Targetting sarpanches: A new challenge posed by terrorists
by Jasbir Sarai on 30 Sep 2012 11 Comments

“An avalanche of resignation of Sarpanches in Kashmir,” is how an English news channel has defined the recent political crisis that has beset the valley. The serial resignations were triggered in the wake of killing of a deputy sarpanch by unidentified gunmen in Wagoora area of Baramulla district. Earlier in the month, a sarpanch was killed in Palhallan Pattan area of the same district. Omar Abdullah, the beleaguered Chief Minister of the State, was clearly out of his depth in a hastily convened press conference to give the response of the government to the growing sense of insecurity amongst the grassroots leadership. “This year three Panchayat members have been killed in JK. If you compare it with states like Bihar and Naxal-hit states, this number is too small,” was his apathetic response to the crisis.


When will Indian politicians learn to be more sensitive while addressing issues concerning human lives and welfare? Their propensity to degenerate all such debates to mere statistics is disgusting. It is not “only” three, but “as many as three”; that is what the Chief Minister should be worried about and what he should be talking about.


Beyond this, the Chief Minster tried to shift the blame to anybody and everybody he could think of, starting from the separatists and the PDP, to his own coalition partner – the Congress. Unable to get over his obsession with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, he made references to thinning troops in some areas of Jammu and the Valley to create the requisite manpower pool required to provide additional security to the sarpanches. It is a blessing that Omar Abdullah is not a military commander, because making public such strategic decisions even before they are implemented is the best recipe for a military disaster. Militants would know exactly where to camp themselves for their next salvo!  


The politics of statistics does not end here, over the last week or so the government of Jammu and Kashmir has been attempting to discredit the Army by insinuating that it has been exaggerating infiltration figures. Some valley based newspapers claimed that the JK Police has contested the figures of infiltration in the Uri sector released by the Army as being too high. The Chief Minister in his press conference also made an oblique, sarcastic comment in this regard. Referring to the matter, he said, “If it is true, what they (Army) are doing on the line of control. But one thing I can tell with authority that violence levels have reduced and militancy related incidents have declined.” This is a classic example of playing politics to deflect attention.


Beyond the indifferent response of the majority party in the ruling coalition, a very serious problem is now showing signs of blooming into a veritable political and media circus. The entire Congress leadership of the state is now camping in Srinagar to keep a close watch on the proceedings and move in for the kill should an opportunity present itself. Even Rahul Gandhi, Omar’s good friend and mentor, is now on a collision course with the National Conference with regard to the implementation of the 73rd Amendment in J&K, bitterly opposed by Omar.


This apart, while the Chief Minister is insisting that all is well on the security front, Ghulam Nabi Azad has expressed concerns over the security situation; “We are concerned that after a long time militancy is again taking its head out,” he is reported to have said on September 25 at Srinagar. Now who should one believe?


It goes without saying that the matter of killing of sarpanches followed by their mass resignations is quite alarming. It is definitely not something that can be trivialised as is happening at present. It calls for a regrouping of forces to fight a new challenge posed by the terrorists and their mentors; it requires joint action and more than that a joint front against a menacing enemy; something that does not seem to be happening. Instead we have to deal with a petulant administration that is obviously put off by the flak it is getting for not being able to control the situation.


Not much can be achieved by pointing fingers or indulging in a blame game; lessons need to be drawn from the time when terrorists posed security challenges and the entire state machinery, security forces, and the people joined as one to counter them. Take for example the time when terrorists started resorting to stand off grenade attacks which caused mass killing of innocents and destruction of property. A joint strategy was put in place; participation of the people was requested for and obtained. As a result, the challenge posed by the terrorists was effectively countered. Similarly, in this latest challenge also, all stakeholders need to put their differences aside and join forces to find a credible counter. In this case it is all the more important because politics and security will essentially form the main prongs of the evolved strategy.


It has to be acknowledged that the security situation in the state is not normal and not much can be achieved by trying to paint a rosy picture. Even television anchors sitting thousands of kilometres away from the scene of action are not convinced by the arguments put forward by the spokespersons of the government; how can the people who are directly affected be misguided? In an adverse situation, acceptance of the circumstances leads to winning half the battle.


The terrorists have posed a new challenge to the people of Jammu and Kashmir; the government should accept the challenge on behalf of the people and defeat the enemy as it has done on so many earlier occasions. Those who have sacrificed their lives for the nation deserve this much.


Col. Jasbir Sarai (retd) has a keen interest in defence and security affairs, particularly with regard to Kashmir  

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