The Saga of Kashmir Terrorism

| Updated: 05 February, 2022 2:19 pm IST
For representational purpose only

One thing one can be sure about the wars is that apart from them being the harbingers of death and destruction; they keep on evolving. With the passage of time, most of the wars that started as conventional wars have now evolved into proxy/hybrid wars. One such war that started in 1947 as a conventional war between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir converted into a deadly proxy war, consuming hundreds of thousands of lives in  decades.

The objective of conventional wars are usually to advance and seize the enemy territory as much as possible before the ceasefire kicks in, with the gains and losses on both sides totally apparent. However a proxy war starts with an  insurgency and is expected to evolve into a fully fledged social disruption. It’s comparatively slower, giving an impression of a long status quo but hiding beneath the surface, some of the strongest strategic gains and losses.

In 1947 along with the advances that  Pakistan made conventionally in Jammu and Kashmir, the seeds of insurgency were sown by the Muslim League sympathizers in Jammu and Kashmir. The experiment started with ammunition being pushed through Narpur Gali and Tootmar Gali as early as 1948.  With experiments of  covert and overt insurgencies that followed, it was  in the latter half of 1980s after the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan, that Pakistan conceived a deadly terror based operation called Operation Topac.

The first terror group to enter the valley under Operation Topac was Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. Since the Line of Control was not very heavily guarded at that time,  Kashmiri youngsters crossed over to Pakistan for training in guerrilla warfare, with the intent of starting an insurgency. Back in the valley there were other recruits, who were tasked by Pakistani agency ISI to arrange for logistics, manage the border crossings, develop hideouts to conceal arms and ammunition and to carry out reconnaissance. A well developed command system, separating the different wings of the terror organizations was a smokescreen created to fool the international community to believe that the insurgency was spontaneous. But in reality it was a very well pre-planned and thoroughly thought out terror operation. A large number of terrorists along with arms and ammunition was pushed in the valley from Pakistan. Once the insurgency gained traction, pro-Pakistan terror organizations like Hizb Ul Mujahideen, Lashkar e Tuaiba, Harkat ul Mujahideen and others joined the fray.

As far as war is concerned, a good intelligence and ground support  is always the key to supremacy. In an insurgency, logistics is equally important, if not more. JKLF and HM, in early 1990s had a separate Intelligence wing with field intelligence units set at a lot of places across J&K. The field intelligence units gathered intelligence and carried out counter intelligence operations. In reality, the units comprised mainly of unarmed members, locally called ‘Soyeths’, later termed as Over Ground Workers (OGWs) by the Jammu Kashmir Police. They primarily arranged for logistics and carried out reconnaissance of vital installations along with zeroing in on innocent civilians for targeted killings. Therefore the concept of ‘Hybrid Militancy’ that’s in debate nowadays was conceptualized then by Pakistani ISI.

After terrorist numbers came down to triple digit figure, due to intensified Counter insurgency operations, the circle of OGWs reduced considerably. By the year 2000 home grown terrorism was largely eliminated, so Pakistani backed Jaish-e-Mohammad took the centre stage. Trained in IED operations and ‘Fidayeen’(suicide attacks)  tactics, they inflicted a heavy damage on the local populace. Their modus operandi demanded that the circle of OGWs be kept as narrow as possible with only highly radicalized cadre in charge. The introduction of cell phones and the agitations of 2008, 2010 and 2016 changed the game of insurgency altogether.The new breed of  local terrorists had a vast base of OGW network.  The touch screen and social media revolution increased the reach they needed for their strategic communication operations further more.

Although guerrilla tactics value the importance of secrecy of operatives, the new age terrorists had something else in mind. Since they were mostly locals, brandishing of weapons while donning camouflage, it had an altogether different impact on the minds of radicalized youngsters. They became cult figures who had a vast fan following of radicalized youth. Since it helped in recruitment significantly, the tactical side suffered. Technical intelligence inputs helped zero in the locations and hence an increase in COIN operations. After the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, Pakistani agency ISI once again revived its terror organizations, JeM and LeT in the valley  and started  formation of ‘Joint task groups’ consisting of one or more terror groups, crafted to carry out specified terror related tasks. The secrecy component, lesser technological dependence and shrinking of OGW circles has once again come into effect since then.

Since logistics, intelligence and counter intelligence is important for both sides in an insurgency;  it does not imply that everyone in the war zone is involved in helping one or the other side. Although people viewing conflicts from outside generally have a perception that majority of the people are involved in this business of insurgency/counter insurgency. It is actually a few number of people owing to either the ideological similarities, the money involved or any other personal benefit factor that keep the terror machinery running.

In case of J&K, a large section of local media subverted by ISI to proliferate its narrative created a notion of terror legitimacy among the masses , thereby invoking a huge resentment against the Union of India among the common people of Kashmir, which has over the time deepened and resulted in even heinous hate crimes. Same applies for the fact that numerous civilian killings carried out by Pakistani backed  terrorists are not condemned publicly.

Thus Kashmir saw mushrooming of conflict entrepreneurs who filled their coffers by overtly and covertly supporting terrorism. The apparatus that provides logistical support to insurgents are double edged swords that often provide missing links of technical intelligence and well as highly specific human intelligence to the security forces either under a compulsion, willingly or under a strategy. The  common Kashmiri  aspires for the terrorism to end , but the vicious cycle of terror spun by these conflict entrepreneurs is feeding on the lives of common people. Unless people don’t rise against these conflict entrepreneurs and hold them accountable for bringing continuous death and destruction, sadly this terror cycle will keep on consuming more lives.

(Raja Muneeb is a freelance columnist and political analyst)

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