Anantnag: The abrogation of Article 370 was supposed to end militancy in Kashmir and usher the erstwhile state into an “everlasting” peace. A year later, the situation on the ground has not changed, with militancy intact despite a record number of militants killed by government forces.
Government forces have killed more than 135 militants since the beginning of this year across Kashmir, and only a handful of them have been non-locals while the overwhelming majority has been local Kashmiri youth.
“Still there are more than 80 local Kashmiri youths in just south Kashmir within the ranks of militants. If you add foreign nationals to the list, the number swells to 110 to 120 in the four districts (of south Kashmir),” a senior intelligence official, operating in south Kashmir, told Kashmir Reader.
He added that the number was significant given the fact that the number of militants has never gone beyond 150 in recent times, and that 47 militants were eliminated in the 17 or so gunfights in the month of June alone.
“They maintain equilibrium and carry out their operations accordingly. So, if the ceiling in south Kashmir is 150, the present number can in no way be called inconsequential or small in comparison,” the official said.
The number, the official said, is also significant given the fact that there are around 195 to 210 militants currently active across Kashmir valley. South Kashmir continues to be the hotbed.
Despite the overall numbers, militancy in Kashmir has witnessed some serious setbacks since the beginning of this year. A senior police officer told Kashmir Reader that while “complete eradication” of militancy from Kashmir was only wishful thinking, the number of local youths picking up arms has been going down.
“If the gun makes an entry into a society, it is hard to take it out,” the officer said. “However, efforts on our part have yielded results in recent months.”
He explained with the example of volatile Kulgam district, where in recent years the number of militants had remained between 30 and 40, but has come down much lower now.
“Last year around this time, the number of militants in Kulgam district was 33. If you compare it with the number today, it is way lower at around 17, twelve of them locals,” the officer said. “There has been a significant decrease in the number of new youths joining ranks as well,” he added.
The fact that government forces have been carrying out operations relentlessly and killing militants at will has also made militants change their tactics.
Trying to be unidentifiable
On July 28, Shabir Ahmad Shah, a youth from Awantipora area of Pulwama district, joined the Lashkar-e-Toiba. As has become the custom, his picture was released over social media.
“There was a change, though. His face had been covered in the picture that was released on social media,” a police source told Kashmir Reader, adding that the same was the case with many youths who joined militant ranks recently.
The source said that it was probably being done to keep the militant from being instantly recognisable.
“Yes, we do have the picture of the youth in our database but then it’s highly unlikely that our source (or the informer) will have access to that. So the militant will have a better chance of moving around without being recognised,” the police source said.
Working in tandem
Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, has been repeatedly maintaining that militants have started working together across outfits. The claims of Kumar seem to be corroborated in the formation of a new militant outfit, The Resistance Front. The group was earlier dismissed by security officials as “miscreants trying to create trouble.”
“The group has been taking solid shape now. Almost all communication from militants is being done through the social media handles of this group,” another police official, engaged with the “operations” part of policing in Kashmir, told Kashmir Reader.
If you look closely, the official said, the pictures of fresh recruits have their organisations mentioned along with ‘TRF’ in brackets, “which essentially means that it is an umbrella organisation.”
Another development the official points out is the concerted effort to “secularise” militancy in Kashmir.
“Kashmir’s militancy has often been linked with religion and this effort to give it a makeover for the global audience is not a fluke. It is well-thought out,” the official said.
The official’s claims are vindicated by a recent video released by militants, claiming to be from an outfit called “People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF).” Music from an Italian anti-fascist resistance folk song plays along the length of the video, “which is another effort to give a fresh face to Kashmir militancy and at the same time lure the younger generation of Kashmiri youth towards the gun culture,” the police official said.
Political analysts in Kashmir too feel the same. An academic who teaches international studies told Kashmir Reader, “Yes, names like TRF and PAFF can function as shadow groups and serve the purpose of positioning for the international community, but they will gain ground only if they remain rooted within the ideology, which is religion, a deep anti-India sentiment, and political dissatisfaction.”
He requested not to be named, just as the police officials we talked to, did.
The academic said that this new tactic also fills the gap created by lack of large gatherings at militants’ funerals. Since March this year, the authorities have not been handing over bodies of militants to their families, citing the Covid-19 pandemic as reason.
“Earlier the funerals served as a space for militant recruitment. Now, in their absence, things like TRF and PAFF can be used as a recruiting tactic,” the teacher said.
Families of militants
Another major change that has been taking shape for a few months now is how the families of slain militants are being treated by the government machinery and how they choose to respond.
In a first, on July 19 earlier this year, a 48-year-old man from Tral, father of a slain militant, went missing and is now believed to have joined militant outfit Jaish-e-Muhammad.
What prompted Abdul Hameed Chopan, father of slain Hizb militant Adil Chopan, to take the extreme step is not yet clear. However, if the present circumstances are viewed in perspective, this might not be the last case of its kind in Kashmir.
“Women from families of militants who were until now spared to some extent are being picked up and even jailed here in south Kashmir. This is bound to create a sense of resentment among these families and Chopan might no longer be an exception,” a senior journalist from south Kashmir said.
He was referring to the arrest of Naseema Bano, mother of slain militant Tawseef Sheikh, who was arrested in June this year and is still under detention.
Though SSP Kulgam, Gurinder Pal, had maintained that she was actively involved in recruiting youth into militant ranks, the arrest has created widespread resentment among the locals.
On August 2, a 24-year-old sister of a slain militant was picked up “for questioning”, and released later, from Yamrach area of Yaripora.
“These incidents, though few, create an atmosphere of mistrust and hatred against the authorities and make sure that the cycle of violence continues in Kashmir,” the teacher said.
All said, it might be too early to draw conclusions. How things pan out remains to be seen.