Militancy posed a significant challenge in the year 2022 but also witnessed a steep decline with around 93 gunfights taking place in Kashmir valley where 172 militants were killed throughout the year including 42 foreigners.
Out five main militant groups operating in the region, it was The Resistance Front (TRF) – that police described as a front for the Lashkar-e-Toiba group that lost most (108) of its cadres followed by Jaish-e-Muhammad (35), Hizbul Mujahideen (22), al-Badr (4) and Ansar Ghazwatul Hind (3).
There have been 123 militancy-related incidents this year, down from 229 registered in 2021.
Lowest Active Militants in J&K in 10 Years
Around 100 new recruits joined the militant ranks this year, reflecting a decline of 37 percent compared to the last year. 74 alone had joined the TRF/LeT which underscores that the group held considerable sway over the militancy in Kashmir that was once dominated by the Hizb ul-Mujahidin(HM).
Of these 100, 65 have been killed in various gunfights this year, 17 have been arrested and only 18 are active. This is the lowest-ever number of active militants in Kashmir at least in a decade.
As per J&K Police, the forces recovered huge quantities of weapons totalling 360 during various gun-battles and raids, which include 121 AK series rifles, eight M4 Carbines and 231 pistols.
More Muslim Casualties of Militant Violence
This year, a total of 29 civilians have died during terrorist violence of which 21 were locals (six Hindus including three Kashmiri Pandits and 15 Muslims). Eights victims hailed from other parts of the country.
At the same time, casualties from the side of security forces stood at 26 of which 14 were members of J&K Police which means it is the second time in two years that militants have sought to increasingly target J&K police more frequently than other armed forces.
In its bid to stymie the support for militancy, the police in 2022 also started seizing the houses of persons who allegedly offered shelter to the militants. Around 49 such seizures were executed this year. According to police, the confiscations of properties for their alleged facilitation of militancy-related offences had resulted in people denying the accommodation to the militants.
Police also said the decline of militant violence has also corresponded with the decline of law and order incidents. From 2896 cases registered in 2016 when Burhan Wani’s killing triggered a major uprising to 26 incidents registered in 2022, volatility of law and order has all but vanished.
Police said that all major militant commanders and chiefs have been killed this year. As per the The Quint’s own tally, among the top militant commanders killed this year include Zahid Wani and Kaisar Koka of JeM, Nisar Dar, Lateef Rather and Shahbaz Shah of LeT, and Ashraf Khan and Nisar Khanday of HM.
Police now say there are only two surviving self-styled commanders Farooq Nalli of HM and Riyaz Sethri of LeT.
The Changing Face of Militancy in the Valley
The elimination of the senior ranks has also meant that the overall militancy has gone into a tailspin. With their organisational structure eroding rapidly, militant group’s efforts to plot high-impact attacks have declined.
Of the 65 newly recruited militants that were gunned down this year, 58 were killed within a month of their joining, suggesting that the militants no longer had the shelf-life required to plan big attacks like Pulwama of 2019 or the Zewan attack that took place last year.
However, this diminishing capacity to target forces has meant that militant handlers are now resorting to a different method to carry out their operations. A senior officer who recently spoke to this correspondent shone light on a trend called 'module-based militancy' where the militant groups disaggregate into breakaway formations with each module having no idea about the other.
Police sources said this helps militant handlers anonymise the intermediaries involved in running militancy. Consequently, they are able to attract young boys with no adverse past record. This has, over the last two years, led to the rise of a phenomenon called 'hybrid militancy'.
This year, agencies launched investigations into the changing modus operandi of the militant groups which involved floating “pseudo-offshoots in whose name terrorist acts are being committed with an intention to claim deniability.”
New Recruits As Hybrid Terrorists
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) while charge-sheeting 25 persons in this case, said that they key element of the conspiracy was inducting new recruits in form of “hybrid terrorists” belonging to various walks of life, “who could use their cover to remain rooted in the society and simultaneously carry out instructions of their terrorist handlers.”
In January, the former General Officer Commanding (GOC), Chinar Corps, Lt General DP Pandey cautioned about the trend of the militants using urban areas with thick built-up area for operations “as they provide more avenues to hide or escape and puts the higher onus on security forces to exercise restraint to avoid collateral damage.”
Around 15 militants killed in 2021, were not listed in the police record.
This year, police have also drawn attention to another trend which involves every local militant having a foreign mercenary alongside him all the time. “They have instructions from Pakistan to carry out attacks near religious places, so that there is some damage to the religious places and people’s emotions are stoked up,” ADGP Vijay Kumar told press. “Pakistan wants to create law and order problems.”
The Momentary Spike in 2022
The first four months of 2022 registered a surge in violence with the militants engaging in a glut of targeted killings. The victims were sarpanchs, social media influencers, J&K police personnel, non-local laborers etc.
According to police, 62 militants were killed in Valley during this period in 2022 whereas only 37 had been killed in corresponding period in 2021. 15 of the 62 killed were foreigners. In 2021, by contrast, the total number of foreign militants killed in the entire year was just 20.
Around 15,000 additional paramilitary force personnel were deployed to deal with the security situation. But as the months progressed, security forces were able to exercise control over the situation and bring down the violence.
This year, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) also proscribed many militants based in Pakistan those who are involved in remote controlling militancy in the UT. The terrorist-designates include Sheikh Sajad alias Sajjad Gul, 47, who has been accused of being behind the assassination of the former Rising Kashmir Editor Shujaat Bukhari.
Fresh Challenges from the militancy
Other challenges include increase in seizure of arms and ammunition from Afghanistan in Kashmir as MM Naravane, former Chief of Army staff, said in a statement.
Last week, the army in Kashmir told the press that security forces in Kashmir have been successful in reducing the number of terrorists while the active ones are facing an ammunition shortage.
The killing of four militants during an encounter with police and security forces in Sidhra area of Jammu on 28 December was the last operation of 2022.
Recently, the Director General of Police J&K said that almost all the militants involved in the killing of minorities, have been killed and only one is surviving whose name is Adil Wani, who was being tracked down by the security forces. “In next three to four months, the situation will be more peaceful,” he said.
(Shakir Mir is an independent journalist. He has also written for The Wire.in, Article 14, Caravan, Firstpost, The Times of India, and more. He tweets at @shakirmir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)