The terrorist attack in Kathua and Samba has, once again, demonstrated the vulnerability of all regions of Jammu and Kashmir to strikes planned and executed from across the border. This incident is not the first of its kind. There are many earlier instances where almost same modus operandi was followed by terrorist groups. Interestingly, earlier such terror strikes in these areas have happened when the Bhartiya Janata Party led NDA was in power in the centre while the state was governed by the National Conference and later by the Peoples Democratic Party-Indian National Congress coalition.
In May 2002, three terrorists later identified as Pakistanis, boarded a bus at Vijaypur, near Kathua. As the bus reached Kaluchak near Jammu city, they shot the driver and opened fire on the passengers. Army units located nearby retaliated due to which the terrorist fled into the nearby Army officer’s family quarters where they again opened fire. The terrorists were killed but not before 31 people had lost their lives. These included three Army personnel, 18 Army family members and 10 civilians. 47 people were wounded. 10 out of those killed were children.
There are many similarities in the terrorist strike a few days earlier on September, 26, 2013 and the strike of 2002. Both strikes originated from roughly the same place around Kathua; in both cases terrorist were dressed in Army fatigues; they used public transport and targeted Army installations as also civilians.
One month later, in July, 2002, a terrorist strike at Rajiv Nagar, Jammu, left 28 civilians dead and an equal number injured. The massacre triggered a demand for the resignation of then Home Minister LK Advani even as opposition Congress party President Sonia Gandhi visited the colony and held the Centre and the state government responsible for failure to prevent terrorists from carrying out massacres, exactly as the BJP does now with the Congress in power.
About a year later in June, 2003, terrorists attacked Sunjwan Military Station in Jammu and killed twelve soldiers. The attack coincided with a visit by then President APJ Abdul Kalam to the State. At that stage then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had attempted to resurrect the derailed peace process with a ‘hand of friendship’. India, at that stage, had maintained that complete halt in infiltration and an end to terrorist violence was necessary before the dialogue process was resumed. It was, however, recognised that the process could not be abandoned due to a single terrorist strike. To this effect, the Minister of State for Home ID Swami issued a statement that the attack was at the behest of forces from across the border who wanted to sabotage the peace moves. This time round, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has, in his statement, tacitly implied the same by stating that the attack was at the behest of enemies of peace.
Terrorists struck again within a month of the Sunjwan strike, this time on a military establishment in Akhnoor. Three terrorists came for the strike of which one was killed at the gate, the second managed to pass through and killed six soldiers before he was gunned down. The third, who managed to hide himself in the thick foliage and escaped detection, almost killed the top leadership of the Northern Command including then Army Commander General Hari Prasad when he lobbed a grenade at the group of senior officers that was standing near his hiding place. Even though the three Generals escaped with injuries one Brigadier, VK Govil, was killed. In the latest instance also terrorists came early in the morning, took advantage of the surprise element, killed many soldiers and were later eliminated.
It is quite evident that even though a decade has passed since the last major terrorist strike in the Jammu region, not much has changed so far as the modus operandi of the terrorists and the reaction of the government to the strike is concerned. The fact the initial casualties due to the element of surprise were less than previous incidents goes to reflect that the standard operating procedures are better that what they were a decade back.
The big question is the aspect of coordination; was an alert given to all security establishments in Jammu region within minutes of the strike in Kathua? Did this alert percolate down to the Army unit in Samba that took the second strike? Was action taken by the Police to sanitise and patrol the National Highway immediately after the first strike? A well planned Fidayeen attack mostly manages to cause some damage before the group is neutralised. In this case , however, the subsequent strikes that went on for hours after the first strike, it is felt, could have been avoided through streamlined procedures. This is the function of the Unified Command whose chairman is the Chief Minister of the State.
Political leaders have identified derailing the peace process as the objective of the attack. However, the recent controversy created due to a statement by former Army Chief General VK Singh and the eagerness shown by the National Conference to exploit the same politically could have motivated terror mongers across the border towards exploiting the tense situation. Here lies a big lesson for the political leadership – security is too sensitive a subject to play politics with. There are many other agendas on which elections can be contested and won, security should remain out of the ambit. Vigilance and guard cannot be let down in Jammu and Kashmir for a long time to come. The best option would be to concentrate on security aspects rather than indulging in brinkmanship with loose talk about Armed Forces Special Powers act and other security related legislations. It is necessary to not only to have a well coordinated security policy through the Unified Command but also project unity of purpose to the entire world.
The comparison given above show that the political postures that existed a decade back and what is obtaining now have not changed despite change in governments. When there is nothing new to say then why say anything at all; let there be some unity in aspects of nation security.