It is unlikely that 2016 ‘terrorism maps’ prepared by various portals, many of which are funded by the United States of America or European countries, will feature India. But India has had its share of terrorist-related incidents and deaths, a few of which almost brought it and Pakistan to the brink of an armed escalation.
The year began (January 2, 2016) with an audacious suicide attack on Pathankot airbase by suspected members of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad. Since then there have been multiple acts of terror in India, the worst possibly at the army base in Uri, in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed in a pre-dawn suicide attack (once again suspected to have been hatched somewhere in Pakistan). Two more soldiers died later.
Between Pathankot and Uri, Indian democracy was challenged and tested in the Kashmir Valley, where violence erupted dangerously for months on end without any resolution in sight except waiting for winter to douse the fury. Around 100 people were killed and thousands injured in violent encounters between protestors and Indian security forces using pellet guns. Many were blinded. Chronicling the gruesome encounters, The New York Times said, “2016 will almost certainly be remembered as the year of dead eyes.”
Amidst the fighting, Kashmir saw a spike in deadly suicide strikes in vital installations with frightening frequency, exposing gaping holes in ‘high value’ military installations and standard operating procedures. The recently-retired Northern Army Commander, Lieutenant General DS Hooda called the situation in Kashmir a “long war” that would require a “long-term approach”. Clearly, the government has no plan or policy to address the protracted conflict in the valley. At last count, 87 Indian soldiers were killed this year. Sixty died in Jammu and Kashmir. Some were even beheaded.
According to collated data, 890 people (till December 25) have died in terrorist violence in India in 2016. That number includes civilians, security forces and terrorists themselves. However, the numbers are not in anyway comparable to pre-2010 when fatalities would be at least three times higher. Significantly, more people died in the heart of India affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE) than in the Kashmir valley. In August, the government informed the Indian Parliament there had been a 60 per cent rise in terrorist violence in the first seven months of the year with 163 incidents. The last five months of the year were no different.
So is 2016 one of the bloodiest years in recent times? In some ways, yes, but in real terms, the insurgency curve has dipped and perhaps taken a different course. For example, in some of the states in India’s ‘Northeast’, there has been a significant decline in fatalities. The spectre of ‘separatism’ has diffused for now. However, the nature of violence is slowly shifting into ethnic wars that could get even bloodier.
For over 50 days now, Manipur has been simmering with anger against an economic blockade backed by an armed group, which has signed peace with the Indian government but continues to operate with impunity. The macabre protest in Churachandpur district with nine corpses waiting burial for over a year, held by protestors demanding a separate state, is a telling signal of things to come. The fratricidal clashes between Naga armed groups and fresh calibrated attacks along the Indo-Myanmar border on security forces are worrying. Bodoland in Assam is still unstable with deepening ethnic and communal fault lines accompanied with arms. Assam may be calmer, but the job of addressing the sub national insurrections remains unfinished. The fact that the region is still under an emergency act (Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958) for 60 years goes to show the government’s approach to address grievances – just brute force – hasn’t changed.
In the Maoist corridor, the security forces have finally gained some ground after a successful operation in the ‘liberated zone’ of the guerillas. The alleged encounter in Malkangiri district of Odisha hit the Maoist leadership and could tip the balance in the relentless battle of dominance over India’s mineral rich areas.
But caught in the war between the government forces and the Maoists, local tribes are been targeted by the guerillas and harassed by the government. In Chhattisgarh, civilians are intimidated by government agencies, a violence that in turn feeds the Maoist movement. Human rights groups have claimed that draconian laws are being used to define ‘acts of terrorism’ and ‘membership’ of ‘unlawful’ organisations. Half a century later, the Maoist movement is still considered India’s gravest internal security threat.
It has been a remarkably violent year. As India grapples with violence in a volatile and fragile world of global terrorism, organized crime and authoritarian regimes, threats to human security will continue to dominate the next year. Kashmir’s protests may have subsided but the anger on the street has not died down. India’s uneasy relations with Pakistan and the ceasefire violations along the international border will be the biggest worry for India in the coming year. Assam’s Bodoland area remains tentative with proliferation of arms and ethnic groups divided over statehood demand. Manipur’s troubles seem to have increased in the run up to the assembly election early 2017; an economic blockade that has exacerbated the valley versus hill divide, renewed threats by armed Naga groups, attacks being launched from across the Myanmar border and the valley based armed groups who are still at large. There is no policy change in the government’s ‘law and order’ approach to Left Wing Extremism and while the fatalities have come down, the situation in the Maoist corridor with very poor development indices may not see any resolution between the government forces and the Maoists.