J&K truce: With locals taking militancy out of ISI control, Pak may instigate attacks

NEW DELHI: The Modi government took a political and security gamble on Wednesday with a Ramzan peace initiative in Jammu and Kashmir, asking security forces not to launch anti-terror operations in this period, in an effort to break the cycle of violence and facilitate fasting in a peaceful environment.

The “people-centric” decision came with the important caveat that the armed forces will have the right to retaliate if challenged by terrorists or if such action is essential to protect lives of innocent people. They will also not hold back if a tip-off on the presence of a terrorist at a location is confirmed.

Senior ministry officials said calling the initiative a “ceasefire” was inaccurate, saying that such a term would indicate agreement between two parties while the Ramzan move is a unilateral “suspension of operations”.

These would include cordon-and-search operations (CASO) that have seen nearly 270 terrorists being killed in 2017 and 2018, and have lately become a trigger for local stone-pelting protests.

TOI had reported on May 11 that the central security establishment felt that the peace move suggested by an all-party meeting in J&K led by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti could be doable under certain conditions.

On Wednesday, official sources argued that suspension of pro-active anti-terror operations would not be a concession to terrorists and their overground supporters and separatist leaders.

The initiative is meant to give common masses and right-thinking people of J&K a respite from violence and encourage them to isolate militants, thus breaking the cycle of bloodshed, funerals and recruitment of locals into their ranks,” said an official. The intention is to create some political space after a prolonged “hit hard” policy that had cramped the room for dialogue despite the appointment of a political interlocutor.

The decision could also be seen in the context of suggestions that a peace initiative could have some implications for restarting the stalled engagement with Pakistan. While the foreign policy ramifications are less apparent at the current stage, there has been some speculation over reports that the Pakistan army is more amenable to an engagement and this can open a window of opportunity.

Intelligence sources said that the suspension of operations would mean that security forces will not return fire unless fired on. The initiative is unlikely to cut much ice with terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba. With the downsizing of the united jihad council chief Salahuddin by ISI, power passed from Hizbul Mujahideen to LeT but the latter is now in a bind as locals are joining militancy without any assistance from Pakistan by way of arms or training.

The locals are seen to be “very unhappy young men” who have serious issues with the state but at the same time they have no love for Pakistan. This is the key reason why the ISI is also worried that the entire militancy is out of its control in the sense that it is not controlling the flow of events as it might want to. Any attempt to increase attacks by Pakistan-trained militants will be forcibly retaliated and sources said the counter-infiltration grid shall remain active and will foil any attempt by terrorists to sneak across the LoC and international border.

Soon after the Centre approved suspension of operations on Wednesday, home minister Rajnath Singh informed J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti of the decision. The latter took to Twitter to welcome it and thanked PM Narendra Modi and Singh for their “personal intervention”. The decision to suspend counter-terror operations in J&K for a month was taken after factoring in all possibilities, including the likelihood of it coming unstuck due to terrorists who may try to initiate attacks so as to compel security forces to act. “If the terrorists stage a big attack in the days to come, it may be the end of suspension of operations. Every initiative is open to constant review ,” an officer told TOI, when asked why the suspension of operations did not cover Amarnath Yatra.

An officer said the onus is now on terrorists to ensure peace-loving Muslims of Kashmir can observe a violence-free Ramzan.

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