General Officer Commanding (GOC) 15 Corps, Lt General DP Pandey says there has been a reduction in militant infiltration in 2021, reduced militant incidents, reduced terror recruitment, lowest figures of active militants. He says certain benchmarks were set to post the abrogation of Article 370 which has been achieved. “The Indian Army in concert with the civil administration is committed to bringing down the levels of violence further from what we have achieved in 2021, so as to restore the confidence of the people and create a secure environment to facilitate smooth governance and socio-economic development. We shall endeavour to treat 2022 as a transformative year where a common man used to zero civilian casualties in 2021 should see 2022 as the year when things turned for good for the long term,” he adds.
“I don’t see any change in the role of the Indian Army post the August 5, 2019, legislative action. The Indian Army continues to have the twin role of securing the borders and counter-terror operations in the hinterland. Civil society has been supportive of our actions despite the trying conditions. We are focussed on citizen friendly intelligence-based operations that minimize inconvenience and collateral damage. It is a work in progress, and I am confident as the security situation improves and the terror footprint reduces J&K will return to normalcy.”
He laid emphasis on “terrorism” and insists that it can be split into two parts of “terror” and “ism”. “As a security force, it’s very easy to tackle the “terror” part of it and we are way ahead in winning the kinetic battle against it. The “ism” part requires the support of the Citizens to uproot it from the base itself. The Indian Army believes that addressing terrorism is beyond just neutralisation of the terrorists, it involves defanging the support network that sustains terror. It includes the elimination of the ideologues and the OGWs network that radicalises, carry out recruitment, fund terror activity, arrange weapons, give hit lists and operate the social media accounts of these terrorist organisations.”
He described a situation in Afghanistan as an evolving geo-political situation and said the whole world is watching it very closely. “At the national level, our Govt is keeping a close watch on the developments that are unfolding and its resultant impact on the security issues pertaining to Kashmir. Intelligence agencies are watching the developments closely. The security forces are alert on borders and in the hinterland. We are continuously monitoring the fallouts which might emerge from the Taliban situation in Afghanistan,” he says.
In an email interview with Kashmir Leader Magazine the GOC said as far as Kashmir is concerned all need to be conscious that this is not the 90s. In those times the borders were porous and it was easy to infiltrate weapons and terrorists. “I don’t see that happening now. We have a very robust counter-infiltration grid in place which includes the LC fence. Even if there is some spillover from Afghanistan we are alert and poised to deal with that challenge.” He says after the abrogation of Article 370 certain benchmarks were set that has been achieved. “The Indian Army in concert with the civil Administration is committed to bringing down the levels of violence further from what we have achieved in 2021, so as to restore the confidence of the people and create a secure environment to facilitate smooth governance and socio-economic development. We shall endeavour to treat 2022 as a transformative year where a common man used to zero civilian casualties in 2021 should see 2022 as the year when things turned for good for the long term.” Here are excerpts:
Can you brief us about the current security situation in the Kashmir Valley?
The Kashmir valley has witnessed better security parameters after a long time. Despite the pandemic, the year 2021 has been a good year for the Valley and the only people unhappy with the changed environment are Pakistan affiliates.
The year 2021, we have witnessed a reduction in terrorist infiltration, reduced terrorist incidents, reduced terror recruitment, lowest figures of active terrorists, increased operations based on HUMINT, reduced collateral damage, no civil casualties in law and order situation, reduced SF casualties, increased arrest of terrorists and booking of OGWs and zero civilian casualties in law and order situations. In last few weeks there has been increase in neutralization of Pakistani terrorists. Overall there is a better situation but we are conscious that the effort has to be sustained.
One of the biggest enablers for SF in effective counter terror operations has been improved HUMINT leading to precise surgical operations. In terms of terrorist attacks the numbers are extremely low except for the month of Oct 2021 when the numbers had jumped due to the targeted killings. There is increased trend of use of pistols and lobbing of grenades by the terrorists. The agenda of terrorists by hitting soft targets is simply to instill fear and create a sense of uncertainty in the common man.
The victim of these targeted killings may even have no particular trait to get killed; just a convenient soft target. Better intelligence and counter terrorist operations have effectively reversed the trend but the threat remains.
Narco-terror link is another important cog in the wheel of violence. JKP, NCB and NIA have done commendable work to break the narco networks. The raising of SIA will further aid this effort and will show results this year.
The best indicator of improved security is the fact that the tourism industry is booming in Kashmir, after a lull for so many years, Jammu and Kashmir saw the numbers peaking. As per the tourism department more than 5 lakh tourists visited Kashmir last year, this includes many foreigners. We are hopeful the trend continues.
In 2019 152 militants were killed, Last year 179 militants were killed as per police. How long you see this low-intensity conflict going?
Terrorism in J&K is linked to a proxy war waged by Pakistan and a cycle of violence that needs to be breached. I have talked how while we have been handling the ‘terrorist’ part well we need to focus on the ‘ism’, the structure of white-collar terrorists who sustain terrorism. Our focus in the address this root of terrorism – only then will sustained peace be achieved.
There are no local extremist groups in J&K. All groups continue to be funded, armed and controlled from Pakistan or their proxies. The youth are being employed with strong network of OGWs and proxies like The Resistance Front (TRF) which is actually LeT, or People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF) which is JeM etc.
We must understand that the Pakistan establishment has given no indicators of change of intent in J&K, steps like LC ceasefire are driven by their own compulsions. This implies the Pakistani affiliates continue to work as before, we have to effectively counter.
Certain benchmarks were set post the abrogation of Article 370 which has been achieved. The Indian Army in concert with the Civil Administration is committed to bring down the levels of violence further. We shall endeavour to treat 2022 as a transformative year where the common man should see 2022 as the year when things turned for good for the long term.
Q3. The Army is not talking about the Sadbhawana project anymore. Is it on or has it been stopped?
I am surprised at this question from a media person. Sadbhavna continues to be part of Indian Army outreach and engagement in J&K. It has a major component of Education and then efforts at skilling, sports, culture and medical.
When Sadbhavna started in late 90s it was necessitated by terror threat in far flung areas which made development projects a challenge and hence a few infrastructure projects based on need of the common man were executed. The Army Goodwill Schools was also a flagship effort at that time to fill the gap created by burning and closing of schools by the terror tanzeems.
Today, the situation is vastly different and the state administration is fully effective in all parts of J&K and good work is visible. Sadbhavna is now limited to engagement activities which is part of the overall counter terrorist effort. The reaction of the radicals and the terror proxies to these efforts validate these efforts as effective means against radicalisation. Interestingly, the terror organisations have accused Indian Army of using ‘soft power’ to counter them; this must be singular case in the world where a terror organisation has accused the state forces of using ‘soft power’, we take that as a compliment.
In education alone we have 27 schools and in addition we have CSR based initiatives like the Super 50 (Engg) and Super 30 (Med) coaching programs, which have been highly successful and popular which have given spectacular results empowering the youth of the valley and their families in competing with bright students across the country to gain admission in the entrance exams of IITs and NEET. This year we have added 20 vacancies for girl students for NEET preparation which has addressed the gender gap in opportunities to some extent.
There have been signature events like retelling the Battle of Budgam and Shalateng. Kashmir Premier League in cricket. 65km cycling event for women in Baramulla, the Artificial Limb project by Jaipur foot that has helped hundreds of Kashmiris, COVID support activities among many more regular activities.
The most heartening is the exuberance of the youth in the cultural and sports activities by the youth in all parts of J&K including the so called terror hubs. The youth want a break from the gloom that the radicals want to enforce on the Kashmiri citizens and Sadbhavna activities help in breaking that diktat. All this is regularly covered by the media.
Q4. Do you see any chance of spillover of taking over of Taliban to Jammu and Kashmir or other regions or it is near impossible?
Afghanistan is an evolving geopolitical situation and the whole world is watching it very closely. At national level, our Govt is keeping a close watch on the developments that are unfolding and its resultant impact on the security issues pertaining to Kashmir. Intelligence agencies are watching the developments closely. The security forces are alert on borders and in the hinterland. We are continuously monitoring the fallouts which might emerge from the Taliban situation in Afghanistan.
That said as far as Kashmir is concerned all need to be conscious that this is not the 90s. In those times the borders were porous and it was easy to infiltrate weapons and terrorists. I don’t see that happening now. We have a very robust counter infiltration grid in place which includes the LC fence. Even if there is some spillover from Afghanistan we are alert and poised to deal with that challenge.
Q5. Many security observers say with the Chinese build-up along the Line of Actual Control and the fall of Kabul to Taliban on August 15 has changed the security dynamics of the region and Kashmir will be the new geostrategic pivot of the region. How you do view such claims?
As said earlier, It is a geopolitical situation which the whole world is watching very closely. At the National level our Govt is keeping a close watch on the situation and developments as they are unfolding. We are continuously monitoring the fallouts which will emerge from the Taliban situation in Afghanistan.
Pakistan complicity is sustaining terror in J&K and links with Pak and Afghanistan based terror groups are well known and hence they continue to be part of security assessments and planning. In that manner J&K geographical location has always been important.
J&K has HQ NC command that handles both the Pakistani and Chinese front. You are aware that the Ladakh front is being handled by 14 Corps. HQ 15 Corps is responsible for Kashmir, in Kashmir there has not been any major escalation in the situation on the Pakistan front though intelligence inputs confirm terrorist activities in PoK. Our security grid is robust along the Line of Control and Counter Terror operations in the hinterland. The Indian Army is well poised to deal with any situation.
There is a lot of focus on social media from the government, security forces and the army. Why so much focus on social media?
I have always believed that we as the representatives of the state have been slower to adopt new technologies and media formats, we still have a long way to go. Social media has changed the methods of sharing of information in humanity, the radicals have been the first to exploit that to spread radical thought and use it for terror related activities. At a global level we saw ISIS using social media in 2014 to disastrous impact. In J&K also we saw deliberate well-orchestrated radicalization by use of social media.
Since Pakistan’s ability to do kinetic or terrorist actions is being blunted it is focusing more energies in propaganda all over the world. Their lies on media including social media may partially succeed outside but inside J&K it is being exposed as propaganda. In part the propaganda effort is to convince Pakistan’s own population that they are doing something while diverting attention from their internal challenges.
It’s very important that we keep on educating the society regarding the fake news and Pakistani propaganda aspects which is very well organised towards misguiding and misleading the Awaam. It is possible and can be achieved only by gearing up our education system and utilising its full potential. It’s the moral responsibility of the society itself that our children and youth don’t get carried away by these fake news and propaganda.
I would like to send a message to all citizens through your medium that they should be aware about these nefarious tactics of instigators, ideologues and OGWs who use old events, pictures, videos and even fake contents of places outside Kashmir to create confusion to influence the mind. All these social media handlers are themselves either sitting abroad or in comfortable places.
At the time of the movement of the Army convoys, traffic on both sides of the road on highways are being halted. The practice is in vogue after the Pulwama attack, which voids the Gap. Any chance of revisiting the practice?
We understand the inconvenience to the common man when Army convoys pass through the area. This year this was at a higher scale due to movement of additional troops and logistics to Eastern Ladakh, this should be reduced in years to come with the upgrade of Rohtang axis.
The Awaam has also seen attacks on security forces on the highway including use of vehicle borne IED attacks etc. Numerous efforts to cause more such attacks have been foiled this year, the threat remains. It has to be understood that the security procedures need to be near ‘fool proof’, as lives are dependent on them. The terrorist has to succeed only once.
The security forces have a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that dictates the movement of convoys, these procedures deal with physical and proximate security of the forces. These are reviewed periodically based on the threat assessment. It is a tough situation which the security forces and the citizens have to face together.
Considering the deployment at LAC, a large movement of troops and material has taken place. We are continuously looking into methods to improve and make it convenient for the citizens without compromising on the safety and security of the troops. There is no restriction in the movement of ambulances.
Will you take surrender of terrorists? How many militants surrendered during 2021?
Invigorating surrender is something that we are working on at multiple levels. Yes, it is a focused effort of all the security forces to encourage and facilitate surrender. We are in no hurry, in some cases where we know identity we even try to get the families to come and call out to their ward to surrender. The relief when the youth agrees to surrender is so heartening and one can feel humanity is winning again. We have been successful on some occasions and hope that such numbers increase. Our security forces even took a surrender of a Pakistani terrorist despite casualty to own soldiers in Uri. That is the level of training and professionalism we are talking about.
I should also share that a surrender strongly rattles the terror nexus and they have been threatening their cadre retribution in case they surrender.
I call upon the civil society to support their rehabilitation which will encourage other misguided youth to get back.
In the year 2021, 03 terrorists have surrendered including a Pakistani; and 01 has already surrendered in 2022. I can’t tell you the figures but let me tell you that we take many surrenders off the media and record when sisters, wife’s, mothers, fathers, brothers etc appch the COB cdr to take the surrender. Their identities are never revealed for their own security purpose. But let me assure you the figures are in notable numbers which give us immense sense of satisfaction of having saved a life.
You talked about youths and awaam. How you describe their feelings and aspirations?
Youth are the bulwark of any society. In Kashmir, the youth have had it rough due to the prevailing high intensity propaganda on social media and the security situation. For me youth is time to play, learn and be happy as you grow into balanced productive citizens of the society and nation. They are our future. I feel young and good when I interact with their exuberance of youth and fresh energy.
I have been interacting with Kashmiri youth for decades now and I can tell you that I can see a change. This new breed of young men and women are confident and clear that they will themselves write their destiny. They are clear headed, fearless and committed to take the Kashmiri society away from the hands of the radicals. Kashmiri youth with their intellect and perseverance have the ability to shine on the global stage.
I would also urge the youth to stay away from drugs. A recent study has revealed that Jammu Kashmir has a high incidence 90 percent of these drug users are in the age group of 17-33 years. Once addicted these are the easy targets of the white collar terrorists to lure them into terrorist acts.
Terrorism has adversely affected the life of youth for 30 years. Their all aspects of life are affected by terrorism such as freedom of speech, right to education, good environment for professional growth, right to earn and live a decent living, right to entertainment etc. All this turmoil of more than 3 decades has curtailed and had the its largest impact on the progressive Kashmiri youth and their aspirations.
While the world over the youth is seeing an unprecedented spurt in opportunities, the Kashmiri youth is denied the opportunities by the environment created by the radicals. Even normal means of entertainment like cinema is denied to them. The youth sees this and is refusing to toe the lines of the radicals.
Our effort as the security forces along with all the civil administration and various agencies is to ensure the youth at present and also the next generation should not undergo what the previous generations have gone through. They should bear the fruits of normalcy like any other youth all over the world and participate in the prosperity and building of New Kashmir and prosperous India.
What is your take on AFSPA revocation in J&K, shall the process be started from some selected areas as a CBMs?
As regards Kashmir is concerned, the online threats by terrorists and targeted killings of Kashmiri civilians in last few months show that the normal way of life and writ of civil administration is affected by terrorism. I don’t see any change in the ground situation that merits a change in the security grid.
AFSPA is an enabling act which is for a specific purpose and its enactment duration is governed by the timelines of meeting its purpose. It needs to be in force till the time there is a need for the Army to engage in counter terrorist operations. We are hopeful that someday soon we will be able to bring down the level of terrorism and consequent violence in Kashmir to level where the situation is in control of civil administration. I hope that day comes soon enough.
I am sure the government will look at revocation of AFSPA at a suitable time when the security situation improves. I agree this step will be a good CBM and indicator of return of normalcy. It is a work in progress and I hope it can happen soon enough by a collaboration between the Security Forces and the citizens.
As claimed by Government about decline of militancy in J&K, do you think withdrawal of troops is need of the hour?
All the parameters of peace and prosperity are good but we have some distance more to go. One of the biggest enablers for SF in effective counter terror operations has been the improved HUMINT. These security indicators show the decline in terror influence in J&K and we aim to make this drop further.
Local terror recruitment is one of our primary concerns. Our efforts are aimed at weaning the youth away from terror. Proactive steps are being taken to identify and counsel vulnerable youth. New recruits have very low survivability with some getting killed within a couple of months, this is something that gives us no happiness. We are working to firstly prevent local youth from joining terrorism and secondly to facilitate surrender of those who have joined terror tanzeems.
The word “Terrorism” can be split into two parts of “terror” and “ism”. As a security force it’s very easy to tackle the “terror” part of it and we are way ahead in winning the kinetic battle against it. The “ism” part requires the support of the Kashmiri society to uproot it from the base itself. The Indian Army believes that addressing terrorism is beyond just neutralisation of the terrorists, it involves defanging the support network that sustains terror. It includes elimination of the ideologues and the OGWs network that radicalises, carry out recruitment, fund terror activity, arrange weapons, give hit lists and operate the social media accounts of these terrorist organisations. It is apt to call them terrorists without weapons. All layers are being addressed to control terrorism in J&K. Till the roots of the terrorism, the while collar terrorists are effectively engaged it will be premature to assume end to terrorism and hence too early to talk about thinning of security forces grid.
For the citizens there are three messages?
Firstly, the security forces need the support of the citizens to root out terror from J&K. There is urgent need for the civil society to work with the security forces to prevent Kashmiri youth from joining terror, Indian Army is committed to all support in such endeavours. Even for those who have joined terror tanzeems Indian Army is committed to help them come back from the misguided path. This should become a people’s movement.
Secondly, the citizens should be conscious of the propaganda effort of the separatists supported by Pakistan. Social media is a carrier of this propaganda. Only a conscious society can take measures to ensure that it is not affected by propaganda. The elders have to guide the youth to see the truth and work towards a bright future of all citizens of J&K.
Thirdly, I call upon the citizens to be vigilant against the terrorists without weapons. These are those who instigate, fund and control terrorism as a means to a political or personal end, for them anyone not following their ideology is fit for killing. They are the biggest threat to peace in Kashmir and can be countered only by a synergistic action by the citizens and security forces, they need to be identified and effectively neutralized.
I wish sustained peace, prosperity and happiness