NEW DELHI: Less than a week before the end of Ramzan, prospects of an extension of the suspension of offensive security operations in J&K have brightened with the assessment that a lull in cordon and search has helped improve local sentiment and provided a break from the cycle of violence.

The suspension of operations ensured there were no funerals of slain locals that have become an emotional recruitment ground for terrorists. According to a government functionary, there has not been a single cordon-and-search operation in built-up areas and hence no resulting casualties of civilians or security forces. There has been a 90 per cent drop in stone-pelting incidents over the past four weeks.

There has been an intense debate within the security establishment as well as in the political leadership over the utility of the Ramzan initiative being extended with the benefits of such a move weighed against the need to act against terrorists pushed in by Pakistan as well as home-grown ones.

The government has been keen that there is no slack as far as containing terrorist infiltration goes and that the Army and other agencies will act on intelligence about the presence of terrorists in specific locations.

The Ramzan initiative came about as it was felt that action against heavily armed terrorists leads to actions like shutting power and water — measures intended to reduce casualties by not using disproportionate force — but which cause hardships to locals.

While a final decision on the suspension of operations is yet to be taken, sources said the peace initiative will, in all likelihood, be extended unless there is an extraordinary or audacious attack by terrorists backed by Pakistan in the next few days. This possibility cannot be ruled out in the light of reports of the ISI being keen to disrupt the relative calm in the Valley.

However, the offensive against terrorists in forest areas has not slowed. As many as eight terrorists were killed in three counter-operations in such areas since the ceasefire.

While there have been attacks on security forces during Ramzan, these have been effectively responded to. The halting of operations, as per a review carried out by the central security establishment, saw grenade attacks and at least two full-blown attacks, which were resisted with full force.

The infiltration levels at the LoC/IB with Pakistan remained high, primarily due to ISI pressure, said sources. In any case, border management is not a linked issue with a ceasefire in force since 2003 being frequently violated. Many terrorists were killed in the past four weeks by forces manning the counter-infiltration grid in J&K.

As for general law and order, while Nowhatta-type incidents continue, J&K police have been deploying regular civil policing efforts to tackle disturbances. The most important initiative in this direction is talks with all walks of society, including efforts to reach out to separatists.

Engaging separatists from the Hurriyat is crucial since law-and-order disturbances rise when Syed Ali Shah Geelani calls for a bandh or Mirwaiz Umar Farooq calls for protests after Friday prayers.

 There is a clear push now to convince the Hurriyat brass to come forward for a peaceful dialogue. An intelligence representative had gone to meet Geelani a couple of months ago in this regard. Geelani refused at the time but attempts are on to bring him around.

The bid to open a dialogue through a special representative is seen to have delivered some gains with measures like amnesty to first-time stone-pelters.
Courtesy: TOI