|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
On April 3, 2019, the J&K State Government issued a notification that civilian traffic will not be allowed on the Jammu-Baramulla national highway on Sundays and Wednesdays (reserved for move of security forces) till May 31, 2019, the notification reading, "Keeping in view the large movement of security forces on the national highway during the Parliamentary elections and associated possibility of any fidayeen terror attack on security forces' convoys, the state government has notified specified days in a week for the movement of security forces from Srinagar to Jammu. During these days, no civilian traffic would be allowed on National Highway.
The statement also said that the prohibition will be from Baramulla through Srinagar, Qazigund, Jawahar-Tunnel, Banihal and Ramban till Udhampur. This indicates the continued muddled thinking of the Central Government with respect to J&K – kneejerk actions like this one without due thought and devoid of logic. Central Government, because J&K State is under Governor rule, and Governors though constitutional appointment, are reduced to political players, some even openly canvassing for a particular political party. The notification reflects poorly on the understanding of security by Governor Satya Pal Malik and his advisors. But such an order would hardly be passed without the approval of Home Minister Rajnath Singh and NSA Ajit Doval, and possibly also a nod from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, given the environment of centralised authoritarian governance, and J&K being the top security agenda. The decision is supposed to have been taken following the National Investigation Agency (NIA) investigation into the car-bombing attack at Pulwama on February 14, 2019, in which 44 CRPF personnel were killed. But that was two months ago. On one hand it is declared that J&K elections will not be held along with general elections, and then we impose such absurd restrictions on movement in J&K.
Security of J&K politicians are withdrawn amidst massive propaganda of having achieved a major feat, then restored in less than a fortnight. Who are we fooling? The BJP manifesto says all necessary efforts were made to ensure peace in J&K, whereas the reverse was achieved from the PDP-BJP alliance. The irony is that given the dirt in Indian politics, BJP will hardly refrain from going into second alliance with PDP, should such opportunity occur in future. But getting back to the said notification for restricting the movement along the NH in J&K, the Army was not even consulted by the State or the Centre. This anyway is in line with the BJP-led NDA II government thought process that Army's view in anything related to security is redundant, yet Army remains a necessary evil.
The fact is that the 44 CRPF boys who lost their lives in the car-bombing at Pulwama, were sent to their deaths, which has been brushed under the carpet. The demands for air move because of mounting backlog were ignored. There was complete intelligence failure. But most ironically, these 2500 unarmed boys were moved without adequate armed escort and no officer was reportedly accompanying them. The road opening was obviously inadequate as the road opening party (ROP) didn't even return fire when terrorists opened fire after the car-bomb blast. Yet, NSA Ajit Doval says "the nation is indebted to CRPF for Pulwama".
Instead of showing respect to the lives lost and taking action against those responsible in order to avoid a repeat, it indicated gratitude for enabling airstrikes against Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) bases in Pakistan and POK, which in turn achieved political mileage for the forthcoming elections. The Pulwama incident of February 14 was not the first car-bombing although the results achieved were by far the most horrendous. It is not the first time that elections are to be held in J&K in insurgency environment either. And, it is not the first time convoys have been attacked by terrorists either. On April 7, first day of the ban on movement along the national highway, chaos was visible all over. Though the state government, two days earlier on April 5, had announced relaxations on the ban like allowing patients, students and tourists to ply their vehicles along with the security forces convoy. However, many locals could not reach their medical college and a hospital on the highway. Tourist busses and cabs also preferred to stay away fearing problems of movement. J&K politicians and separatists naturally found another reason the lambast the government, although this time the reason was justified. Army has already stated that the notification cannot be implemented – their convoy move cannot be restricted to two days in a week. Obviously the powers that be have no idea of the volume of traffic of security forces and whether it can be restricted to few days only.
On April 8, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court issued a notice to the state government in response to a petition filed against the ban on civilian traffic along the lifeline highway that connects Kashmir, calling the traffic ban a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution. A division bench of the High Court directed the government to come with alternate ways and other suggestions on immediate basis. The notification issued applied to some 249 km of the national highway. The responsibilities of road opening along the national highway in J&K are well laid out designating whose responsibility is which segment. Effective road opening has been the need always. It cannot be applied to just few days in a week, especially since forces available for the task remain the same. The ban on movement of convoys indicates absurdity in coping with the security situation, fear of terrorists, preference to cocoon oneself and continuing abhorrence to take army advice. Would another bomb blast lead to restricting convoy move further? Finally, despite the retaliatory ground and air strikes in Pakistan, India's political hierarchy has no will to take the irregular war inside Pakistan on prolonged basis.