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After a two-year lull, violence bares its fangs in Kashmir

Even a severe clampdown has not come in the way of the emergence of new anti-India groups in the Union Territory

October 12, 2021 / 06:04 PM IST
Developments in Afghanistan could have emboldened militant elements in Kashmir

Developments in Afghanistan could have emboldened militant elements in Kashmir


Has the much-predicted Afghanistan syndrome made its presence felt in the Kashmir Valley sooner than expected?


A spate of murderous attacks on members of the minority community, and an exchange of fire which claimed five military lives in Jammu’s Surankote area this week, has brought home the fears of violence alive in a region that was thought to be peaceful since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019.


Now suddenly, out of the blue, the emergence of new groups and individuals in the troubled Kashmir Valley and its adjoining areas have caught the attention of security experts and politicians alike.


In a major crackdown on the terror ecosystem in Jammu and Kashmir, conducted by the police and security forces after a succession of civilian killings, more than 430 alleged overground workers (OGWs) associated with terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have been detained and are being questioned on their links and their support in the recent attacks.


In what appears to be targeted killings, the suspects were picked up from across the Valley, mainly from Srinagar, Anantnag, Kulgam and Shopian.

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Neo recruits


Preliminary investigations carried out by the NIA suggest that the local terrorists behind the killings were mostly neo-recruits and `hybrid’ extremists lured by handlers, including those from Pakistan, and from new, little known organisations called The Resistance Front and Geelani Force.


Says Wajahat Habibullah, author, former chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities and a civil servant who has served in Kashmir: ``The situation is grave. I remember 1990 when I was posted as commissioner. The beginning of militancy was marked by attacks on minorities, who then began leaving the Valley. That is precisely what is happening now.’’


In his estimate, while most analysts concluded that things were improving in the Valley, in reality they were deteriorating.  ``That is what the Yashwant Sinha report said. Look at the two frontiers and the developments there – Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will surely exploit the situation in the Kashmir Valley,” Habibullah told Moneycontrol.


Prakash Singh, former head of the BSF and an ex-chief of two police forces, UP and Bengal, says that the strategy appears to select people not on the police or security radar, to execute the crimes.


``There are new terminologies and groups that have emerged. The current Hurriyat chief in Kashmir, Masrat Alam, is a known ISI agent and the determination appears to keep the pot boiling,” he says.


Singh believes that it is also likely that the developments in Afghanistan have emboldened elements, who now feel they can replicate the scene in Kashmir.


In his estimation, however, while abrogating Article 370 has been good and other moves like creating a Union Territory out of Ladakh are long standing and legitimate moves, it is difficult to appreciate the logic of reducing the status of Kashmir from a state to a Union territory. ``What could the government possibly gain from it? Deploying forces can never be a long-term solution. It is important that life returns to normal in Kashmir, ‘’ he told Moneycontrol.


The NIA continues to conduct raids at different locations in Srinagar, Anantnag and other places and is probing the notorious ISIS `Voice of Hind case’, which relates to the recruitment of Muslim youth in the country through online hostile propaganda.


Cycle of escalation?


Some counter-terrorism experts like Ajai Sahni, Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, believes that there is a cycle of escalation on both sides. The government is unable to protect Kashmiri pandits, despite several pronouncements. Up to 25,000 people have been granted domicile certificates raising fears of a demographic change in Kashmir and all this is leading to wanton fears in the Valley.


``We were told that extremists had disappeared from the Valley. So where pray, have these new groups come from? When constitutional governance is given the go by, expect such polarization,’’ he predicts, dourly.


To be sure, after the abrogation of Article 370, there has been a marked decline in the number of terror-related incidents in the newly carved out Union territories.


The central government told Parliament in March this year that terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir had reduced significantly in 2020 as compared to 2019. The Ministry of Home Affairs in April 2021 said there had been 60 per cent fewer terror incidents since the new arrangement came into place.


There are indications, however, of the attackers shifting tactics and locations. Since January this year, eight soldiers have died fighting ultras in the Jammu division alone.


``India must be prepared for a China-Pakistan-Taliban axis and our security forces are geared up for the challenge. Pakistan, after being thwarted at not being able to internationalise Kashmir at global forums, is frustrated and will go to any extent possible,” says Suvrokamal Dutta, academic and analyst, who quotes security estimates to say that close to 300-400 terrorists are waiting at the LoC to move in.

It is doubly the reason why India needs to take all stakeholders on board.

Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA.
first published: Oct 12, 2021 06:04 pm

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