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Are Militants in J&K Taking ‘Advantage’ of Coronavirus Lockdown?

Are The Resistance Front militants who have owned up to the recent attack on CRPF, simply members of LeT?

Published
Opinion
6 min read
Image used for representational purposes.
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The attack on a CRPF vehicle by an unidentified militant in Sopore township of Baramulla district in northern Kashmir on Saturday, 18 April 2020, is being widely seen as the beginning of a fresh spell of bloodshed in the Valley.

Three CRPF personnel were killed and two more left injured in the attack. A critically injured constable-driver has been shifted from Army’s 92 Base Hospital to Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Srinagar where he is fighting for his life.

The counterinsurgency operations of the police and security forces have remained unabated in southern Kashmir, where hundreds of militants and several security personnel die in countless encounters every year, despite a semblance of normalcy in the central and northern parts of the Valley in 2017. With the exception of a few fidayeen attacks, most of these operations have been proactively initiated by security forces. Nearly 40 CRPF jawans were killed in one such suicide strike in February 2019.

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Police, Security Forces Suffered 10 Deaths in Two Weeks

Claimed by an unknown militant outfit TRF (The Resistance Front), the attack in broad daylight on the paramilitary force in Sopore comes amid a sequence of militant strikes. In just two weeks, police and security forces have suffered 20 fatal casualties. On 5 April, five Indian Army soldiers were killed in a 24-hour-long encounter in which troops wiped out equal number of militants close to LoC in Keran sector, Kupwara district. On 13 April, suspected militants attacked a group of SPOs in broad daylight in Kishtwar with axes. One SPO got killed, and another was injured. Police and security forces subsequently claimed to have eliminated both the militants who, according to them, had attacked the SPOs. On 19 April, suspected militants shot dead a selection-grade constable at his home in Kokernag area of Anantnag district.

Previously, TRF had claimed responsibility for a number of smaller militant attacks in the past month or so.

For the first time, TRF hogged headlines when the Superintendent of Police, Sopore, claimed to have busted a terror network with the seizure of a large quantity of arms and ammunition on 23 March in Keran. Six operatives of the network were arrested from Sopore, Kupwara and Keran. Two of them were reportedly regular employees of the government’s Health Department in Keran and Tikker, Kupwara. Recoveries from them included 8 AK rifles, 10 pistols and 89 hand grenades. Officials told media that the network was a front for Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, which had been operating under the instructions of a militant on the Telegram app. Its commander, according to the police, had assumed the name of ‘Andrew Jones’.

Officials Claim TRF is a Tactical Front for LeT

A senior official of the Jammu and Kashmir Police claimed in a telephonic conversation with The Quint that TRF was nothing but a composition of LeT cadres. According to him, it was a ploy to sustain militancy in Kashmir and stay off the FATF action against Pakistan. “They want to desperately give it an indigenous colour. But its handlers and operators are known to us. They are all LeT men. However, they claim even the actions done by Hizbul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammad. Sometime back, there was a grenade attack in Srinagar. It was owned by TRF. When we arrested the militant who had lobbed the grenade, he turned out to be from JeM”, said the Police officer.

On its internet domains, however, TRF has rejected the police claim and asserted that it was a combination of the local Kashmiri militants.

“That’s not correct. They are all from LeT and under our scanner since long. We knew how they were recruiting local cadre and mobilising them for a deadly spell of insurgency across Kashmir. They had assured the recruits that arms and ammunitions would be provided to them at particular places within the Valley. It was because of our surveillance that we got a number of them arrested, seized their weapons, and busted their network. Still some of the group are active but we are sure to neutralise them all very soon,” said one police officer in northern Kashmir.

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Have Militants Been ‘Affected’ By Coronavirus?

Authoritative sources in higher echelons of the security establishment revealed to The Quint that they were verifying ‘agency reports’, claiming that around 20 militants had managed to infiltrate the Valley since 1 March 2020. “We have checked with the Army. They dismiss such reports as incorrect, claiming that the very first group was intercepted and wiped out in Keran on 5 April. We have reports that LeT, Hizb, JeM and TuM (Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen) are under pressure to launch grenade and IED attacks at Pulwama, Tral and some areas of Srinagar, but till date they have not been able to do anything. They are under the scanner,” said an official.

The sister agencies, according to officials, have reported that the militant handlers in Pakistan had prepared around 120 militants for infiltration into the Valley via Kupwara in March.

They include 57 militants of Hizbul Mujahideen and LeT at launch pads of Dudhnil, Shardi and Tejin attempting to sneak in via Rajwar and Lolab, and 30 militants of LeT trying to infiltrate via Dudhnil, Jura and Athmuqam in Neelum District of PoK. Besides, 19 militants of Let and HM had been reportedly given the task of infiltration at a launching pad in Leepa Valley. Nineteen more such LeT cadre had been taken to Chananian and Leepa launch pads, and were told to be in Bangus valley in Handwara area.

Dismissing reports that the militants and their handlers in PoK had taken advantage of the coronavirus lockdown (which has curtailed some movement of armed forces), officials insisted that they had not lowered their guard.

They claimed that the police and security were alert, and during the lockdown they had conducted a number of operations. “In fact the coronavirus has come as big source of distress for terrorists. We have intercepted sons in PoK telling parents in Kashmir by WhatsApp calls that coronavirus had afflicted many of the terrorists and that there was no treatment for them in Pakistan. We heard one militant telling his father that six of his colleagues had been infected with coronavirus and they were being pushed into the Valley,” said a senior official.

Cyber Cell Books Photo-Journalist, Saudi Arabia-Based Doctor for FB Posts

Superintendent of Police and head of the Police Cyber Cell in Kashmir, Tahir Ashraf, said that the militants and the separatists had been making desperate attempts to create law and order problems. According to him, they had been mobilising and misleading Kashmiri youth. “But we are very much in control of the situation. We have kept hundreds of them under surveillance. In certain cases, we have noticed that they exploit innocent teenage students. When we call them to our office and tell them how it was criminal to put incendiary, seditious and anti-national content on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc, they rue their mistakes and declare themselves as peaceful citizens. We (usually) take a lenient view, but if the person is a habitual offender and part of a subversive network, we take stringent action,” Mr Ashraf said.

Mr Ashraf said that the Cyber Police Station had filed 15 FIRs in recent months.

The last one is against photojournalist Masrat Zahra who has allegedly uploaded on Facebook “anti-national posts with criminal intention to influence the youth and to promote offences against public tranquillity”.

Officials have taken objection to the slain militant Burhan Wani’s photograph. However, the media fraternity in Srinagar has pointed out that Zahra’s photograph was that of a a September 2018 Moharram procession in which some Karbala mourners are shown as carrying an Alam on which the organisers had displayed the militant’s photograph. “That’s not Zahra’s crime. If that’s a crime, police should have stopped the procession and taken action against the organisers,” said a photojournalist.

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‘Juvenile Misadventures’ Or Efforts to Generate Fresh Turbulence in the Valley?

A 17-year-old school dropout of Qamarwari, Srinagar has been arrested and booked for running “Kashmir News18 Network” page on Facebook. He was arrested last week when he had uploaded a photoshopped picture of Lal Chowk showing the PoK flag on a tall lamppost beside the clock tower. Asif Dar, a Kashmiri doctor working in Saudi Arabia, has been booked for issuing an appeal on Facebook to the Kashmiris to rise up and end ‘Indian occupation’.

“Some of these are juvenile misadventures, but some indeed part of a concerted synchronisation to generate an atmosphere of fresh turbulence and bloodshed in Kashmir,” said an official. He admitted that a near-total political vacuum coupled with a 9-month-long freeze on employment and development had made pushed the alienated youth to despair.

(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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