It is about time the officers and retired professionals of India’s security establishment pulled up their socks.
The cold-blooded killing of three policemen in Downtown Srinagar is ample indication that the various sections of this security establishment have been quite wrong, yet again. For a long time now, they have confidently insisted that there are no militants in Srinagar.According to their wisdom, there are many militants in south Kashmir, but they insist with equal vigour that they have the situation under control.
Until the sudden bursts of fire that killed those policemen, this blasé confidence about the city passed for the wisdom of the Army, the police, and the various intelligence agencies. The same institutions also had little knowledge about what had been afoot between January 1988 and December 1989. (The first batch of militants crossed the Line of Control in January ’88 to train in Pakistan, and Dr Rubaiya Sayeed was kidnapped in December ’89.)
Much public money has been spent on firming up the intelligence and other apparatus of these institutions. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s offices generally have little access to their workings, but it is time for Parliament to call them to account. This country can not afford to sustain such ridiculous levels of continuous incompetence.
Not only did none of these institutions of the state have an idea of the militancy when it emerged in ’88 and ’89, none of them could predict the explosion of anger in 2008 or in 2010. They have consistently underestimated the challenge of this new militancy over the past six years. And let’s not speak for the moment of the think-tanks in Delhi. They are generally far removed.
I had been convinced since at least the winter of 2012-13 that some of the new crop of young militants must be lurking in the inner city of Srinagar – which is locally called Downtown. I had no specific information about this but, based on my reporting of Kashmir for a quarter-century, trends that had become visible elsewhere in the Valley made it obvious.
The slaughter of policemen – they were unarmed, directing traffic – indicates that those militants who might have been lurking (‘sleepers’ in the jargon of security wonks) in the city are getting ready to show their hand. Rather, it indicates that their masters (‘handlers’ in the security wonks’ jargon) might be ready to ‘launch’ them.
I told several analysts in Kashmir last summer that it seemed as if we were being shown Burhan Wani, the iconic young militant – as if some of his ‘handlers’ wanted the focus to be on him and his activities in south Kashmir. Security strategists should be trained to suspect that field action might be a side-tracking attempt, a feint, or even a trap. But apparently, those in the security establishment could only see what they were being shown.
Over the past month or so, the propaganda machinery of the security establishment has publicly patted itself on the back – for having knocked off most of Burhan’s comrades in south Kashmir. They have indeed had many ‘encounter’ successes in south Kashmir – although it is worth noting that many Kashmiris suspect that some of those ‘encounters’ were staged after the militants had been captured elsewhere and killed.
However, they still seem to have as little idea of the dimensions of the new militancy as their predecessors had towards the end of the ’80s. Only when they begin to understand what they face can they start the urgent task of preparing strategies to face it. Tragically, it appears that, like the government of the state in September 2014, they will only wake up to what is happening when the flood is upon them