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Army chief visits Kashmir, tells forces to be ready

In the poisoned environment of the Valley, army is the lone govt entity that enjoys credibility


Ajai Shukla  |  New Delhi 

Protesters throwing stones on security forces during a clash in Srinagar
Protesters throwing stones on security forces during a clash in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.

The Indian Army will no longer remain on the sidelines, as the Jammu & (J&K) Police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) struggle to manage violent public protests that have swept the Valley since the Hizbul Mujahideen’s commander for South Kashmir, Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter on July 8.

On Friday, army chief, General Dalbir Singh, flew to the Valley to instruct his commanders to ready for operations that would allow the J&K Police and CRPF to reassert control. He also met the J&K governor and the police chief.

In the poisoned political and security environment of the Valley, the army is the lone government entity that enjoys credibility. General Singh asked his commanders to leverage that goodwill to urge calm. According to a defence ministry release today: “[H]e urged the troops to sensitise the people, especially the youth, to eschew violence [and] to usher in peace at the earliest.”

Meanwhile, the army is preparing for the eventuality that violence continues. Over the last week, army units have beefed up presence in South . They will now intensify counter terrorism (CT) operations, reasserting dominance over the countryside, by locating and killing militants who have mingled unchecked with pro-azaadi (freedom) crowds for two months.

Over the preceding five years, the army had consciously “reduced its footprint” by vacating towns and large villages, leaving public security to the J&K Police and CRPF. Now, Business Standard learns the army will begin re-occupying “company operating bases” (COBs) in and around towns in South .

In 2010, after three summers of violent street protests across the Valley, the army was similarly brought in to re-impose the government’s write where it had ceased to run. After that, the last six years had seen the army withdraw to their bases, vacating civilian areas. Now, the failure of politics has taken the clock back to 2010

General Singh was briefed today in Headquarters 15 Corps in Srinagar that the army was strengthening its counter-terrorism grid (CT grid) in the Valley, and its counter-infiltration grid (CI grid) along the Line of Control (LoC).

There is a three-pronged strategy for revitalising the CT grid. First, the J&K Police is being brought back to their stations and made effective again. Like at the start of insurgency in 1990, the J&K Police is currently invisible in South Kashmir, where rampaging mobs have torched more than 30 police posts in the last two months. The returning policemen will initially operate alongside the army for protection.

Simultaneously, the CRPF presence is being boosted. In July, soon after violence broke out, 71 additional CRPF companies were flown in to reinforce the existing deployment. Now, an additional 14-20 companies are being thrown into the fray, mostly consisting of units deployed for security during the Amarnath Yatra.

Boosting numbers is crucial, says the CRPF. With large numbers of troopers busy in enforcing curfew and securing the streets of large towns like Srinagar, the additional companies will protect institutions like banks and government buildings and carry out “road opening”, or securing highways and roads for the movement of army convoys.

Third, the army is making itself more visible, reopening posts near the population centres of South Kashmir --- including towns like Anantnag and Bijbehara. Army battalions (850 men) that had contracted into four bases will spread into six bases. This will increase operational flexibility and allow troops to quickly reach flashpoints.

Besides the CT grid, the army chief also inspected the CI grid while visiting army units on the LoC Behind the posts that guard the border fence the army is deployed in layers to block infiltration routes leading towards the towns and villages in the Valley.

Earlier this week, the Hurriyet Conference had snubbed an all-party delegation of parliament members that wanted to hold talks. Yet, back-channel offers for dialogue continue from the state and central governments to separatist leaders, with officials claiming they want to defuse the situation through dialogue rather than confrontation.

Yet, with protests showing no signs of flagging, the government is readying to include military force in its menu of options.

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First Published: Sat, September 10 2016. 00:25 IST