Repeated targeting of Hindus in these areas in Jammu will create panic that could trigger another exodus, warns Brigadier Narender Kumar (retd).
Ethnic cleansing in Jammu and Kashmir is not new.
It is a well-thought-out strategy by Pakistan and the history goes back to 1947 when Mirpur and Muzaffarabad were ethnically cleansed by barbaric massacres of Hindus living in these two towns.
The recent killings of civilians in Dhangri village in Rajouri district is part of Pakistan's larger game to trigger an exodus of Hindus from south of Pir Panjal.
After having achieved success in driving Hindus out of the Kashmir Valley, the same strategy is being executed south of the Pir Panjal region.
The areas that are of ISI focus are Poonch, Rajouri, Ramban and Doda-Kistawar.
It is not new. Such attacks have happened in the past and have profound impact on lives of the people.
In 2001, 17 Hindu villagers of Ladder village in Kishtwar Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir were gunned down.
In 2006, 19 Hindu shepherds of Thawa village in the Kulhand area of Doda district were gunned down including an 8-year-old child.
13 Hindu shepherds of Lalon Galla village in Udhampur district were gunned down.
On January 1, 2023 there was another targeted killing of Hindus in which 6 civilians including two children have been killed and an equal number admitted to hospital with critical gunshot wounds.
The ISI has been able to quickly shift its terror focus from the Kashmir Valley to Jammu region at will and more often surprised security forces.
One must remember that the exodus of Hindus is not restricted to the Kashmir Valley, it has happened in the four districts of Jammu region mentioned above, that has gone unnoticed probably because of the numbers.
All these areas have strategic significance and fall along the lines of communication that connect Jammu with the Kashmir Valley.
It is a long-term ISI project to take complete control of the road axis and colonise land vacated by Hindus and create a vulnerability for the security forces, especially during war.
The second hidden agenda is to create a Greater Kashmir by driving Hindus out of the Chenab Valley and Poonch-Rajouri.
The irony is that the Hindus who left their homes due to continuous threat to their lives from remote areas in the past from Poonch, Rajouri and Doda-Kistwar are neither considered displaced nor any compensation was paid to them.
I am afraid the J&K government may not have even records of displaced people (temporary or permanent) from these remote areas.
Of course, the numbers may not be too large, but even if they are far and few, it is worth analysing what needs to be done to prevent another catastrophe in the Union Territory.
When I was commanding a Rashtriya Rifle unit in the Rajouri-Poonch area, many Hindu families had migrated and over-ground workers were targeting their land and property.
The situation in 2001-2006 was such that there was no one to light even the lamps in the temples in the Thanamandi and Manjakote area and so were other areas where the Hindu community was forced out.
It must be remembered that the demographic balance in Doda Kistawar, Poonch-Rajouri and Ramban area is delicate with a Muslim majority and thus there has always been pressure on Hindu families to migrate.
Repeated targeting of Hindus will create a situation of panic in these areas that could trigger another exodus or desperate selling of their land.
The Centre and state governments have shied away from highlighting the ISI's attempts to displace Hindus and create corridors of sympathetic demography to further their designs especially along the communication arteries from Jammu to the Kashmir Valley.
These attempts must be seen as a larger design and it is not difficult to assess which areas are vulnerable to terror strikes and how security grids need to be organised considering future threats to the vulnerable Diaspora.
In some areas, village defence committees have been able to do a very good job because they were able to hold the terrorists back till the security forces arrived. In many cases, the village defence committees even beat back the terrorists.
The village defence committees drew strength from the security grids from the Rashtriya Rifles and the J&K police.
Since the area has been thinned out and Rashtriya Rifles units have been relocated to other areas, a security vacuum has emboldened terror organisations.
The village defence committees though are doing a commendable job, but they need the support of the security forces since they are poorly armed.
Can the terrorists survive without local support for food, intelligence and shelter?
These areas are inhospitable, rugged, mountainous terrain and the terrorists need local support for even daily survival.
The question is have the over ground workers and supporters of the terrorists in any way been penalised for aiding and abetting such attacks?
The biggest problem for the police is that there is no legal deterrence against the over ground workers and they often go scot-free even if the police take action.
The next big question is, why are the intelligence agencies unable to gain information of an impending attack?
Such attacks are not done without confirmatory reconnaissance. The terrorists would have certainly visited the village on multiple occasions.
A huge intelligence gap does exist and the information invariably is so vague that it is difficult to act upon.
Thus, the security and intelligence grid scertainly need a relook and revamp.
It is true that every house cannot be provided with security, but village defence committees and the security grid needs to work together as a team to deter any attempts in the future.
It must be understood that people have to move in and out of the village -- at times even alone -- for daily needs and employment, hence that freedom and living without fear can only come when there is greater surveillance and rapid response to deter any terror attempts.
It must be understood that absence of violence is not a sign of enduring peace.
Absence of violence is also strategic in nature to draw out the security forces from an area that is likely to be a future trouble spot.
It was extremely difficult to roll up terrorism from Poonch-Rajouri, Doda-Kishtwar and a relapse could spell trouble for security forces and the administration.
Thus, this incident cannot be treated as another terror attack, rather it is a warning what is likely to happen in the areas that had seen some peace in the last decade.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com