Pakistan’s proxy war in J&K
On 12 August 2015, the past caught up with two brothers of a slain Lashkar e Taiyyaba (LeT) commander, who were detained by police when they were roaming around under suspicious circumstances near Kishtwar’s historical Chowgan Ground, the venue of Independence Day celebrations.
The detainees, both dressed as women and one of them wearing a ‘burqa’, were identified as Jamal Din and Abdul Karim, brothers of LeT Commander Habib Gujjar, who was killed by police and security forces in a joint operation in 2011. A large quantity of prepared food, medicines and a number of mobile phones were seized from them. Din, who has a criminal case registered against him in 2010, was produced before a court today. He was missing for some time and we were searching for him, police said. Din had also helped Gujjar in the attack on the family members of a chowki officer in Kheswan in 2010.
In February and March 1990, JKLF (Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front) supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), started a systematic ethnic cleansing campaign to kill, terrorise and drive out the entire 400,000-strong community of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir valley. Over 20,000 houses of Kashmiri Pandits were burnt, some 105 Kashmiri Pandit educational institutions were destroyed and 103 temples razed to the ground. Over 1,100 Kashmiri’s were tortured and killed. According to the author, some 140,000 to 160,00 Kashmiri Pandits fled the valley between February and March 1990. This was followed by high profile killings of senior Kashmiri Pandit officials, intellectuals and prominent citizens that resulted in the total exodus of the Kashmiri Pandit population from the valley.
A pogrom against the Dogra community by ISI-sponsored terrorists started in 1993 when 14 Dogras were massacred in a bus near a place called Hasti on August 16 that year. The next year, 800 Dogra families fled to Himachal Pradesh and in August that year, the Sector 9 Rashtriya Rifles was raised in Kishtwar.
In 1995, the Indian government set up village defence committees and armed them with World War I-vintage Lee Enfield rifles. That stabilised the situation in the area and six Border Security Force (BSF) battalions were withdrawn. Immediately thereafter, in 1996, a total of 39 Dogras were killed in separate incidents. This persecution against Dogras continued till 2001 claiming scores of lives, according to Bakshi, who commanded the Sector 9 Rashtriya Rifles from 2000-end to 2002. In 2001, Bakshi led a massive manhunt to track down and kill a group of Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba (LeT) terrorists who had targeted several innocent Dogras. 2013 is the year in which Pak army and terrorists supported by it felt emboldened enough and raised the level and nature of attacks, mainly owing to the softest/lowest ever response by the UPA-II government. Apart from beheading Indian soldiers and crossing the Line of Control (LoC) and International Boundary (IB) to launch attacks in J&K, in October 2013, during the first 20 days of the month itself, there were as many as 36 ceasefire violations by Pakistan army/rangers in the plains /across the IB, which Pakistan refuses to acknowledge as such and calls it a “working boundary”. By October 24, another 50 violations were added to this figure with 50 more BSF posts and civilian areas around them being targeted
with automatics and mortars, raising the fatal count of BSF’s casualties to 10 and thousands of affected Indian villagers of the border belt from Akhnoor to Kathua evacuated their villages. While attacks by Pak army/ISI-supported terrorists in Kashmir valley were stepped up substantially in 2013 to include even Srinagar, Kishtwar was focused upon for ethnic cleansing since August 2013. The author reiterated that the ISI, which engineered riots in Doda-Kishtwar then, did so with the specific aim to get rid of the village defence committees (VDCs) and thereby clear the way for ethnic cleansing. According to Bakshi, it was the first phase of a diabolical move by the ISI to further continue its agenda of ethnic cleansing in J&K. On August 9, 2013, three people died when a group of people, raising anti-India slogans after Id prayers, was attacked by another section of people in Kuleed area of Kishtwar. The army was subsequently called out to help the district administration and indefinite curfew remained clamped for 13 days.
Kishtwar Cauldron is an insightful account of Pakistan’s proxy war in J&K in general and Indian Army’s counter- terrorist operations in the grim and forbidding killing fields of Kishtwar, in particular. The author not only personally led these high-risk operations in the field but also oversaw their planning at the apex level. While providing a doctrinal overview for these operations, he also goes on to give a blow by blow account of these campaigns and some of the debates and decision- dilemmas they generated. He highlights one very painful and largely blanked out aspect of these operations- the horrible ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits from the valley and how it was blanked out from the media.
Subsequently, to stall talks of the Owen- Dixon plan to partition Kashmir along the Chenab Valley, the ISI deliberately attempted another ethnic cleansing of the Dogras from Kishtwar. Bakshi recounts the grim struggle to protect the population from such genocidal attacks and the strenuous attempts made to prevent their large-scale exodus to Himachal. It was a grim and very taxing struggle, but the Indian Army succeeded at last in deterring such attacks.
Questioning the conspiracy of silence that prevented the publicizing of genocidal actions of the ISI in J&K, he recommends that like the Serbs, they deserve to be tried for this ethnic cleansing. A valuable part of this book is Bakshi ’s reflections on the lessons learnt and raises a debate on some seminal issues. Should the Indian Army continue to treat internal security as a secondary task to be best avoided? The Chinese Army treats it as one of its tasks on par with conventional operations.
He questions the British era principle of minimal force in the context of the rising lethality of such operations and explores the new concept of proportional force. He takes a detailed look at the future and forecasts that the demographic youth bulge could lead to a vast increase in internal armed conflict in India.
Maoism is just the trailer of this lethal conflict. The road ahead is grim and full of challenges. By turns racy and analytical, this book is not only a must-read for the military, police and intelligence professionals and analysts but also and particularly more so by bureaucrats and politicians dealing with J&K.