Police upbeat as militant count reaches all-time low in valley

Though militancy has often risen from the ashes in the past, the situation seems to be different this time. The infiltration has largely declined, and the local recruitment has also dwindled. The coming months will reveal how the situation evolves from hereon, writes Riaz Wani

The number of active militants in the Kashmir Valley has reached an all-time low of 28, according to the latest J&K Police figures. This is the first time in three decades that the number of militants has dropped to such a low number, and security forces are optimistic that this number will continue to decrease in the coming weeks.

In a recent interview, the J&K Assistant Director General of Police Vijay Kumar said that the joint action by Jammu and Kashmir Police, Army, paramilitary forces, and central and state agencies like NIA, ED, and SIA have helped to neutralise and arrest active militants and curb new recruitment of local youth, which has contributed to the decrease in the number of militants in the region. He said that the security forces are determined to bring the number down further saying they are committed to destroying the terror ecosystems and taking action against anyone who provides shelter or support to militants.

Ever since the withdrawal of J&K autonomy, more than 500 militants have been killed, most of them local youth and hailing from South Kashmir. This has considerably thinned the footprint of militancy in the area helping restore some peace.

The security agencies have also seized properties belonging to militants and those who have harboured them. They have also taken over the houses that provide shelter to militants.  

Over the last four years, the security agencies have also pursued a campaign christened as Operation All Out against militancy. The objective is to eliminate insurgency by attempting to kill all the militants within a specific timeframe. Viewed from that perspective, the security forces can claim to have been exceptionally successful. And if the killings continue at this rate for another few months, it could potentially wipe out the number of the active militants. This, in turn, is expected to alter the political dynamics in the Valley, albeit not fundamentally so. The deeper factors underpinning the current state of affairs will linger on and can be expected to gestate conditions for yet another phase of violence and unrest.

Fast declining number of militants has meanwhile made it possible for the UT government to withdraw Army from some parts in Kashmir Valley including from areas in South Kashmir such as from Anantnag and Kulgam. Both are the districts in South Kashmir which has been a stronghold of militancy since 2014 when the then Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani revived a flagging movement by using social media. 

The Rashtriya Rifles which was deployed in Kashmir was drawn from various infantry units in 1990 will be reportedly withdrawn in three phases. There will be a trial withdrawal of troops from South Kashmir districts such as Anantnag and Kulgam. The subsequent pullback will take place after assessing the situation. 

The withdrawal has a symbolic value though: It projects that normalcy has returned to the Valley following the withdrawal of the special status of the union territory in August 2019. 

Since 2019, Kashmir has witnessed an incremental decline not only in militancy but also a decrease in the influx of the Pakistani militants. Pakistan, believed to be forced by its ongoing economic hardships and international pressure, has cracked down on the leaders of Kashmir centric militant groups like Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammad. Lashkar leaders such as Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi have been jailed. Similarly, Jaish chief Masood Azhar and Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin have become conspicuous by their absence from the scene. They have hardly issued any statement over the past several years.

But the question remains whether this phase of low militancy will last.  The record of the past three decades gives no such hope. The militancy has often risen from the ashes. But this time, the situation seems a little different. For once, the infiltration has largely declined, and the  local recruitment has also dwindled. The coming week and months will reveal how the situation evolves from hereon.