As per agencies’ assessment, the killing and attacks will increase, especially by the yearend as the Centre moves towards conducting polls in J&K.
New Delhi: In June 2015, a group picture of 11 terrorists, led by Hizbul-Mujahideen (HM) “commander” Burhan Wani, was deliberately made viral on Facebook and local WhatsApp groups across the Kashmir valley as a well-conceived strategy of planners in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), who were stationed at its sprawling headquarters near the Aabpara market, Islamabad, overlooking the Khayaban-E-Suhrawardy road that is named after the Kolkata-born Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who went on to become the Prime minister of Pakistan and someone who is also referred to as the “Butcher of Bengal” for the role that he played in orchestrating the August 1946 killings in Kolkata when he was the CM of Bengal.
Before June 2015, the police stations of Kashmir and army offices, where anti-terror operations were planned before being executed on the ground, were depended on mug-shots and old passport picture to identify Kashmiri youths who had joined terror groups, mostly, the HM and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.
Till that time, the new recruits would “disappear” for months before the security forces would realise that they had joined a terror group. The information of them joining these tanzeems, as these terror groups are referred to locally, would reach the agencies mostly through informers, sometimes through anxious parents, but never through the recruit himself.
Hence, the 2015 June picture, where all the individuals but one, were unmasked, carrying automatic guns, wearing army fatigues as they smiled at the mobile phone lens that was clicking them- became “viral”. They wanted themselves to be seen by agencies, the people in Delhi, the world and most importantly, the local people of Kashmir, especially the youth.
The strategy behind this new design, as it emerged soon, which was weaved by the ISI, was to paint these terrorists as “rebels”, the Kashmiri Che Guevara and then turn them into recruiters. The plan was a grand success, as more and more youth, inspired by the gun totting, cricket playing and living a life of a vagabond that was challenging the entire Indian establishment including the army, started joining these terror groups, announcement of which would be done through WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages.
By the time Saddam Padder, the last terrorist from the viral picture, was killed in May 2018, the Islamabad-based masterminds of this strategy had achieved what they wanted to. The one surviving member of the picture, Tariq Pandit, had surrendered soon after the encounter of Wani which was carried out in July 2016.
The words spoken in February 2018, by the then state chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, inside the state’s Assembly was a testament to the success that the grand plan had achieved. As per Mufti, in 2017, 126 youths joined “militancy”, the number of which was 88 in 2016—a sharp increase of 44%. 2017 emerged as the year of the highest recruitment since 2010, when such datasets first started being recorded. The number was 66 in 2015. It was in the low 20s in early 2010 and went down to 16 in 2013. It started slowing an upward trend from 2014 (53) and 2015 (66).
When these numbers and the impact of the viral photos reached Delhi, the army was asked one thing: to stop these recruitments, for which it was necessary to ensure that the existing terrorists are eliminated and a message goes to the youth of Kashmir that the shelf life of a terrorist was days, not weeks or months.
As per government of India figures, from 2016 till June 2019, 733 terrorists were killed by the security forces in the state; 257 were killed in 2018, 213 in 2017, 150 in 2016 and 113 terrorists were killed between January and June 2019. This large-scale focused elimination led to the stoppage of the vast “supply” of cannon fodder by way of youth to terror groups that they were getting till then.
The new wave
However, six years after the elimination of Wani, the security agencies have now flagged a trend that is new but something that they had seen in the past, that of “dark recruitment”. According to officials privy to these developments, recruitments of local youths have increased and the only difference this time is that people are joining the tanzeems under the cover of secrecy and darkness.
“The recruitment is happening at different places. It is being done silently and unlike the previous times, no pictures or videos of those who are joining these groups are being clicked or shared online. The security agencies—especially the local police—need to start focusing on this issue,” a Delhi-based official who is associated with one of the agencies that is at the forefront of identifying the recruits, said.
This is being done to ensure that the recruits survive to carry out multiple operations and are not easily identified by the informers and intelligence agencies. “Earlier, it was about dying a hero’s death whose funeral will be attended by thousands, now it is about guerrilla warfare—doing the maximum damage and waking up alive the next morning,” another officer with an intelligence agency said.
According to him, these youths take allegiance to the group, carry out the task assigned to them and then go silent, while carrying out their daily routine. “The number is significant; the people and media not talking about it does not mean that recruitment is not happening. The official spokespersons and officers will deny that recruitment has increased, but that is not the truth. Not all those who are killing unarmed citizens are coming from Pakistan,” the officer told The Sunday Guardian.
As per the assessment by these agencies, the killing and attacks will increase in the coming months, especially by the year end as the central government moves towards conducting elections in the state. In the six months’ time period between January and June 2022, 125 terrorists have been killed and 123 arrested by the security forces. This massive number in itself indicates that almost 250 terrorists have been tackled this year. “We are looking at 250 individuals who were identified and stopped, one way or the other. This number in itself indicates the increasing number of those who are taking up arms,” the officer added. As per government figures, by the end of June, 82 foreign Pakistani and 59 local terrorists were active in the state. During the same time period, 69 local Kashmiri had joined these groups. The corresponding number in 2021 was 142 and 181 in 2020.