On a visit to Kashmir just before the presidential order stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status was issued, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval reached out to civilians in the valley, broke bread with them and gave security personnel deployed in the hot-bed of Kashmir militancy a pep talk.

“The country’s leadership, its future depends on how capable our forces are, how trained they are and how high their morale is,” he told a group of security personnel in south Kashmir’s Shopian. He continued: “It will depend on how big a sacrifice you are ready to make to achieve your objectives”.

NSA Ajit Doval’s choice of Shopian is crucial.

The district, located south of the Pir Panjal mountain range, is considered the gateway to the Kashmir valley. Holding this region is also important because it can provide terrorists free access to cross over to Doda, Kishtwar and Poonch area of Jammu.

Pulwama, the district where a Jaish suicide bomber had killed 40 CRPF soldiers in February this year, is just 20-odd km away. Shopian, often described as the ground zero of Kashmir’s terror, is also where Hizbul commander Burhan Wani was killed in a deadly encounter with the forces in 2016 sparking violent protests across the valley.

This is also one of the four Kashmir districts – Pulwama, Kulgam and Anantnag were the other three — that have been the focus of counter-terror operations this year which led to the elimination of 101 terrorists in the first five months of the year.

Like Zeenat Naikoo, the local anchor to Jaish’s foreign terrorists who cross over from Pakistan, who was killed in an encounter last week. Or the top commander and bombmaker of Jaish-e-Mohammed Munna Bhai who was eliminated a week earlier.

Doval’s visit came in the context of the internal security establishment’s assessment that there could be attempts to incite street protests besides a spike in terror attacks. This is one reason why there had been multiple visits to Kashmir by top security experts over the last month, right from the NSA to the chief of the army and intelligence chiefs.

Doval returned to the national capital satisfied. In a report to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the NSA said residents of the state were supportive of Centre’s initiative to scrap Article 370.