Jammu and Kashmir minus status, toll still high

Casualties seem to have risen sharply among security forces in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh in the first full year after the scrapping of the special status, challenging the government’s projection of the move as a panacea for the region’s problems.

Police intelligence data accessed by The Telegraph suggest that violent deaths increased almost 38 per cent among security force personnel, from 129 in 2019 to 178 in 2020.

These figures include the casualties from both combat and non-combat violence – such as suicides, fratricidal killings and accidents – as well as the deaths in Ladakh from the Chinese intrusion.

While the army’s figures show a decline in violent deaths, from 99 in 2019 to 86 in 2020, they do not include the non-combat casualties or the Ladakh toll.

Figures available with police intelligence show that 178 security force and police personnel were killed last year, 112 in combat and 66 in non-combat violence.

Non-combat violence such as suicides or attacks on colleagues or officers is largely a result of stress, suggesting the August 5, 2019, decisions have not eased the pressure on the forces. Some of the stress may, however, have been a result of the Covid-related restrictions on leave and movement.

Of the 66 non-combat deaths, the report says, 35 were suicides – apparently the highest in 10 years.

Among the 112 killed in combat, 35 died in hit-and-run militant attacks, the police intelligence report says. Another 31 died in firing from across the Line of Control, 26 in gunfights with militants and 20 in clashes with the Chinese army in Ladakh.

The standoff along the Line of Actual Control is seen widely as a fallout of the scrapping of Article 370 provisions and bifurcation of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state into two Union Territories. It is believed that the move to bring Ladakh directly under the Centre’s administration angered Beijing, which lays claim to the area.

The casualties in Pakistani shelling too are perceived to be a consequence of increased hostilities between the two countries following the August 2019 decisions.

Army figures show 86 deaths among all the security forces across Jammu and Kashmir in militant attacks or cross-border shelling. Two of the army’s dead were colonels.

One of them, Colonel Santosh Babu, was among the 20 soldiers killed in the Galwan Valley clash with Chinese troops on June 15 last year.

The Valley was no less hostile to the forces, who lost Colonel Ashutosh Sharma of 21 Rashtriya Rifles, Major Anuj Sood and three jawans in one of the deadliest gunfights in May in north Kashmir.

Earlier in April, the army had lost five members of the elite special forces during a four-day operation in the Keran sector of Kupwara.

The police intelligence figures show that the two Union Territories witnessed more than 460 conflict-related causalities in 2020, against 368 in 2019, marking a 25 per cent surge.

Among the dead were 221 militants, of whom at least 176 were local and at least 30 were foreigners. The militants lost 40 commanders, including two operational chiefs from the Hizbul Mujahideen and one from the Jaish-e-Mohammed. Both the police and army figures put the militant casualties at 221, against 159 the year before.

The only solace has been a decline in civilian killings, from 80 in 2019 to 68 in 2020. (Agency)

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