in the training and equipping of paramilitary forces and a precipitous fall in funds for modernisation of police and security-related expenditure for the development of infrastructure in Maoist-affected areas. Perhaps Samadhan is an action plan Singh needs to implement in his own ministry first.