India: Abiding Threat In Jammu And Kashmir – Analysis

On April 20, 2023, five Army soldiers were killed and another was injured when terrorists targeted a moving vehicle of the Army with grenades and small arms’ fire at Bhatta Durrian in the Mendhar area of Poonch District. According to reports, one of the terrorists managed to stop the truck by throwing grenades while another opened calibrated fire towards its fuel tank, triggering a massive blaze in the vehicle. In the meantime, a third terrorist opened fire at the soldiers on-board.

The last comparable attack on Security Forces (SFs) had taken place on August 11, 2022, when Army foiled a suicide attack on an Army base at Pargal in the Darhal area of Rajouri District, in which both the terrorists were killed, while three Army personnel lost their lives. One Army officer and two troopers were also injured in the attack.

Since the February 14, 2019, Pulwama Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) Attack by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which resulted in the death of 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel – the highest fatality figure for SFs in a single attack since the commencement of the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in 1988 – the State/Union Territory (the State of J&K was made a Union Territory in 2019) has recorded at least eight major attacks (each involving three or more fatalities), including the above mentioned two, targeting the SFs, resulting in the killing of 36 SF personnel. These major incidents include:

February 18, 2019: Five SF personnel, including a Major, three JeM militants and a civilian, were killed in an encounter at the Pinglana village of Pulwama District.

March 1, 2019: Four SF personnel, including a CRPF Inspector, were killed and eight, including a Commandant of the CRPF, were injured in an encounter at the Babgund Langate area of Handwara in Kupwara District.

June 12 , 2019: Five CRPF personnel were killed and three were injured when two suspected JeM terrorists attacked a CRPF patrolling party near the Oxford School on Khanabal-Pahalgham road in Anantnag District.

April 5, 2020: Five soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire, as the Army foiled a major infiltration bid along the Line of Control (LoC) in the Kupwara Forests in the Keran sector of Kupwara District.

May 2, 2020: A Colonel and a Major were among five SF personnel killed in an encounter in the Chanjmulla area of Handwara in Kupwara District.

May 4, 2020: Three CRPF personnel were killed and seven injured in the Handwara area of Kupwara District.

October 11, 2021: Five Army personnel, including a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO), were killed during an encounter with terrorists in the Surankote area of Poonch District.

December 13, 2021: Three Policemen, including one Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) and two constables, were killed and 12 Policemen were injured after terrorists attacked a Police bus carrying personnel of the Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police at the Zewan Pantha Chowk in Srinagar, the capital city.

Significantly, the April 20, 2023, incident took place despite availability of intelligence inputs that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)-backed terrorists, mainly from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and JeM, would try to target SF convoys in the days following. Though the report had talked about convoys plying on Srinagar-Pulwama axis, the Forces could be expected to have taken additional security measures on other routes as well. The inputs also mentioned terrorist plans to carry out attacks using grenades, Improvised Explosive Devices, and indiscriminate fire at the Army Transit Camp in the Badamibagh area of Srinagar.

Meanwhile, on April 28, while stating that the terror plot in April 20, 2023, attack had been uncovered, Dilbag Singh, J&K Director General of Police (DGP), added that six persons, including, Nissar Ahmad, who was working as an Over Ground Worker of a Pakistan origin LeT ‘commander’ of a module “who provided material (weapons, ammunition, explosives) to the militants besides shelter and food and guided them from one to another place” had been arrested. He highlighted the Pakistani connection disclosing, “The material (explosives) had come from Pakistan through drone. They picked up the weapons and provided them to the militants. Weapons, grenades, ammunition and explosives were included in that.” He raised the concern that there was a floating population of terrorists coming from Pakistan and “they remain here for several months, do recce” and carry such acts. He added that though “we have neutralised several of them also in the past”, there are 10 to 12 such elements currently operating in the area.

There are, moreover, new inputs which suggest that the ISI is planning an attack modelled on the February 14, 2019, Pulwama attack in South Kashmir. Against this backdrop, the security establishment has formulated new counter measures to prevent any VBIED attack on the security forces along the National High Way. A decision has been taken to upgrade the Standard Operating Procedures for the movement of convoys.

Notwithstanding the April 23 attack, the overall security situation in J&K has improved considerably over time. After reaching a high of 4,011 in 2001, overall fatalities registered a continuous decline in successive years till 2012, when they touched a low of 121. Since then, fatalities have maintained a cyclical trend, declining for two consecutive years in 2021 (274 fatalities) and 2022 (253 fatalities). There were 321 fatalities in 2020. Overall fatalities remained in four digits between 1990 and 2006. In 2023, J&K has already recorded 22 fatalities (data till April 30).

Moreover, SF dominance on the ground has increased substantially since 2019. While the SF:terrorist kill ratio was 1:2.08 (78 SFs, 163 terrorists) in 2019, it increased to 1:4.14 (56 SF personnel, 232 terrorists) in 2020 and further to 1: 4.28 (45 SF personnel, 193 terrorists) in 2021. The ratio reached an all-time high, since 2000, at 1:6.43 (30 SF personnel, 193 terrorists) in 2022.

There has been a dramatic reduction in the frequency of major terrorist attacks since the devastating Pulwama attack of February 14, 2019. It is useful to recall that there were eight major attacks resulting in 33 SFs deaths in 2018 alone. Nevertheless, the continued incidence of such attacks demonstrates that, notwithstanding the tremendous gains on ground by the SFs, before and after the Pulwama incident, the ISI-backed terrorist groups remain an abiding threat.