“We are highly thankful to the Indian government and its head Narendra Modi,” announced Saifullah, the new Operational Commander of terrorist outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, in a 10 minute video released on 28 July. “We are thankful because due to their anti-democratic and illegal acts there is now a collective consensus in terror ranks to reach our objective. Let them not think that Mujahideen are wiped out because they don’t know that this path is like the morning of doomsday, which will continue till the sun rises and water flows in the rivers,” he goes on to say in the fresh threat against the government, journalists and members of the ruling BJP government in Kashmir.
On the dark web, a new terror group named ‘People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF)’ released a forty-three second video showing an arrow hitting a Swastika sign. Three terrorists wearing masks and brandishing AK-47 rifles appear in the video warning fresh terror attacks against those who help Indian security forces.
PAFF is a never-before-heard name in Kashmir. Informed sources reveal that, like The Resistance Front (TRF) which emerged in Kashmir post-August 2019, PAFF too is a name in disguise being used for Pakistan-sponsored terror outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT).
Pakistan has been desperately trying to give its terror groups an indigenous avatar which not only looks ‘secular’, but also appeals to the outside world with the use of names like ‘resistance’ and ‘fascist’.
“Their aim is terror recruitment and attacks in India,” reveals a source from the Intelligence top brass. “This terror outfit was formed a few days ago after several top commanders of various terror groups held a meeting in Rawalakot area of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). Some senior officers of the Pakistan Army and ISI also participated in the meeting. Their aim is, again like TRF, to make Kashmiri youth pick up guns and launch attacks on security forces,” he says.
- Since mass funerals have been banned due to the coronavirus pandemic, now dark web recruitment and social media propaganda is underway in Kashmir to lure young boys towards terrorism.
- One year since abrogation of Article 370, the Ministry of Home Affairs’ report indicates a significant decrease in terrorism-related violence in the new UT of J&K.
- While there were 188 incidents of terror attacks in the first 7 months of 2019, in the same months this year, the terror attacks significantly reduced to 120.
- Terrorist group Hizbul Mujahideen has been the worst hit, with 50 of its terrorists being killed this year.
- The disintegration of separatists was also witnessed this year which was almost unthinkable last year.
Significant Decrease In Terrorism-Related Violence In J&K
Viral videos such as these are now becoming a fresh challenge for security forces in Jammu & Kashmir, where most of the focus now has shifted towards social media propaganda to support terror groups operating in the Valley from across the border in Pakistan.
In pre-COVID-19 times, it was the funeral of terrorists which which attracted hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris which led to it becoming a spontaneous recruitment ground for terror groups, to brainwash youth to pick up guns and join terror ranks. Soon after, many youth, often teenagers, disappeared from their homes to die for the so-called cause of ‘Azaadi’.
Since mass funerals have been banned due to the coronavirus pandemic –– and the policy is likely to continue even after the pandemic –– now dark web recruitment and social media propaganda is underway in Kashmir to trap innocent boys and lure them towards the path of terror.
Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar told this journalist:
“Virtual terror outfits and online fake propaganda against security forces and government is our main challenge. Stopping fresh recruitment into terrorist ranks and bringing it to zero level is our second major challenge. Third challenge has remained the lesser killing of foreign (Pakistani) terrorists. We have prepared our planning in advance to deal with these challenges and are already getting positive results.”
As Jammu & Kashmir prepares to mark the very first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs’ report, accessed by this journalist exclusively, has indicated a significant decrease in terrorism-related violence, killings and attacks in the newly formed Union Territory. The data has been compiled from the reports of Jammu & Kashmir Police, Indian Army and central paramilitary forces including CRPF, BSF and SSB.
Increasing Elimination Of Many Top Pakistani Terrorists In J&K
While there were 188 incidents of terror attacks in the first 7 months of 2019, in the same months this year, the terror attacks significantly reduced to 120. Over 138 terrorists have been killed in various encounters this year in Kashmir, in which over a dozen have been killed by the Indian Army along the Line of Control in North Kashmir. In 2019, only about 126 terrorists were killed till the eve of the abrogation of Article 370. While 75 security personnel had lost their lives in 2019 during this period, the number has reduced to 35 in 2020.
In September 2019, Lt Gen KJS Dhillon, 15th Corps Commander in Kashmir, had issued a strong warning to Pakistan.
In a widely-televised address, he had said, “Pakistani Army and ISI can try anything they want to. They will be taught a lesson their generations will remember. We will teach them a lesson better than 1971.”
The warning from the top Army Commander, who is now the Chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), seems to be coming true on ground in Kashmir, with the elimination of most top Pakistani terrorists in Kashmir.
A Worrying Trend: 110 Of the Terrorists Killed In J&K In 2020 Are Locals
Terrorist group Hizbul Mujahideen has been the worst hit, with 50 of its terrorists being killed this year. While Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad have lost 20 terrorists each, the Islamic State in Jammu & Kashmir (ISJK) and Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind has lost about 14 terrorists. The neutralised terrorists included notorious Hizbul Commander Riyaz Naikoo, Lashkar Commander Hyder, Jiash Commander Qari Yasir, and Ansar’s Burhan Koka.
The Ministry of Home Affairs data claims that there has been a 40 percent dip in local recruitment of terrorists as compared to the first six months of 2019, with only about 67 youth joining terrorist groups in 2020. Most of these youth are untrained and brainwashed, and hence, their shelf life has remained less than 30 days this year.
While 110 terrorists killed this year are locals –– which is a worrying sign –– about two dozen Pakistani terrorists have been eliminated as well in various anti-terror operations.
In addition to this achievement, J&K Police have been able to arrest 22 terrorists and 300 of their associates and Over Ground Workers (OGWs) in the last seven months. 22 hideouts of these terrorists have been busted with a significant cache of war-like stores and ammunition. This year, more than 190 weapons were recovered, which includes 120 from various encounter sites (mostly AK-47 and pistols) and over 60 from modules that were busted.
‘Minor Terror Incidents Have Been Reported But Major Ones Have Been Averted By J&K Police’s Robust Systems’
Overall security agencies claim that there has been a significant dip of 36 percent in terror-related incidents and violence in Kashmir, as compared to last year. While there were 51 grenade attacks last year, this year there were only 21. In 2019, there were 6 IED attacks including one in February which killed 40 CRPF personnel in Pulwama of South Kashmir. This year there has been only one IED attack till now.
IGP Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, further adds:
“Minor terror incidents have been reported but major incidents have been prevented by Jammu & Kashmir Police’s robust systems of intelligence gathering by Human Intelligence and Technical Intelligence. Besides conducting anti-terror operations, we have been focussing on preventive intelligence. Our sister agencies like the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) are also providing preventive intelligence. While a maximum number of Over Ground Workers (OGWs) of terrorists have been arrested, several modules of terrorists too have been busted. It is for the first time that no incident occurred on the eve of Jung-i-Badar in Kashmir.”
“The area-specifically-known Over Ground Workers and organisers of stone-pelting were arrested, and some even booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA). Village-specific advance planning of handling law-and-order situations done at all encounter sites in advance. Once any encounter starts, we block all possible access points and cut off points so that stone pelters from neighbouring villages are not able to reach. Use of geo-fencing, UAV drones and camera-mounted vehicles for identification of stone-pelters helped us arrest them later,” he said.”
Significant Security Gains In 2020
“Our aim has been to minimise collateral damage at encounter sites and that is why there has been no civilian killing at encounter sites so far. We also aim to maintain sanctity of religious places during anti-terrorist operations such as in Pampore of Pulwama, where terrorists were hiding inside the mosque but we didn’t let any damage happen to the mosque. There are also appeals for surrender made at the encounter site, from the parents of the terrorists. At the end, we have ensured that there is no political interference which can lead to clean and impartial policing,” he continues.
The disintegration of separatists was also witnessed this year which was almost unthinkable last year.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani disassociated himself from Hurriyat Conference which was seen as a historic move, and also the biggest jolt for the radical separatist forces in Kashmir in the last three decades.
Geelani had been miffed with blatant corruption by his Pakistan counterparts of the Hurriyat, who wanted to dethrone him from the top position as per an ISI game plan to have their own puppet from POK in the role. To bring tempers down and control the anger of Geelani supporters, Pakistan’s Senate, in a unanimous resolution now, has recommended Pakistan’s highest civilian honour –– ‘Nishan-e-Pakistan’ –– for Geelani, besides naming an engineering university after him. The damage control exercise however, may do little to revive Hurriyat from its deathbed.
The road ahead however isn’t easy.
Intelligence reports have gathered that over 300 Pakistani terrorists have been preparing across the border, in POK, to infiltrate India for terrorist attacks, but have been facing difficulties in infiltration due to the high level of security by the Indian Army and the BSF. For the top security apparatus, the biggest challenge in the weeks and months ahead will be to contain radicalisation and local terror recruitment in Kashmir.
(Aditya Raj Kaul has a decade’s worth of experience in covering conflict, internal security and foreign policy for various national media outlets. He tweets at @AdityaRajKaul. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)