NEW DELHI: Responding to a recent suggestion of the Mehbooba Mufti government, the Centre on Wednesday asked security forces not to launch counterterrorism operations in Jammu & Kashmir during the holy month of Ramzan. However, a home ministry statement clarified that the forces shall reserve the right to retaliate if attacked or if essential to protect the lives of innocent people.
The decision to not initiate operations in J&K was taken to facilitate the peace-loving Muslims in the Valley state, said the home ministry.
TOI was the first to report on May 11 that the central security establishment saw as doable the Ramzan peace proposal mooted by an all-party meeting in J&K, provided the forces were free to retaliate if attacked or carry out operations if specific intelligence on a "Pak-trained, A-category" terrorist was received.
Soon after the Centre approved the Ramzan initiative, home minister Rajnath Singh informed Mehbooba Mufti of the decision. The latter took to Twitter to welcome the initiative and thanked both PM Narendra Modi and Rajnath for their "personal intervention". "My gratitude also to the leaders and parties who participated in the all-party meeting and helped build consensus towards this announcement," Mehbooba tweeted.
A home ministry statement said the government expects everyone to cooperate in this initiative and help the Muslim brothers and sisters to observe Ramzan peacefully and without any difficulties.
"It is important to isolate the forces that bring a bad name to Islam by resorting to mindless violence and terror," the home ministry said.
Well-placed sources in the security establishment had earlier told TOI that a no-first use policy during Ramzan would reveal if a respite can create the space for normalcy and some political initiatives after stepped-up counterterrorism in 2017 and 2018.
There is a view that the offensive, while eliminating several top terrorists, has encouraged new recruits to join terror ranks. The willingness of the government to temporarily cease operations in J&K is also being seen in the context of hints of a fresh engagement with Pakistan with some positives amid reports suggesting that Pakistan army chief Qamar Bajwa is willing to back “comprehensive and meaningful” dialogue.
In a sign of a likely shift, it was also reported that Gen Bajwa recently invited the Indian military attache to the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad in March while Indian commentators see a reset in ties in the context of Indias renewed zeal in ties with neighbouring countries, including China.
An initiative where security forces do not initiate operations but retaliate if attacked or when a high-value terrorist is “spotted” is seen as the perfect way to bring respite to J&K at a time when local recruitment of miiltants is at a high and stone-pelting is common during cordon and search operations.
“If terrorists still attack security personnel, the latter will retaliate. Also, if there is confirmed intelligence on a dreaded, Pakistan-trained terrorist, forces will not hold back from active engagement,” said an officer.
In fact, this was also the template during the unilateral ceasefire declared by the then PM A B Vajpayee in 2000. Though the ceasefire was declared only for Ramzan, it was extended for the next few months only to be withdrawn in May 2001, essentially on public demand as terrorists moved freely in civilian areas and were insisting on being “accommodated” in houses and were creating a “nuisance”.
An intelligence operative explained that since the maximum action is happening in and around Pulwama and Kulgam, a nuanced and focussed policy can be followed and implemented.
An intelligence operative said the Ramzan peace initiative could be a timely course correction considering that separatists are using counterterror operations to boost recruitment. As per estimates, around 25 locals are being recruited each month.
As many as 213 terrorists were neutralised in 2017 and more than 60 have been killed so far this year. However, local recruitment continues to be high. An intelligence officer said that while the number of terrorists active in the Valley was 150-200 last year, it is estimated to be close to 300 now. “A non-initiation of operations may be a better option to tackle the local sentiment and anger that is pushing local Kashmiris to militancy despite the success of counter-terror operations in terms of terrorists neutralised,” said an officer.