With a dastardly attack, fidayeen (suicide squad) terror returned to shatter the peace of Jammu and Kashmir after nearly four years. In a brazen terror attack on an Indian Army camp close to a post at Pargal, in Rajouri, two Pakistani-backed terrorists of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group, who were eventually gunned down in a fierce, five-hour-long battle, raised questions on our accomplishment of having eliminated terrorism in the Union territory of J&K.
Four brave soldiers laid down their lives in protecting the Army camp, and our nation. Army chief Gen. Manoj Pande, through an official tweet, said he, and all members of the Army of all ranks, “salute the supreme sacrifice” of four soldiers who laid down their lives in line of duty in Rajouri, and offered deepest condolences to the bereaved families.
The weapons and accoutrements recovered from the dead terrorists left little doubt that they belonged to and were trained in camps across the border.
The attack is serious on two counts. One, it was meant to hurt the sentiments of Indians ahead of the grand nationwide build-up to the celebration of the 75th Independence Day. The second is the questions it raises about the strategy of the Central government regarding the UT after the abrogation of Article 370.
In an official response, lieutenant-governor Manoj Sinha, while condemning the act of terror, said the government and the Army were resolved to give such forces a befitting reply.
But the question arises, especially after the attack, if the best way to fight terror would be through a Centrally-administered government, or a popular local government. The stalling of elections and delaying bringing into power a popularly elected government might be counterproductive, especially when the situation otherwise is most conducive for India.
The Indian armed forces have performed their duties to the highest levels of professionalism, and even in this incident, were able to respond to the attack quickly and neutralise the terrorists and the threat. But the Army alone cannot be expected to ensure a terror-free Kashmir.
A larger civilian support to the objective of ending terrorism is crucial, and would be possible only when the political aspirations of all people in the region are also met. India has earlier learnt how terror and separatism could be ended, finally, in Punjab when popular support turned towards the Indian forces and police.
It is also necessary to relook at our analysis and beliefs about the effectiveness of the working of the abrogation of Art. 370 in combating terror, ending terror funding and support. A conclusion that a popular government would only aid our cause to end all support for separatists would help bring in greater change.
It is also crucial, along with military assertiveness, to try to win the battle of narratives, and hearts, of the ordinary citizen of Jammu and Kashmir. A larger outreach to citizens, enabling more effective delivery of development and welfare, empowerment through higher levels of liberty and freedoms and restoring of all normal political activities, will help us ensure we can avoid a repeat of such terror attacks.
Nothing can be more crucial than that as the nation prepares to celebrate 75 years of our Independence.