As the autumn sets in Kashmir, activities of terror are on a rise in the valley. In just over two weeks 13 civilians have been shot dead. Nine soldiers lost their lives while trying to check infiltration near the LOC in Poonch sector. These incidents have created an atmosphere of fear among the locals, especially the minorities and set the alarm bells ringing within the security establishment. What has taken the security establishment by surprise is the pattern of target killings. Most of the civilians killed belong to the minority community. Some had migrated seasonally to earn a livelihood. A prominent doctor, two school teachers, street food vendors, labourers and a taxi driver were shot dead in cold blood. The pattern of killings indicate the changing theatre of insurgency in the valley.
After the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and subsequent crackdown on terror networks in the valley, the age old Pro-Pakistan terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen withered away in the valley. Under pressure from FATF after being grey listed for terror activities, Pakistani spy agency ISI devised a new strategy for Jammu and Kashmir. New terror organisations sprung up in the valley, TRF being one the prominent ones. Remaining Hizbul Mujahideen cadre absorbed themselves within the TRF. In reality, the new outfits are offshoots of terror organisations Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamait-ul-Mujahideen under the command of Hafiz Sayeed and Mazood Azhar and are operating in the valley under direct supervision of ISI. Also Read: Contestation Of Two Nation Theory In Kashmir Is Vital For Durable Peace
Narrative of demographic change as well as Hindu-phobia seems to have percolated deep down within the society through online social media channels and offline modes. This was done to create a deep ideological and a religious divide between the muslim majority Kashmiri populace with mainland Indians. Its purpose was to radicalise the youth in the name of religion and to create a sense of insecurity into the minds of local population. Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, taking away of jobs, restrictions in practising religious freedom, land grab and business disempowerment of local population were the key narratives. The young minds were conditioned for the next stage of violence.
As Afghanistan has fallen under the control of Taliban after the American withdrawal, Pakistani establishment has now shifted its focus completely on the region of Jammu and Kashmir. With the perceived sense of victory in Afghanistan by ISI backed Taliban and laced with a large number of weapons cache which the Americans left behind, Pakistani establishment has found itself in a position of advantage to further fuel terrorism in the valley. They have the men and the arms to spare for the region. Hence infiltration attempts since last year has increased along the LOC. The arms smuggled through LOC and international border has increased considerably. Indian forces have been on high alert and thawed many such attempts, but the spike in terror activities recently indicate that fresh arms and ammunition has been successfully smuggled into the valley.
The modus operandi of these terror outfits has also changed. The strategy is two pronged. First one is to carry out soft killings to spread widespread fear among the minorities and seasonal migrant workers, hence scuttling any chance of return of Kashmiri Pandits to their homes and also to deter seasonal migrant workers to permanently stay back in the valley. The other sub-objective is of political nature. With BJP in power in the centre, and grass root political empowerment its key objective for Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan would disrupt any such large scale political activity with a large public participation. With below par performance for the conventional parties like JKNC and PDP in the last held DDC elections and the rise of parties like JKAP and JKPC, the hawks within are worried of BJP further consolidating its political grip in Jammu and Kashmir with the help of smaller newer parties. Hence to deter any such activities, there is a high probability of continued political killings as well.
Radicalisation is widespread in the valley and TRF has been able to cash on to the increased radicalisation among the youth in Kashmir. It has recruited young boys in its cadre and have arranged them in numerous small sleeper cells within the Srinagar city and adjoining districts. These young boys are primarily in their late teens and have been tasked to carry out soft killings in the valley. Most of these youth are armed with pistols and after carrying out the assassinations mingle back with the crowd. Unlike earlier, where a recruit would declare joining terrorists ranks on social media, the new age recruits hardly make their joining public. They don’t go missing from their homes or localities as well. Thus to have a credible estimate numbers of such operatives isn’t easy. They carry out a recce of the potential targets at the behest of the hardened terrorists and if required carry out small attacks. Incidents of grenade lobbying, which has gone up in Srinagar city especially in the downtown region, are examples of such modus operandi. Hence the conventional way of keeping a track of the terrorist numbers isn’t sufficient to track terror operatives in the valley at present. Also Read: The Hybrid Terrorist And The Change In Terror Tactics
The other strategy is to push heavily armed and trained terrorists from across the border to carry out heavy consolidated attacks on security establishments and high value targets. Hence the mix of conventional and hybrid forms of fighting in Kashmir is being renewed by Pakistan. As per intelligence agencies there are 45-60 foreign terrorists present in North Kashmir alone. This year alone more than 35 infiltration attempts have been made by Pakistani terrorists along the LOC. Most of them were repelled by the Indian Army but some have been successful. Uri and Bandipora sector in the North and Poonch sector have been very active recently where in multiple attempts were made by the infiltrators. Going by the estimates more than 85 foreign terrorists are active within the valley, with more trying to infiltrate before the passes close with the winter snowfall this year. The recent firefight in Poonch sector is the deadliest since 2009 when six army jawans including an officer got killed while fighting terrorists in that region.
In 2003, Indian Army launched operation Sarp-Vinash and Operation Hill Kaka to flush out the terrorists who had infiltrated then in large numbers in Poonch sector. The situation could develop into something similar by the end of this year or early next year when the passes open up again as Pakistan would push large number of terrorists into the region. The difference this time could be that such an operation might have to be carried out at multiple locations along the LOC. Though the Indian Army has robust anti infiltration grid to halt any such attempt but the availability of numbers of men lie with Pakistan. Indian army would have to dig its boots deep all along LOC and its adjoining areas to prevent such infiltrations.
With assembly elections scheduled next year, the security scenario in the valley is precarious. The recent heightened activities indicate a fresh and a deadly phase of violence. The encounters between the security forces and the terrorists have increased in the valley. And for each terrorist killed, there are others ready to fill in. Hence this cycle won’t break easily. For the police and security agencies, the major challenge to thaw any terror attack would be to keep its human intelligence grid robust. The standard operational process needs a revisit. The task for the administration and security agencies is cut out. Ensuring safety of civilians and calming the minorities should be the top priority of the administration, while bringing down terrorists and their networks remain the main challenge for the security establishment.
(Raja Muneeb is a freelance columnist and political analyst)
[Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs, and views expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this website are personal.]