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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 31 New Delhi July 23, 2016

Burhan Killing Signals Shift in Counterterrorism Strategy

Tuesday 26 July 2016

by Iftikhar Gilani

Even though the Army has downplayed its prized killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, questions arise as to whether it signals a departure from the age-old counter-insurgency doctrine.

Barring ‘Operation Bluestar’ in 1984, India’s counter-insurgency doctrine, modelled on the pattern of the British doctrine, did not entail hunting the top leadership, fearing emergence of splinter groups, difficult to control later. In contrast, the American way of tackling counter-insurgency involves targeting the top leadership for quick results.

Right from the North-East to Jammu and Kashmir, India has relied on choking funds, arms supplies and hitting middle-rung leaders and close confidants to soften the top leadership, thereby forcing them into negotiations. While Hizb chief Syed Salahuddin is based in PoK for more than two decades, his top operational commanders in Kashmir Valley, Master Ahsan Dar and Abdul Majeed Dar, were deliberately allowed to escape security nets many times, sources said.

While Ahsan Dar was arrested later, the other, instrumental in the July 2000 ceasefire, was killed by militants. Sources also recall JKLF supremo Yasin Malik’s case. He was allowed to don a political mantle since the aim of the counter-insurgency doctrine is to create an atmosphere conducive to political solution, unlike in war, where a top commander is always a prized target.

The 76-page doctrine, compiled by the Shimla-based Army Training Command, explains that the policy of velvet glove helps alienate terrorists from the public. “The doctrine’s emphasis on people-friendly operations is its most important aspect,” says Lt-General (retd) VG Patankar, who headed the Srinagar-based 15 Corps.

The Army’s counter-insurgency doctrine unveiled in 2006 had classified sub-conventional warfare into four categories: low-intensity conflict, proxy war, insurgency, and irregular war.

What is happening in Jammu and Kashmir is described as a combination of proxy war and insurgency, supported by external elements and and a section of local population. The doctrine affirms that while force may help contain insurgency, political and economic measures are required to resolve counter-insurgency situations.

Former civil servant and old Kashmir hand, Wajahat Habibullah, while appreciating Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic initiatives, believes that the political ingredient, involving track-II channels with ground elements, is missing since this government has taken over. Radha Kumar, who engaged with separatists in the aftermath of the 2010 summer agitation, says that dialogue process should be resumed so that there is a “possibility of reaching a peace agreement”.

Intelligence sources here said that they had tracked Burhan, sometime on July 2, when he was observing the Shab-e-Qadar festival, somewhere near his home in Tral.

Security forces, fearing retaliation from the general public, decided to postpone the operation—till he moves to some less-populated area. He and his two associates were lured to Bumdoora village in Kokernag on July 8, where he was to have reportedly received a cache of arms.

“We knew about the house of Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh, where Burhan and his team were staying,” a senior officer said. The meticulously planned operation started around 4.30 pm and was over by 7 pm. Asked why he was not given a chance to surrender, the officer said Burhan’s associates lobbed grenades at the forces and one security personnel, Shamsuddin, received a bullet injury. Sources said Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was posted about the operation.

(Courtesy: DNA, Mumbai)