Threats From the ‘New Militancy’ Mushrooming in J&K

Radicalisation in 2015 is giving rise to a new form of militancy in J&K, writes Syed Ata Hasnain.

5 min read
Threats From the ‘New Militancy’ Mushrooming in J&K

If a militant movement remains unchanged in ideology, content, tactics, leadership and outlook, it becomes jaded. Sooner than later it loses direction and motivation and is easy to defeat. In long drawn campaigns, militant movements make efforts to transform and reinvent to sustain energy, keep a perceived cause or ideology relevant among the populace and put pressure on the security forces which are usually in response mode. For the Army, it is equally pertinent to change with times, be the driver behind the change, not the one responding to it; that is an extremely tall order and needs a very close understanding of the environment.

Militancy and terrorism (terms used colloquially) in J&K have seen frequent changes over the last twenty five years. From a local, externally sponsored movement, it became a transnational one, absorbed Jihadi mercenaries and then got relegated to a Pakistani-led movement, with majority content from across the LoC. It spread across the Pir Panjal necessitating application of AFSPA (1990) to entire J&K. In 2008, it suddenly changed tack and adopted agitation as a mode to add legitimacy after terrorist leaders and numbers were effectively reduced by the Indian Army.

Paramilitary soldiers inspect the site of explosion in Ganjwada, South Kashmir, after suspected militants lobbed a hand grenade on an army vehicle, October 31, 2015. (Photo: PTI)

Terror strikes reduced progressively as numbers dwindled with an effective Counter Infiltration grid on the LoC, brought on by the professional exploitation of the Anti-Infiltration Obstacle System (AIOS), set up under the leadership of General Nirmal Vij, the Army Chief in 2003-05. By 2014, the numbers spoke for themselves in terms of the effectiveness of the Army’s campaign. This ensured that for the first time in many years the number of foreign (Pakistani) terrorists in J&K fell below the number of local terrorists.


Changing Face of Terrorism

While keeping the above analysis in mind, it is pertinent to point out that through the nineties and the years of the current millennium, the one strain which ran as a common thread in Pakistan’s strategy was the exploitation of radical ideology. Under this, hundreds of mosques which were ideologically Sufi in content were converted to the Salafist strain through not very subtle financing and covert motivation, while exploiting narratives of alienation. This was in keeping with Zia-ul-Haq’s strategy of using schisms in society which also saw radicalisation within Pakistan. This was supposed to be an essential element of the strategy to keep J&K centre stage among Islamic concerns.

A Kashmiri Muslim youth throws a stone towards Indian security personnel during a protest in Srinagar July 21, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

India’s counter proxy war strategy rightly concentrated on the kinetic methods to reduce the relevance of violence, it combined this with a military civic action campaign to soften the effect and collateral of its own operations. However, radicalism grew exponentially. To say that we were not aware of this may not be correct, but it would be better to say that the effect of such a change was perhaps not fully realised because of the insufficient appreciation of the non-military elements of Pakistan’s proxy war strategy.

In 2015, the tone and tenor of militancy appears to have changed. This is partially linked to Pakistan’s other two concerns; the situation in Afghanistan and the necessity to focus on the internal security situation within Pakistan.

Army personnel in action during an encounter operation against militants in Khandaypora, in Kulgam District of South Kashmir, October 29, 2015. (Photo: PTI)

Strategy of the “Deep State”

To keep J&K relevant in midst of the success of the Indian Army, Pakistan’s “Deep State” has concentrated on three things:

Firstly, continuous ceasefire violations in the areas south of Pir Panjal;

Secondly, repeated attempts at infiltration across the LoC in Kashmir; and

Thirdly small-scale infiltration and quick terror strikes in the less guarded segment of Pathankot-Kathua.


Challenges from ‘New Militancy’

  • Tone and tenor of militancy changing rapidly with an exponential growth of radicalisation; Pakistan’s ‘Deep State’ strategy focuses on ceasefire violations to facilitate infiltration
  • A crisis of sorts for the militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen as Syed Salahuddin’s dominance is challenged by a group of young and radically oriented Kashmiris
  • Pakistan’s ‘Deep State’ is likely to seriously reconsider the relevance of Salahuddin in the light of the challenge to him

New Militancy

At the same time, without too much effort on the part of Pakistan, the long drawn local militancy in Kashmir led by the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) strained at the leash, for change. Syed Salahuddin’s hold over the outfit has been challenged with the emergence of a group of young, educated, upwardly mobile and radically oriented young Kashmiris, who wish to take the movement into their own hands and give vent to their alienation. They perceive Salahuddin’s time as passé and his leadership uninspiring, being directed from the comfort and safety of PoK.

Syed Salahuddin, supreme commander of Kashmiri militant group, Hizbul-Mujahideen. (File picture: Reuters)

The symbol is Burhan Wani, all of 21 years, hailing from Tral, considered by many as the bastion of radicalism and alienation (the lethal combination), smart and stylish, motor cycle aficionado, angry because of ill treatment by uneducated and unprofessional security men; also hugely radicalised and spewing utterances through social media, alluding to his fascination for and allegiance to transnational radical Islamic ideas in keeping with international trends. That is new militancy for you. Yet emerging, finding its moorings and in terms of numbers not more than 35 cadres today. Yet, on manifestation into real world militancy/terrorism, it is likely to draw more recruits. The coming winter will be an important phase for the new militants. With the Army having effectively blocked infiltration, the residual strength of foreign terrorists and leadership is abysmally low.

A Kashmiri man inspects the glass window shield of a vehicle damaged when an army vehicle was attacked by suspected militants with a Hand grenade in Ganjwada, October 31, 2015. (Photo: PTI)

Pakistan’s ‘Deep State’ is likely to seriously reconsider the relevance of Salahuddin in the light of the challenge to him. Switching support to Burhan or his ilk is likely on the cards. Other internecine struggles within the movement are likely to continue, but the relevance of the emergence of a more radically oriented movement supported by motivation by the clergy, (Friday sermons are reportedly rabidly radical and anti-national) is likely to be the colour of the new militancy.

The price for not knowing enough about faith as a non-military weapon in irregular warfare, insufficiently researching and not applying basic intellectual appreciation to conflict, can sometimes tarnish much of the achievements gained by the kinetic route. Hopefully, the establishment realises the new threat and would take action.

(A former Corps Commander of Srinagar based 15 Corps, Gen Hasnain is associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and Delhi Policy Group)

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