On December 23, four soldiers were killed in alleged unprovoked firing by the Pakistani Army on Indian forward posts in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district. The incident caps a bleak year for armed forces in the state, which suffered heavy casualties in ceasefire violations at the Line of Control, militant attacks and gunfights across the Kashmir Valley.
By now, it is common consensus that the “paradigm shift” the Narendra Modi government hoped to effect with “surgical strikes” launched across the Line of Control last year has not occurred. If the strikes were meant to silence the guns on the frontier and in the Valley with a determined show of strength, they did not achieve their objective. If their success is to be measured by body count, the numbers are deeply disturbing.
A grim arithmetic
Since the night of September 28-29, 2016, when teams of the Indian army reportedly crossed the Line of Control to attack “terror launchpads”, at least 90 security forces personnel have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir. According to data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, at least 30 security forces personnel were killed in 16 incidents of violence in the first five months after the strikes.
A year after the strikes, the numbers indicated a 31% increase in deaths in militancy-related incidents. As for the number of ceasefire violations, South Asia Terrorism Portal data suggests there were 105 incidents on the Line of Control and the International Border in 2016, killing 13 security forces personnel and 15 civilians. Till December 17, 2017, there were 228 incidents on Line of Control and the International Border, killing 14 civilians and 23 security forces personnel.
A year after the strikes, Army Chief Bipin Rawat still claimed they had “sent a message” to the other side. The only message that seemed to have been communicated was this: it was open season for violence.
The September 2016 strikes were in retaliation to a devastating militant attack on an army camp in Uri, North Kashmir on the 18th of that month, which left 19 soldiers dead. It led to an escalation in rhetoric and in action, hardening the Modi government’s already tough stance on Kashmir and cross-border issues with Pakistan. The Uri attack added to the growing impatience with the doctrine of “strategic restraint” which India had maintained for over a decade and prompted calls for more stringent action.
By several accounts, Indian forces had crossed the Line of Control to attack Pakistani targets on at least nine previous occasions. The only difference was this: formerly covert military operations were now publicised and owned as part of a new muscular policy. The ceasefire negotiated in 2003, which had provided the fig leaf of peace on the frontier, was now effectively dead. It was a development that would prove to be greatly damaging to India’s security interests, experts predicted.
They were right. The surgical strikes were followed up by almost daily ceasefire violations, reported beheadings of Indian soldiers, repeated attacks on camps and convoys. Just days after the strike, militants reportedly attempted another “fidayeen” attack on an army camp in Baramulla, North Kashmir. Two months later, they struck again, this time at a camp in Nagrota, near Jammu, killing seven soldiers. Infiltration through the Line of Control continued unabated and local youth from the Kashmir Valley joined militant ranks in growing numbers.
Overall, the Modi government’s muscular policy on Kashmir has proved to be lethal: the first three years of this dispensation saw a 72% rise in casualties among security forces, compared to the last three years of the United Progressive Alliance government. With public channels for dialogue and negotiation cut off, the political and security establishment seem to have no choice but to continue to speak the language of aggression.
This year, the number of militants killed in Jammu and Kashmir crossed 200 for the first time in seven years, a grim tally that was touted as a success. But the successes claimed by government, army and police are underwritten by the blood of their own men.