Before dawn on Monday, four militants were reportedly shot dead as they tried to launch a fidayeen (suicide) attack on a Central Reserve Police Force camp in Sumbal, in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district.
Even as protests against “militant killings” were dying out in Sumbal, security forces cordoned off houses in Shopian district in South Kashmir. On Tuesday evening, as crowds emerged to protest, forces opened fire and Adil Ahmed Magray, a college student, was killed.
On Thursday, reports from the Line of Control said three militants and one soldier had been killed in an infiltration bid in the Naugam sector.
The incidents lengthen a steady graph of violence in the Valley over the last six months.
By November 2016, the civilian protests that had raged through all of last summer, triggered by the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in a gunbattle with security forces, had almost died out. What followed was a sullen, low-intensity armed conflict between militants and security forces, with scattered but sustained civilian protests. As the crowds cleared, it was time for the season of encounters, as armed forces engaged in stanching protests turned their attention to security operations.
Of course, the furies of the civilian unrest may have masked the gunfights and ambushes of 2016. Towards the end of the year, Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj G Ahir told Rajya Sabha that 146 militants had been killed in 97 encounters as of December 2. Sixty security forces personnel had also died in these incidents. This April, Ahir said 33 militants had been killed in 25 encounters in the first three months of 2017. This figure was not much higher than the 28 militants killed in encounters during the same period last year.
But 2017 perhaps stands out for almost daily incidents of armed confrontation, apart from simmering protests, in Jammu and Kashmir. These largely fall into three categories.
Encounters: 25 incidents, 42 militants, 10 civilians and 7 security personnel killed
First, armed encounters between militants and security forces. The word encounter suggests a chance meeting between militants and security forces, leading to an exchange of fire. Some encounters did ensue after militants opened fire on Army or police patrols. But most commonly, in the Valley, encounters have come to mean carefully planned operations where security forces, acting on specific information, cordon off houses or localities to track down and corner militants.
In recent years, these violent confrontations have acquired a new dimension, crowds of protestors rushing towards the gunfight, pelting stones, chanting slogans and providing cover for militants to escape. With civilian intervention has come a rise in civilian casualties, which in turn has fuelled popular anger against government forces.
Collating data from the South Asia Terrorism Portal and news reports, and using this definition of encounter, there have been at least 25 such incidents between December 2, 2016, and June 1, with 42 militants killed. Many of them took place in the four southern districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam, the crucible of the new local militancy in the Valley. In the north, the flashpoints are the Sopore area of Baramulla district and Hajin area of Bandipora district with a few encounters in Kupwara as well. Many of the militants killed here were foreign.
At least nine civilians were killed during these encounters. February and March saw a rise in civilian casualties, notably in Frisal in Kulgam and Chadoora in Budgam district. The number of those injured was also high but cannot be ascertained. Going by the reports and the South Asia Terrorism Portal figures, once again, at least seven security personnel were killed and many more injured in these incidents.
In May, security forces conducted sweeping crackdown operations of the kind seen in the 1990s. Whole villages were cordoned off as the troops conducted house-to-house searches. Most often, men and boys who lived in the village were told to line up outside. In Shopian on May 4, security forces cordoned off at least five villages, and in Kulgam’s Okay village, men and boys over 10 years of age were told to line up in an open space on May 16. In both districts, residents claimed they were beaten and their houses and property damaged.
Many more cordon and search operations had to be called off in these past six months after protests broke out and civilians were injured in clashes with security forces. Magray’s death brings the civilian toll in encounters since December up to 10.
Attacks and ambushes: 26 incidents, 20 security personnel and 15 civilians killed
Militants went on the offensive as well. Even during the protests last year, there had been ambushes and attacks on security forces. These have continued. The assault on the Central Reserve Police Force camp in Sumbal was the second attempted fidayeen attack in a little more than a month. On April 27, three soldiers were killed in a suicide attack on an Army camp in Kupwara.
From December, there have been ambushes on security convoys, including on the stretch of highway through Pampore, just a few kilometres south of Srinagar, shootings and grenade attacks on security patrols, camps and police stations.
Going by the South Asia Terrorism Portal data and media reports, there have been at least 26 incidents of this kind since December 2, killing at least 20 members of the security forces. As many as 15 civilians caught in the crossfire were also killed, including several minors, and more were injured.
And this is not counting targeted killings, like that of Ummer Fayaz Parray, a young Army officer who was home on leave and abducted from a wedding in Shopian district in May. Or the killing of sarpanches, party workers and others affiliated with political parties that contest elections. It does not include, either, frequent rifle-snatching incidents and bank robberies in South Kashmir.
On the Line of Control: 27 ceasefire violations, two soldiers, four civilians and four militants killed
The number of militants and security forces killed would be higher if all incidents of violence at the Line of Control were to be taken into account. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal data, there were 27 ceasefire violations at the Line of Control and the International Border till May 28 this year with reports of two Indian soldiers being mutilated and four civilians killed.
Apart from the friction between the Indian and Pakistani armies, there are frequent reports of infiltration bids being foiled and foreign militants being shot down. On May 27, when top Hizbul Mujahideen commander Sabzar Ahmad Bhat and 16-year-old Faiizan Ahmad Bhat were killed in an encounter in South Kashmir, for instance, the Army reported that four militants were killed near the Line of Control in Baramulla district. But the Line of Control remains largely inaccessible, and the subject of claims and counterclaims made by both sides. The toll here remains difficult to compute.
None of these figures take into account one of the highest peaks of violence this year. During the Lok Sabha bye-polls for the Srinagar seat, conducted in Srinagar and Budgam districts in April, eight civilians were killed as armed forces opened fire on protesting crowds. Another succumbed after being injured during clashes.
The defining image of 2017 so far has been of Farooq Ahmad Dar, a shawl weaver from Budgam, strapped to an Army jeep during these elections to apparently ward off hordes of stone-pelters. The officer responsible for using a civilian as a human shield was later rewarded by the Army chief and lauded by the government. Perhaps 2017 will be known as the year when the state officially declared a “war-like situation” in Kashmir, as Defence Minister Arun Jaitley called it in last month.