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Army ready for summer challenge, will ensure safe Amarnath yatra: Senior officer

KHANBAL: The security situation in the restive south Kashmir has improved significantly and the army is prepared to meet challenges like the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the conduct of incident-free annual Amarnath Yatra, a senior army officer said on Tuesday.

"The prevailing security situation in south Kashmir is stable which is a drastic improvement from 2019," he said, noting that recruitment into militant ranks was on a decline.

A testimony to the improved situation was the huge influx of tourists to the Valley including at south Kashmir''s Pahalgam resort, the officer said.

"We are not saying that it is terrorism-free, but it has vastly improved and there is an increasing support of ''Awaam'' (people) to our efforts and (anti-militancy) operations," he said.

The officer said the summer months ahead were a challenge for the security forces, especially in view of the expected rush of tourists and the Amarnath yatra.

"We are ready to deal with those challenges. We will take care of the deployment of forces on the route (of the yatra) as well as put additional forces wherever needed. We will be able to conduct a safe and secure yatra," he said.

"We are looking at good days ahead," he added.

The annual Amarnath pilgrimage usually starts in June-July on the traditional 36-km-long Pahalgam route in Anantnag district and the shorter 14-km-long Baltal route in Ganderbal district. It concludes in August, coinciding with Raksha Bandhan.

The officer said the threat of IEDs was real and on the immediate radar of the security forces.

"It is generally the cadre of Jaish (Jaish-e-Mohammad) which are trained for IEDs. This is a real threat.

"But, we have preventive drills and procedures in place and have IED detection devices. Defeating the IEDs is a difficult task as it is a hidden enemy, but we are at it," he said.

While the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) remain core outfits and were the prime targets of the security forces, the army officer said , the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) - consisting mostly of local militants - had taken a drastic hit over the last few years.

"However, I feel the ISI (Pakistan''s spy agency) will plan to re-energise the HM and increase recruitment to the outfit. Ansar-Gazwatul Hind or ISJK (Islamic State of Jammu and Kashmir) have failed as their ideology is not pro-Pakistan and ISI will not want them to have any control," he added.

The officer also said to trounce militancy in the valley, the security forces need to choke the ecosystem of over-ground workers (OGWs) of the militant outfits.

Referring to the recruitment of youth into militant ranks, the officer said there was a decline in the numbers which was encouraging.

"Parents form a critical component for the decline in the numbers. The shelf life of the militants is very low, and which parent will want that. The people have realised the truth slowly and are thinking about the future of their children.

"Also, education has improved which is also playing an important role," he said.

Talking about the surrender policy, the officer said many "misguided" youths have been given a new lease of life and their parents a new hope as the security forces encourage the local militants to shun the path of violence.

"We put ourselves at risk to protect the lives and property of the people. Sometimes it takes hours, even while the terrorists continue to fire at us, to persuade them to surrender. It is bearing fruits and several of them have returned to the mainstream," he said.

He said while the security forces have been able to stop infiltration of militants and arms and ammunition to a large extent, the ISI was using new ways and methods, including the use of drones, to send arms across.

"We have beaten the adversary at the game of infiltration. It is now resorting to other methods, but we are alert and will foil its attempts," he said, adding the emergence of new outfits like ''The Resistance Front (TRF)'' was a ploy to give the militancy an "indigenised tint".

Asked whether the bodies of local militants would be handed over to their families after the COVID pandemic was over, the officer said while it was something which the government and the police will decide, "the pay off of the decision has been good".

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PTI