The deaths last Saturday of four soldiers and a police officer in an encounter with terrorists near Handwara town in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district, call attention to, among other things, a difficult summer ahead. It is unusual and disproportionate for just a couple of terrorists to take down five highly skilled and motivated soldiers — a Commanding Officer of a battalion in the rank of a colonel, a major, two other ranks and a special operations group policeman in the rank of a sub inspector — in a firefight. The details on offer are sketchy, yet provide compelling evidence of an operation that went horribly wrong. On Saturday afternoon, receiving intelligence that terrorists were present in a house in Changimulla village, Colonel Ashutosh Sharma of 21 Rashtriya Rifles, Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh Kumar, Lance Naik Dinesh Singh and J&K Police Sub Inspector Shakeel Qazi, and possibly others reached the site which had a building and a cowshed adjoining it, and an intense firefight commenced. All the enemy fire came from the cowshed, not the building. Then there was a lull for more than an hour during which the team apparently decided to approach the house and use the vantage of the upper floor to fire at the terrorists in the cowshed. They entered the house and there was a fresh firefight but no communication from the Colonel and his team. Then it was noticed that their communication instrument was being used by the terrorists. That is when realisation came all was not well, and firing ensued all over again. This time when it was over, there were seven bodies. The way this operation ended will have ramifications, on both morale and operating procedures, on future operations of this kind that go on all the time in this shadowy theatre of proxy war. It is certainly a coincidence that has not gone unnoticed that though the encounter ended tragically, news or details of it did not percolate, till well after Sunday’s fly past and show of solidarity.
It should be evident by now to most that changing the nomenclature and status of J&K has not addressed any of the underlying causes of unrest and angst. Neither has it deterred Pakistan from its steadfast goals. Since the beginning of the year, in 127 days, as many as 55 terrorists have been killed in the region, roughly one encounter every two days. In the unhealthy vacuum that New Delhi has created since August 5 last year, such encounters have done nothing other than aid the impulse of the disaffected to embrace arms. As the dangerous drift in J&K continues, New Delhi must realise it has reached the point of diminishing returns and should look for ways to arrest this trend.