Security forces are worried about the prospect of homegrown terrorist outfits joining hands with JeM. The Army, CRPF and the state police are chalking out a strategy to counter it.
Gowhar Wani had hardly slept since her son, Farhan, 16, left their home in Kulgam last October. The police said he had joined the militants. She would start crying when she heard about an encounter in the valley, and would be relieved only after she was sure that her son was alive. But, on January 9, she got the worst news in her life.
Farhan Wani was killed in a gun battle with security forces. The class 11 student was one of some 150 youth, most of them below the age of 20, who have joined terrorist groups in Kashmir valley in recent months. An assessment says 45 youth from Pulwama and Awantipora, 24 from Shopian, 12 from Anantnag and 10 from Kulgam joined various militant groups in 2017. While south Kashmir has been a fertile recruiting ground for militant groups after the killing of local boy-turned-terrorist Burhan Wani in 2016, it seems north Kashmir is also getting radicalised. Seven youth from Bandipore, six from Baramulla and Sopore, and four from Kupwara have joined militant groups. These figures could be much higher in reality, as most families in the valley do not report missing young men.
While the security forces are worried about the spreading radicalisation of youth in the valley, they were shocked by the act of Fardeen Khanday, the 16-year-old son of a policeman, who led the suicide attack on the CRPF training centre in Pulwama on December 31. The security forces are worried because local youth were rarely used as suicide attackers in Kashmir. An assessment by the Directorate General of Military Operations in the Army headquarters in Delhi says the way teenagers are embracing militancy and turning into suicide attackers is a serious concern.
Lt Gen H.S. Panag, who was general officer commanding of the northern and central commands of the Army, said religious motivation was a reason for the growing troubles in the valley. “Public sentiments are not in favour of the Indian establishment,” he said. “Successive governments have failed to provide alternatives to Kashmiri youth and no efforts were made to reach out to them by the political leadership. All these factors have led to a rise in militancy, especially teenagers taking up arms against the security forces. I would say the state of Jammu and Kashmir has reached the level of Palestine, where youth are well motivated to blow themselves in the name of religion.”
Security forces are also worried about the revival of the Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad in Kashmir. It has a long history of using suicide attackers. Earlier, it used to get suicide bombers from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or Pakistan to carry out attacks in the valley. Now, it has started recruiting local youth. “JeM was sidelined for years by Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI,” said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management, Delhi. “But, now efforts are being made to revive it in Kashmir valley with the help of locally recruited youth. The ISI is desperate to project Kashmir militancy as a local issue.”
According to a report by the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a federation of human rights organisations, 217 militants were killed in the state in 2017, the highest in the past eight years. Of these, 84 were Kashmiris, 28 were foreigners and the rest unidentified.
Military experts say a majority of the missing boys who are suspected to have joined militancy belong to middle-class families. Posting videos on Facebook flashing Kalashnikovs, these young men have emerged as the new face of terrorism in the valley. “It can be considered a success for the JeM,” said Khurram Parvej, who works for Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. “The terror outfit had not been getting the support of the Kashmiri people. Now it is producing suicide bombers.”
The trend shows that the ISI has changed its strategy, and is no longer spending money on training and logistics of terrorists. “The ISI has adopted a strategy of recruiting young local militants, as they come cheap. And they train them only to become suicide attackers. It does not require training and other logistics,” said a Military Intelligence officer. In fact, the ISI has stopped holding training camps for new recruits from Kashmir in PoK. “Suicide attackers are not battle-hardened militants,” said Panag. “They can make the maximum damage by indiscriminately firing on security forces. With this new trend of no specialised training, the ISI does not need a Rs 100-crore annual budget to run insurgency in Kashmir valley.”
An intelligence report, prepared with the help of the local police, mentions that mosques in the valley are becoming congregation points for discussions on the threats to Islam and Kashmiriyat. “Indoctrination is at an all-time high in Kashmir valley,” said a security official. “Teenagers are attracted to the glamour of holding Kalashnikovs. When it comes to the suicide bomber, he fights with his mind, not explosives.”
Security forces are also worried about the prospect of homegrown terrorist outfits joining hands with JeM. In fact, JeM and Hizbul Mujahideen have worked together in the past. The Army, along with the CRPF and the state police, is chalking out a strategy to counter it. The Rashtriya Rifles, which usually steps down during the winter, has decided to go full steam ahead with its Operation All Out. Four additional battalions that were brought to Kashmir during the Amarnath yatra have been asked to stay put in the valley. It seems a long winter is ahead for them.