'In times to come this will be considered a watershed event, but only if the establishment can see the flag which is up and the straws in the wind which are flying,' says Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain (retd).
The deep anguish with which India received the news of the killing of young Lieutenant Umar Fayaz, of the 2 Rajputana Rifles at the hands of South Kashmir's terror groups is reflective of the love Indians have for those in Kashmir who continue to associate themselves with their Indian-ness.
In the highly charged environment of the Kashmir valley the separatist hold is intense as the Indian narrative is less evident.
It is people like Lieutenant Umar Fayaz who despite the challenges of being seen to be Indian, continue to meet them head on and in the bargain even make the supreme sacrifice.
Lieutenant Umar Fayaz, a young enthusiastic, energetic and highly passionate Kashmiri, was educated in Anantnag. He belongs to Kulgam and came from a poor farmer's family.
Obviously the bug of adventure and the attraction of the uniform had a profound effect on him as he decided to take the plunge and joined the National Defence Academy through the tough Combined Defence Services Examination and the Services Selection Board.
Many an aspirant falls by the side through this route which gives an individual a permanent commission. Umar had it in him to be an outstanding sportsman at the NDA and was commissioned into the Rajputana Rifles (RAJ RIF, not RR).
The battalion allotted to him, none other than 2 RAJ RIF, the bravest of the brave, who captured Tololing during the Kargil War of 1999.
Commissioned in December 2016, Umar was on his first leave of absence, essentially to attend his cousin's wedding at Shopian.
It wasn't the best of times to be in South Kashmir's southern belt and that too without precautions.
Five policemen and two bank guards, all local Kashmiris, had been killed in a bank van robbery in the same belt just a few days ago.
Two more local policemen and two local civilians had died when terrorists targeted them during a traffic jam on the National Highway near the township of Mir Bazar where a fair strength of minorities resides.
Policemen have been known to be targets of the terror groups in the past too, especially since they are highly vulnerable with their families present in home towns and villages.
However viciousness in targeting unarmed policemen who are not on duty has not existed in any noticeable measure.
There is a large footprint of soldiers in and from the Kashmir valley. This includes many ex- servicemen. Most of them belong to the JAK Light Infantry or J&K Rifles.
In 2003, to enhance employment opportunities the army raised many Territorial Army (Home and Hearth) units on the son of the soil concept.
Some of the recruited soldiers were targeted in their homes, but this phenomenon died down as quickly as it had begun.
The only focused intimidation of JKP policemen occurred through the post Burhan Wani agitation in late 2016.
The purpose was to demotivate the JKP and stop it from being an effective partner of the Indian Army. This was based upon the lessons of the 2010 agitation.
Yet targeted killings were not seen. This year the director general of police was constrained to stop his men visiting their villages. Intelligence reports do not appear to have indicated any campaign against army men.
In J&K's externally sponsored proxy internal conflict, there have been many unwritten rules of the game.
One of them was this, the reluctance to target local off duty policemen and soldiers.
Another has been the absence of engagement of helicopters.
Most elements that take up arms against the State know the meaning of low intensity conflict.
They also realise the reluctance of the State to employ its full comprehensive military power and thus like to keep the campaign at a threshold level, being fully conscious of the strong arm of the State and what it can do if it throws caution to the winds.
The stray targeting of off duty and unarmed policemen and soldiers were never with a strategy of intimidation and more in the form of local feuds.
Is this changing and if so, why?
The answer to that focused query is not difficult, but needs a rationale to fully comprehend. The answer is, yes.
The nature of militancy (terror) is changing and the old caution appears to have been thrown to the winds.
Such a thing happens when there is a perception of impending success of the overall mission; the sponsor in turn gleans victory through greater confidence.
It also happens when the adversaries perceive that there is a temporary road block in the way to success.
The temporary road block in this situation is the recent propensity of many young Kashmiris to excel in almost every field they have been attempting in the larger national discourse.
Success in contact sports, cultural events, civil services examinations, IIT JEE Super 40 and the like.
Greater success in these fields will increase the mainstreaming of Kashmiris, something India has always sought and the separatists attempted to deny.
Not only these fields, it is the inexplicable rush at the recruiting rallies of the army, BSF, CRPF and JK Police which worries the sponsors and the separatists.
It is the dichotomy which has often been mentioned, the fact that Tral, Burhan Wani's town, which produced many terrorists for the Hizbul Mujahideen, has produced more soldiers for the Indian Army.
Thus, many analysts and many of those who have links with the valley say there is a silent majority awaiting engagement, a majority which is short on courage.
A mainstreaming campaign, more employment opportunities and a slight change of heart could actually bring out the courage in them.
Pakistan, the sponsor, its principal agency, the ISI, and all those involved in this devious game are convinced that mainstreaming is very much possible and that production of more local heroes and role models may actually be socially dangerous for the vicious combine.
The South Kashmir militancy which has seen greater local content and therefore a supposedly benign hand is now changing and sending home a message to the local population to play ball or suffer.
The recent chain of events is due to these fears of the local terror groups and their confidence of being nearer their goal.
How can these trends translate into greater threats?
Quite easily, given that South Kashmir does not have optimum army or police deployment.
The dilemma of dividing attention between North and South Kashmir has kept the focus on counter infiltration for the army, that is all in the north.
The townships of Sopore, Handwara, Baramula and Pattan, all compete for attention and they are also all in the north.
There is a need for a comprehensive overhaul of the police in Kashmir. Its experienced practitioners need to shift south, early.
The army needs to bring in more force from south of the Pir Panjal and deny freedom of movement to the terrorists in the southern belt of South Kashmir. This denial has to be robust with no quarters given to any.
The possibility of this crossing the threshold by terror groups has possibilities of threats in two more dimensions.
First is the threat to the minorities.
Second is a potential threat to Indian tourists (if any do turn up) and the Amarnath Yatra.
More need not be said on this as the experienced and the intelligent fully understand and comprehend the seriousness of these.
Lastly, an opportunity awaits. Lieutenant Umar Fayaz's martyrdom may be just the reverse tipping point for the separatists who have clearly gone beyond the threshold.
In times to come this will be considered a watershed event, but only if the establishment can see the flag which is up and the straws in the wind which are flying.
Reversing the tide of sentiment will never be easy, but then Rome was not captured in a day either.
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IMAGE: The tricolour draped on Lieutenant Umar Fayaz's coffin at his funeral, May 10, 2017. Photograph: Umar Ganie for Rediff.com