Demonetisation has dealt a body blow to terrorism in Kashmir and the number of terrorists is on a decline in the Valley, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said in New Delhi on Sunday. “Today, no terrorist can dare to think of indulging in terror and continue to spread a reign of terror for decades. He would know that his life span is just a few months more,” Jailtey said.
While admitting to the presence of armed terrorists in the Kashmir Valley, Jaitley said they were on the run. “Their numbers are going down and in a way the forces are dominating them today,” he said in conversation with Rajat Sharma, India TV Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, at the channel’s mega conclave on terrorism ‘Vande Mataram’ in New Delhi on Sunday.
Jaitley said that terrorism endangers the sovereignty and integrity of the country and it is important that the country speaks in one voice against it. Asserting that the country’s security forces were well-equipped to protect the nation from the menace of terrorism, Jaitley said that Indian forces were dominating the International Border and the Line of Control and terrorists were finding it tough to infiltrate into the country.
Jaitley said that demonetization had put a huge currency squeeze on the funding of militants and the impact was visible. “There was a time when people would come out in very large numbers on the streets and resort to stone-pelting during anti-terror operations by our security forces. This helped militants escape from their clutches on many occasions. Today, the number of stone-pelters coming out on the streets has come down considerably. Only a handful come out now,” Jaitley said, asserting that demonetisation had led to a crunch in the funding that was available to those who wished to stoke violence in the Kashmir Valley.
Jaitley said technological tools at India’s disposal had helped a great deal in effectively checking instances of infiltration from across the border.
“Recent incidents have shown that our forces dominate the borders. After surgical strikes in September last year, our forces are liquidating militants,” Jaitley said, adding that the armed forces are fully prepared and capable of dealing with any situation concerning the security and sovereignty of the country.
He did, however, mention that the enemy was constantly changing its strategy too. Slamming Pakistan for waging war against India and harbouring terrorists on its soil, Jaitley said that Pakistan had never been able to accept that Kashmir is an integral part of India.
“Kashmir is an unfinished agenda for Pakistan. They tried conventional war. After 1965 and 1972, by 90s, they (Pakistan) changed their strategy and started exporting terrorism to wage a proxy war against India,” Jaitley said.
“However, today there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that there is no distinction between the State and non-State actors operating in Pakistan. It has been accepted globally also,” he said. When questioned on Pakistan’s nuclear capability and the threat to India considering its proximity to China, Jailtey refused to comment saying such strategic issues cannot be commented upon at a public forum.
However, he did say that “close relations between the two countries were obvious.”
Jaitley repeatedly stressed on the impact of demonetization and cited the growing number of incidents of ATM and bank robberies in the Valley. “It is for the first time that the Valley has seen such a spike in incidents of bank and ATM robberies. This shows that the currency squeeze has frustrated them and militants are facing difficulties in securing funds to keep their activities going,” he said.
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The Defence minister also pointed to recent actions by the National Investigation Agency in its probe into terror funding in the Kashmir Valley as one of the reasons behind the success of forces in countering terrorism. “The actions by the NIA have resulted in the building up of a new narrative in Kashmir Valley. “The action by the NIA and the findings in its probe have led to a change in narrative in Kashmir Valley. A debate has begun on the tactics used by separatists. Voices have begun to rise against the narrative of separatists,” he said.
The past month or so has seen the NIA raid places across Kashmir, New Delhi and Haryana looking for evidence of separatist leaders and businessmen receiving funds from Hafiz Saeed, who heads the Jamaat-ud-Dawa group, and other Pakistan-based militant outfits. Kashmir was rocked by violent protests after Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani was killed in a gunfight with security forces on July 8, 2016. The raids had reportedly led to recovery of allegedly incriminating documents against top separatist leaders.
Jaitley said that people had begun to realise the intentions of the separatists and there was a change in mindset. ”The challenge will be for the local population to fill in the leadership void that will be left after the separatists are dealt with. The political parties there will have a crucial role to play there,” he said.
On steps required counter militancy in Kashmir, Jaitley said the key to India’s success in this respect would be in its unity. “It is very important for us to stand united against the menace of terrorism,” he said, re-asserting that the security forces had over time managed to significantly control the situation. However, he voiced concern over the build-up of a narrative that sought to portray the Indian State as helpless against terrorism.
“Ideological attacks on the Army…comparing them with a dictatorship…I recently read about a court judgement that when our forces battle terrorism, and there is an encounter, the officer will face cases and he will have to defend himself as to why the encounter was necessary. I believe it is extremely important that the country speaks in one voice against terrorism,” Jaitley said.
“A mentality of portraying the State as helpless in fighting terrorism must be countered. This mentality is dangerous and should be countered in public discourse…While this was not a matter of concern as it had been a mentality of the fringe. But it became dangerous when major national political parties became aligned to the thoughts of the fringe,” Jaitley said. Referring to the protests in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University last year, Jaitley slammed the Congress and the Left parties for their support.
“At the point of time when slogans were being raised to disintegrate the country, Congress party visited the campus to lend support. Could one even imagine this had Indira Gandhi been alive?” he asked.
He also sought to clarify that the target for the security forces were armed militants and not the local population. “Security forces working in a difficult situation. But they are very clear that their battle is to rid the Kashmir Valley of armed militancy. That is our priority. The target for them is not the general public, even if some of them are misled and protest against the armed forces,” Jaitley said.
Jaitley also dismissed the criticism against Major Leetul Gogoi who had created a huge row over tying a man to a geep to steer election officials and the forces clear of a mob of alleged stone-pelters. Terming his strategy as harmless, Jaitley said the consequences would have been worse had he deployed a different strategy.
“The military strategy that he applied was harmless. The consequences would have been much worse had he adopted a strategy to shoot at the stone-pelters instead. He would have risked not only the lives of the security personnel and the election officials, even the lives of the locals would have been put in danger,” said Jaitley.
During the course of the discussion, Jaitley was asked about the strategy of the government vis a vis its military preparedness. Jaitley said that the government had a clear recognition of the fact that the country could no longer continue to fulfil its military and weapons requirements through buying from foreign markets. “In the past six months, there has been clarity that India cannot fulfil its defence requirements through offshore procurement alone. We are convinced that India needs to be made a hub for global defence manufacturing and there has been a significant focus in this regard,” he said.
Recognising terrorism – both homegrown in the form of Left wing extremism and the Jihadi threat from across the border – as a challenge, Jaitley said the forces were responding to them appropriately. Discussing the approach of nations towards terrorism, Jaitley said there were efforts to “rationalize” homegrown militant activities.
“Both Left wing extremism and Jihadi terrorism are big challenges. However, there are efforts to rationalise homegrown militant activities. There was a time when this fringe thought took centrestage. Today, that thought is being marginalised,” Jaitley added.
Jaitley’s presence at the event was part of India TV’s mega conclave ahead of the 71st Independence Day celebrations. Top minds across the social and political spectrum have come together to discuss the way forward in countering terrorism, assess its impact on the state and discuss the possible means to counter this threat in the Valley. Led by Chairman & Editor-in-Chief Rajat Sharma, India TV shall focus on a solution-based approach to create an environment for broad spectrum consensus on how the issue can be tackled with optimal effectiveness.