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J&K: Shadow of the fidayeen

July 30, 2003

The fidayeen attack at Tanda is the 57th suicide attack in Jammu & Kashmir. The first fidayeen attack was made against 4 Rashtriya Rifles in Kupwara on August 6, 1999. Since then, there have been 56 suicide attacks, the maximum of 21 in 2001. This year, there have been 10, and two of these within 30 days of each other. Altogether, 95 terrorists and 211 security force personnel have been killed. Another 85 civilians were caught in the crossfire.

If these are grim statistics, look at a few more. On an average, the army alone is losing 1.7 officers, 0.5 JCO and 20 soldiers every month. This is akin to fighting one Kargil every 16 months. The J&K Governor recently said that 10 persons are killed every day in the State. Nearly 31,000 persons have died since the proxy war began in 1989. The Pakistani figure of these casualties is 80,000. This is a very high price India is paying for cross-border terrorism and something needs to be done about it. The Government keeps talking about defeating cross-border terrorism without in any way raising the cost for Pakistan. Defensive action by itself can never kill this menace.

The fidayeen have refined their strategy with each attack. Initially, the so- called fidayeen attack used to be accompanied by stand-off firing of weapons. Now they employ stealth with cunning, looking for their target when it is least alert and most lazy before storming it. They dress in uniform, normally come by public transport or in a private car close to the entrance of their target. Usually, the fidayeen come in pairs, sometimes three, and at times four in numbers. They inject themselves with drugs before the assault. One of them is invariably spotted and killed but the others-either one or two-get inside the camp armed with automatic weapons, grenades and strapped with explosives.

Sometimes, after the encounter, one feigns being dead. When soldiers approach, the one lying on his stomach, head down, suddenly blows himself up and takes the inspectors along with him as he dies. To avoid this trap, the army throws a lasso and drags the body away. Sometimes,fidayeen have managed to escape after destroying their target.

In Tanda, the missing fidayeen was hiding for six hours in tall grass and blew himself up when the spectacular target of Generals and senior officers was seen by him. Miraculously, only one senior officer was killed, but the fidayeen did a brilliant job.

The fidayeen are different from the Hamas, Hezbollah or the Islamic Jihad in their tactics. They do not blow themselves up instantly as Hamas members and the others do in the Middle East. A fidayeen never operates singly as the Palestinian human bombers do. In the month of May 2002, at the height of the second Intifada, there were seven suicide bombings in seven days. The vicious reprisals carried out by Israeli forces and US diplomatic pressure on the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Hamas have brought a respite to the cycle of suicide attacks. Peace is being given a chance.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam suicide bomber is mostly female, as this mobile human dynamite bomber has operated on land and sea and even made one futile attempt from the air. By the end of 2000, the LTTE had carried out nearly 189 suicide attacks and accounted for a President, a Prime Minister, a Defence Minister, other Ministers and a service chief, among others.

The Indian response to the fidayeen has been mainly defensive: Improving intelligence and limiting damage. After the Tanda attack, the entire rear area security scheme in J&K has to be reviewed and a balance struck between plugging infiltration, strengthening intermediate tiers of interception, improving depth area security, increasing small-scale terrorist hunting operations and larger ones like Operation Sarp Vinash. The fidayeen must be intercepted before he reaches his target. If he does reach his target, his longevity has to be reduced to a few seconds. Fidayeen attacks have to be deterred by innovative action on both sides of the Line of Control.

There are, at any time, 3,000 terrorists holed up in J&K. On an average, 2,000 terrorists are being killed every year, which means around 1,500 fresh recruits get in across LoC and another 500 are home-grown. It is technically and practically feasible to reduce the number coming in and increase the number of the 'killed' so that the gene pool of terror is reduced to about 1,000 or less in about two years. For this, the triad of intelligence, unified command and good governance has to swing into action.

The failure of drawing optimum results from nearly half a million security forces is the failure to establish a unified command or headquarters. The command and control situation in J&K is almost laughable. There are two combined, not unified headquarters, one each in Srinagar (15 Corps) and one in Nagrota (16 Corps) The Chief Minister, with the relevant army, police, paramilitary and intelligence commanders, runs the two headquarters. There is no apex command structure and, strangely, the Army Commander for all of J&K is outside this power loop as he is part of neither headquarters.

This situation has survived for several years now. And, surprisingly, no one had detected the anomaly earlier. What you need is the Chief Minister, Army Commander, Corps Commanders and other security force chiefs and heads of intelligence to form a centralised and unified headquarters. While the Army Commander should command all security operations in the State, intelligence operations should be coordinated by the seniormost police official.

The Special Action Group under the Ministry of Home Affairs has recently completed a high-powered study on macro and micro security strategy in J&K on combating terrorism and winning hearts and minds. All security, intelligence and military agencies were involved but they did not interact as amicably as ought to have been the case. There is clearly a divergence of views on strategy which the army asserts is in its domain, while other agencies hold a different view. The historical fissures between the Home and Defence Ministries and between the departments within them, remain. There is an uneasy truce which is no good either for macro or micro strategy.

The new J&K Governor, Gen SK Sinha, whose father was a policeman, whose two brothers are serving in intelligence and whose children are in the Ministry of External Affairs, represents the unified family. His intention is to get a unified headquarters or command down to army division and brigade levels.

There are winds of change in J&K. On June 15 for the first time, 50,000 Kashmiri Pandits came to Srinagar for the Khir Bhawani temple ritual. They were helped by local Muslims. The Badgam Muslims have constructed a Hindu temple on wakf land. The Amarnath Yatra, which began on July 12, has not been disturbed so far. Tourism has picked up. The Hurriyat leadership has been taken over by moderates. The idea of a ceasefire has come up again. Outgoing US Ambassador Robert Blackwill's certification of free and fair elections in J&K and the healing touch policy of the Mufti Government are positive developments.

President APJ Abdul Kalam visited J&K last month. He went to Hazratbal, Vaishno Devi and Buddhist Gompas. In his address to Kashmiris, he said: "J&K is embedded in the soul of India." This is more sublime than General Pervez Musharraf's claim that Kashmir is in "the blood of Pakistan", quipped one Kashmiri. But there was a fidayeen attack during the President's visit to bring everyone down to earth.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman on his visit to India endorsed the idea of the LoC being converted into a border. The India-Pak-istan people-to-people contact phase is also picking up. The fidayeen are the 'spoilers' in J&K. They cannot be wished away, but their efficacy has to be reduced by innovative counter-terrorism operations.

The key to a successful fight against terror is made of hard intelligence, coordinated operations and good governance. But the question remains: What happened to the Indian fidayeen for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir?


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