The Shattered Calm: In Kashmir, Homegrown Terrorism Rears Its Ugly Head Again

14 August 2015
Firstpost
Sandipan Sharma

New Delhi: Early on Thursday (13 August) morning, blaring sirens shatter the silence on Srinagar's famous Boulevard Road. As police jeeps and fire tenders scream past the Dal Lake, the traffic stops, shikaras come to a halt and passersby ponder the same question: where have terrorists struck today? Frequent terror strikes are becoming part of Kashmir's daily life again. Insurgency is returning to the Valley after four years of uneasy calm, reviving memories of the state's dark past, making security agencies nervous, locals fearful, separatists excited and early morning headlines ominously gloomy. On Thursday morning, the racket on the Boulevard was caused by a grenade blast in a mosque near Shopian, Mehbooba Mufti's home turf 50 kilometres from Srinagar. The blast in the Shopian mosque came within hours of two more attacks in the Valley. On Wednesday afternoon, a soldier was critically injured when militants fired at an army patrol passing through the road linking Shopian to Srinagar. And a few hours later, three policemen, one CRPF trooper and a civilian were injured when separatists lobbed a grenade at a temporary checkpost Srinagar's Khanyar area. Meanwhile, Pulwama district in South Kashmir has been shut since Tuesday to protest the death of two militants and a civilian in firing by security forces. The militants, both local youth, dragged the army into a 19-hour gun battle, forcing security agencies to deploy choppers in South Kashmir for the first time since 1991. Within hours of the death of militants, hundreds of Kashmiris spilled out on the streets, chanting pro-freedom slogans and pelting stones on government forces. A local youth was killed in retaliatory fire by security forces, further incensing the people and stoking more violence. New Militancy Ominous Signs, says an editorial (August 12) in Kashmir Observer, pointing at the frequency of terror attacks in the state and their coverage in local media. 'This resurgence of violent news comes as a chilling echo to the nineties when violence was the staple of the media coverage about Kashmir,' the newspaper says. Adjacent to the editorial is former CM Omar Abdullah's warning to the state government. In a signed article, Abdullah says: 'Terrorism once again reared its ugly head in J&K this week with an attack on a bus of the BSF, killing two jawans and injuring many more. In this case, the worrying factor was the location of the attack-south of Jawahar tunnel on the National Highway in the Udhampur area. This was an area that had been freed of militancy and hadn't seen an attack in a decade.' There is another worrying trend. The attacks this year are being executed by home-bred terrorists and not by infiltrators from across the border. 'For the first time in decades, local militants have outnumbered foreigners. Out of the 142 active militants in the Valley, 88 are locals. In 2014, according to an army estimate, 70 local youth joined the militancy, the highest in many years, with most of them joining the LeT,' reports the Kashmir Monitor. According to the army, the number of fresh recruits could be over 40 this year, slightly more than the preceding years. 'Yes, to that extent there is an increase and it is something of a concern,' General Officer Commanding of Srinagar-based 15 Corps Lt General Subrata Saha told the press at a function on Tuesday. Fear of the government forces is also diminishing. A few days ago, TV channels and newspaper photographs showed several youth in camouflage fatigues openly waving ISIS flags and chanting jihadi slogans. 'They were all new recruits and seemed completely relaxed in this new avatar. Their confidence is evinced by the fact that only one amongst them bothered to hide his identity behind a handkerchief,' says Abdullah. Sardar Surendra Singh Channi, a general secretary of the state Congress, has witnessed the peak of insurgency in Kashmir. A resident of Tral, locally referred to as Kandahar by virtue of being the favourite hideout of terrorists in south Kashmir, Channi is on the hitlist of insurgents since he defied a poll boycott and contested the 1996 assembly elections. He still lives in a high-security zone in Kashmir and moves around with a police escort. 'At the peak of militancy, almost every village in Tral had a few militants. The numbers went down after 2000. But they are going up again. Just a day ago, two engineering graduates from my village joined a militant group,' he says. Channi argues that terror sympathisers had gone underground because of the diminishing influence of terrorists. But now that militants have begun to strike again, some of the hidden sympathisers are resurfacing. 'Every successful strike acts as a recruitment drive,' says Channi. At the moment, most of the new attacks and recruits are being reported from Pulwama, Tral, Shopian and Kulgam in south Kashmir. The situation could have been worse but for the tight security on the border. Indian forces have successfully choked the supply lines to local terrorists from Pakistan, depriving them of weapons and money. Desperate militants now try to snatch weapons from local police and army personnel. Get a weapon, become a member, has, thus, become the new catchline of terror organisations.