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Challenges confronting internal security

Army, CAPF and local police need to harmonise operations to prevent repeat of Anantnag incident

Challenges confronting internal security

Setback: The long-drawn-out Anantnag operation has claimed the lives of three officers. PTI

C Uday Bhaskar

Director, Society for Policy Studies

TWO incidents that happened on September 13 — the death of two Army officers and a J&K police officer in a counter-terror operation in Anantnag and the killing of a police inspector in Manipur’s Churachandpur district — point to the continuing challenges related to India’s internal security and the price being paid by the security forces.

One of the tenets of internal security management is that if there is a clear political directive and no malevolent external interference, the Army can be effective in bringing down the level of violence.

Both Kashmir and Manipur have a complex pattern of faultlines and fissures that go back several decades and they have been exacerbated, in different ways, by both external and domestic factors.

The Anantnag incident, which resulted in the death of Col Manpreet Singh, Commanding Officer of 19 Rashtriya Rifles, and others, belies the recent assessment of the Union Home Ministry that Kashmir is now relatively safe and stable.

Subsequent to the division of J&K into two UTs, the ministry released data indicating that there was a 32 per cent reduction in acts of terrorism (2019-22) as compared to the previous three years. Concurrently, the number of deaths among security personnel also showed a reduction by as much as 52 per cent.

However, this encouraging trend has been marred over the past two years by periodic counter-terror operations in Kashmir that have led to an uptick in the casualties of security personnel. The loss of a Commanding Officer is a serious setback for any Army unit. In May 2020, another Commanding Officer, Col Ashutosh Sharma, lost his life while leading a counter-terror operation in Handwara.

The Army has acquired considerable operational experience in dealing with the LIC-IS (low intensity conflict-internal security) challenge since the decades following Independence and has a commendable track record. There is little doubt that it will be reviewing the Anantnag episode in order to draw lessons. In this case, the inclusion of a police officer (DSP) in the operation suggests that there was an information/intelligence dimension that warranted such a joint effort, with officers leading from the front. Whether they were lured into a trap or compromised by other factors remains moot at this stage.

No two counter-terror or anti-militant operations are the same, but the loss of senior officers with years of experience in leadership will merit an objective review by the Army top brass. On the basis of current evidence, given the broader regional geopolitical situation — from Afghanistan to Pakistan — it is evident that the entropy of terrorist fervour is steadily increasing and hence the Kashmir challenge will, in all likelihood, continue to persist in varying degrees. From the lone-wolf attack to a more coordinated ambush engineered by domestic terror groups and those enabled from across the border by the deep state in Pakistan, the Indian security establishment in Kashmir will have to be on alert for a variety of exigencies.

One of the tenets of internal security management for a country like India is that if there is a clear political directive and no malevolent external interference, the Army, in particular, can be effective in bringing down the level of LIC-IS violence, wherever required, by neutralising the terrorists.

However, once the level of violence is brought below a given median, it is incumbent upon the government to invest in and nurture the political process so that reasonably lasting and sustainable peace is allowed to take root.

While Kashmir has its distinctive LIC-IS genealogy and the abrogation of Article 370 was a major political initiative, the return to electoral dynamics, wherein elected representatives will govern, is still awaited. In the interim, the Army, Central Armed Police Forces and the local police will have to harmonise their operations more effectively so as to prevent another Anantnag or Handwara.

The killing of Sub-Inspector Onkhomang Haokip in Manipur by a sniper may not have received the same attention as the Anantnag deaths, but the import of this incident is also very significant and detrimental to the overall internal security index. The degree of polarisation between the majority Meitei community and other ethnicities, such as the Kukis, is very deep and the ground situation remains tense and fragile.

A sniper killing a police official points to the many problems that bedevil Manipur — the proliferation of light weapons (stolen from police armouries); the assumption that security personnel belonging to the ‘adversary’ ethnicity are ‘enemy’ and to be targeted; and above all, the perception that the state government is partisan. The last strand is the most corrosive aspect of the Manipur tragedy — doubts about the rectitude of the state law and order machinery. And where the Army and the Assam Rifles (an armed force specific to the North-East) have been deployed to contain bloodshed, aspersions have been cast on their professional neutrality. This is undesirable and dangerous.

In a candid interview about the current situation in Manipur, Lt Gen PC Nair, the Director General of Assam Rifles, noted: “If I have to put it very frankly, it is not the security forces who can sort out the problem. We are here only to curtail the level of violence. We are here to stop the firings that take place.”

The extrapolation is that ultimately the civil society that is distilled into the political process must be resurrected to arrive at a mutually acceptable framework of harmonious societal coexistence, where all citizens have a sense that they are secure and are being treated in an equitable manner. That is the essence of the democratic impulse whose sanctity must be respected in word and deed.

#Anantnag #Manipur

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