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A civilian dying is against all our counter-terrorism strategies: Lt General A K Bhatt

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A civilian dying is against all our counter-terrorism strategies: Lt General A K Bhatt

General-officer-Commanding of the Indian Army’s Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Lt Gen Anil Kumar Bhatt at B B Cantt at Sonwar, Srinagar. (Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

How is the situation in the Valley?

It is stable in most areas, except I would say the fragile areas, i.e. South Kashmir. In the last year, we have focused on better synergy between the Army, J&K Police, CRPF and intelligence. This has helped. On the Line of Control, we have focused on technology, and putting up more robust fencing.

However, one thing that has not changed is efforts by the adversary to infiltrate. If this year, there was a little reduction, it was only during the time of elections in Pakistan. Though the Pakistan army claims they are not involved, it is a lie.

A positive trend in the last two-three months, and it is a combination of our kinetic operations and attempt to reach out to people, is that there has been a reduction in stone-throwing and crowds coming to operational sites. It is manifested in lesser casualties of civilians… Any civilian casualty is counterproductive. We are very conscious of it. A civilian dying is against all our counter-terrorism strategies.

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Top militant commanders have been killed in the last one month. How will it hurt militancy?

The Lashkar leadership has been nearly eliminated in South Kashmir. In Jaish, every time a leader came up, we have been able to eliminate. In the case of the Hizbul Mujahideen too, except Riyaz Naikoo, other district commanders have been eliminated. They are also re-strategising.

What is the number of active militants in the Valley?

275 approximately.

Why does this number remain around 200-300, though over 200 militants have been killed this year?

How do terrorists retain their strength? Through those who infiltrate. Despite everything, there is a number which is able to infiltrate. They always use new methods… Some Jaish groups are infiltrating through the International Border (and not just LoC). Second thing that’s been a concern this year is the larger number of local recruitment.

What are the challenges coming from social media?

The biggest challenge is the radicalisation of youth, and two, the crowds which are mobilised to move to sites where counter-terrorism operations are on. These boys are made to believe they can rescue the terrorists, their echo chambers give them that feeling. Now these people who are orchestrating it are actually the bigger enemies for using social media. In the recent past, police have apprehended a large number of OGWs (overground workers), which has helped reduce this…

Has the presence of Jaish-e-Mohammad increased?

It has a footprint marginally larger than the others. They have also started recruiting local militants. This year, after the Hizbul, it is Jaish that has recruited in South Kashmir… Jaish is a great area of concern because of, apart from other things, their ability for accurate fire, what you call snipers… Also, they have some IED capability.

Sniper attacks are a new challenge for security forces.

Snipers here are not exactly snipers, but very accurate ‘firers’. But the thing is that threat exists… Fortunately, in 15 Corps, there have been lesser casualties.

Is there an ISIS presence in Kashmir?

There is some traction which Zakir Musa has been able to gain. But ISIS has not gained traction. Our understanding is that it is not appealing to most people… Musa’s outfit too is limited, in terms of space in Kashmir.

The narratives have to be positive. We have to prevent our boys from getting the wrong heroes. The hero is not the guy with a weapon. (Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

Local militants are not surrendering during operations now. How do you see this?

I have very consciously tried to convince local terrorists to give up their weapons. We have made announcements, asked parents to come over and talk to the terrorist… As I always say, if there is a local terrorist, even when we have surrounded him, if he decides to give up his weapons, we will try
and get him.

But in several cases, families tell militants not to surrender.

If a family in private talks to their son, they will want him alive. It is only when it becomes a social media issue, where they are under pressure from other people, that the said advice is given. Again the challenge is from social media… The local media must play a bigger role. The narratives have to be positive. We have to prevent our boys from getting the wrong heroes. The hero is not the guy with a weapon.

But isn’t that what youth in Kashmir feel?

When you talk to young people in smaller groups, it is not such a strong sentiment. It is instigated by three-four.

Why is the situation much worse in South Kashmir?

Among the many factors is the deeper influence of Jamaat and even Tehreek-i-Hurriyat. These people were able to create the narrative of alienation and radicalisation. Mainstream probably has not been able to give an alternative narrative… An important element of the security situation deteriorating anywhere are its people. In North Kashmir, overall the situation is better because of cooperation of the people… I am confident of creating North Kashmir-like situation in South Kashmir.

Do attempts to stoke religious passions affect the Army?

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My first religion is the Army. I am a Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Parsi. It doesn’t matter to my jawans too. The first thing we learn is we are all the same.

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