Kavita Suri

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A “continuous battle for ballots”

A never-ending exercise for forces in the war zone

Despite having deployed a considerable number of forces for the smooth conduct of assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir, terrorists’ violence continues unabated and the forces are apprehensive of more “violent and spectacular” attacks during the three remaining three phases. KAVITA SURI tries to find out as to why both the Election Commission and Centre and state governments have such grave security concerns for elections in the troubled state. 

Elections for the first phase of assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir might be over but the entire security machinery associated with the ninth assembly elections in the troubled state has hardly taken even a wink of sleep for the past so many days. For they have serious security concerns for the second, third and fourth phase of polls in the state. After all, notwithstanding the fact that massive deployment has been made in the state for the polls, there has been no respite in violence. With each passing day, there has been a spurt in terrorists’ violence. With the National Conference Law Minister Mushtaq Ahmed Lone having shot dead by the militants who was also a contesting candidate from Lolab assembly segment besides another independent candidate Ghulam Shiekh from Handwara also killed recently along with his three workers, chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah’s younger brother Shiekh Mustafa Kamaal and tourism minister Ms Sakina Itoo having survived bids on their lives, the security agencies are under tremendous pressure for ensuring a violence free polls. 

Having infested with militancy and already a military state in terms of security forces deployment, the Centre and state are busy pumping more forces for the smooth conduct of polls. Paramilitary forces such as BSF, CRPF, Railway Protection Force and commando units have been re-deployed ahead of the second phase beginning on 24 September. The second most senior officer in BSF Mr R S Aggarwal is already camping in Srinagar for the past so many days(as BSF is the grid force for polls) for coordinating various paramilitary forces that have send more than 44,000 additional manpower to state.  

The 60,000-strong Kashmir police is backing various forces for polls in the state. Already some 1,20,000 para military troops are permanently stationed for counter insurgency and internal duties in Kashmir. They have been reinforced by  a 10,000 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) troops. In addition to this, the 15 Corps headquartered in Srinagar and 16 Corps headquartered in Udhampur are also chipping in for the security. Besides, another 10,000-strong Kashmir police personnel are providing cover to protected persons and candidates, top government officials and others in the risk category. Each candidate has been provided with 9+1( one officer and nine junior ranks) at his residence and an equal number escort when ever he or she moves out for campaigning 

However, security is also being provided in terms of threat perception which include the chief minister, National Conference president Omar Abdullah, ministers and separatists like Sajjad Lone of Peoples Conference whose security has been raised after three of his party members  decided to contest elections as independent candidates. 

Though the “de-induction” of forces which were deployed for the first phase of polls in Poonch, Rajouri, Kupwara, Baramulla and Kargil, has already started and they have reached their respective destinations, both in Kashmir and in Jammu for the respective polling phases,  the top security forces officials operating in Kashmir consider it “a continuos battle for ballots” in the war zone. And their concerns are absolutely genuine for they consider South Kashmir more dangerous than the North Kashmir militancy-wise whose two districts- Kupwara and Baramulla- went to polls on Monday. 

“In North Kashmir area, the ethnic communities mainly Paharis and schedule tribes have always been nationalists and if they have been used against India, it is only through coercion or money but we consider South Kashmir as totally fundamentalist, and basically a stronghold of Hizbul, Mujahideen,”a top security agency official based in Srinagar told The Statesman over telephone on the conditions of anonymity. 

While all the eyes are focussed on the polls in the state, the gigantic task before the security forces after the completion of first phase of polls not only includes providing security to the  candidates, polling booths, polling agents, etc but also to the voters who dared to come out to exercise their franchise for the first phase. 

“Our worry is that the voters who came to vote, the polling agents, workers who were involved in the first phase, the candidates who contested and anybody else who was associated with first phase, would now be more vulnerable with forces shifted from their areas”, said another top official who also did not want to be quoted adding that all would depend as how much security they would be able to provide to all these people. Rest, he said, the security concerns would remain the same as they were before the first phase of polls. 

After first phase on Monday last, one polling agent who had worked as the polling for Mufti Sayeed’s People Democratic party was shot dead by militant in Kreeri Pattan area. 

“Voters who have cast their votes would still be their soft targets as they will have indelible ink on their fingers,” he added. 

What concerns the security forces most are the inputs that the fidayeen squads of various militant groups are already on the prowl in Kashmir and also in Jammu. Infact, in the past one year, both Jammu and Srinagar cities have witnessed bloodiest fidayeen attacks including the ones at Kaluchak, Raghunath temple, Rajiv Nagar-Qasim Nagar in Jammu and Assembly complex in Srinagar. Militant outfit Hizb-u-Mujahideen owing allegiance to the Syed Salahudin has grouped 25 "squads" of its cadre for the anti-poll process. The ultras are reportedly equipped with the state-of-the-art insurgency paraphernalia. Specific instructions have also been passed on to the militants in Kashmir to “steal, destroy or damage electronic voting machines at any cost.” “Attack these polling booths before polling and wherever this is not possible, destroy or steal these even after the polling is over. Persuade the voters to stay away and wherever persuasion fails, eliminate political leaders and candidates so that not many dare to take part in the poll process,” are some of the inputs received by the security agencies. 

Besides, the dreaded Lashker-e-Toiba militant outfit which has undertaken maximum number of fidayeen attacks in Jammu and Kashmir, has set up four groups under  new labels for carrying out daring attacks.These four groups are Babul Hind Force, Al Mansoorain, Shaheen Squad and Ashiq-ul-Khalid group. Besides, “Crush India” is another joint groups by LeT and HM men. 

“To thwart all these attempts , we have already taken few measures including constitution of QRTs (Quick Reaction Teams)or striking force which would react to any eventuality in case of any incident”, said Mr Pitamber Lal Gupta, Inspector General of Police, Jammu range. 

Besides, in Srinagar and Budgam constituencies which would witness polls on 24 September followed by Anantnag and Pulwama in South Kashmir on 1st October, the forces would go for more area domination, aerial recee which was in force for first phase of polls , would further be increased keeping in view the fact that Peer Panjal Mountain ranges have less domination in South Kashmir as compared to Shamaswari rages in North Kashmir on the LoC where army has strong presence, informed the security officials. 

Security forces’ nerve centres have been set up at Srinagar and Jammu to monitor the activities of troops. Troops are being ferried at a quick  speed following the attacks by militants on political activists of  various parties and candidates.  

In Srinagar, the officials apprehend an increase in grenade throwing incidents to scare the voters as “grenade blast has more impact and it terrorizes the masses”. Hence, the militant groups would try to concentrate on grenade throwing and IED blast.In Jammu, they militant would also try to go for daring fidayeen attack , also because of the fact that they may be able to flare up communal tension in view of the Hindu domination, 

Interestingly, the militants groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir have also some expertise in such jobs. Valley’s indigenous militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen is expert in grenade throwing and IED blasts, while Lashker goes for fidayeen and other spectacular attacks, Al Umar Mujahideen headed by Mushtaq Latram who was released in exchange of IC 814 hostages in December 1999,alsways goes for shooting the targets from a close range and Al Badr uses area weapons like Ultra Barrel Grenade Launchers(UBGL) 

Lashker-e-Toiba has more concentration in Srinagar city and Budgam, followed by Jaish-e-Mohammad. In South Kashmir, Tral area is full of Jaish militants and Hizbul men. Besides reports suggest that few Al Qaeda men from Gilgit and Skardu have also been hiding there. Shopian has again domination of Lashker mercenaries. According to latest inputs, the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI has formed militant alliance to disrupt J&K elections  which includes banned Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Named as the "Kashmir Liberation Army", this would be headed by Al-Umar chief Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar alias Latram, the Herald Magazine of Pakistan has reported.Zargar was one of the three militants released by India in exchange of hostages of the Indian Airlines plane IC 814 in December 1999.  

About Ganderbal area from where Mr Omar Abdullah is contesting elections, the officials say that Hizbul Mujahideen and Tehreek –ul-Jehadi Islami (TUJI) have been calling the shots. 

“Beside, we are going for more target –oriented operations and these massive security arrangements made by us would thwart all the design of militants,” said Mr K.Rajendra, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir range. He said they had concrete information that Zargar (one of the three militants released in exchange for passengers of the Indian Airlines plane hijacked in 1999) is co-ordinating the activities of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Al-Badr and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. 

For the 87 assembly segments, out of a total of 7,025 booth, as many as 4,603 booths are “sensitive” and  2422 are “hypersensitive” . However, the Doda district in Jammu has been put under extremely dangerous category. The seven segments are being provided security on a war footing . The polling staff comprising 28,000 employees of the state will be deputed for the election duty in entire state. Half of the  4000 employees requisitioned from UP, Punjab, Haryana etc have declined to report to their duties on the pretext that they fear for their lives in Kashmir. 

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