January 2017 News

Kashmir Unrest: Are Security Agencies Prepared To Handle Growing Militant Threat?

4 January 2017
Sameer Yasir

Srinagar: One Sunday morning in early October 2016, Reyaz Ahmad woke up and started mopping and dusting the house, like any other day. After the health of his diabetic mother had worsened in recent years, he would often get up early, prepare Kashmiri salt tea (noon chai) and get bread from the baker before waking up his mother. Then he would start reading, remaining confined to his house for most of the day. But then on the fateful day, he finished his daily chores and turned up at the door of his mother's room. 'Mauji bi hai nearai (Mother, I am leaving),' he said. This was an overused phrase in the early 1990s for hundreds of young Kashmiri men before leaving their houses to secretively take treacherous paths to reach Pakistan-administered Kashmir for arms training. Ahmad's mother had no idea about all that, so she responded: 'Ga's khudayas hawal'e (May God be with you).' Frail, shocked and fatigued in her search, Parveena sat crosslegged inside her kitchen when I visited her house in Kulgam district in early December. The floor looked unclean and wrinkled clothes were hanging on a tarpaulin wire. 'He used to cook food, wash utensils and make bed for both of us. Then he would study throughout the day but he would never go out like other boys. I though he was missing and might have been in police custody, like other boys. But then a letter arrived,' she said. One day early in the morning, when Ahmad's father was going to buy bread, he found a note lying on the verandah of his house. The son - who held a postgraduate degree in economics - had told his mother in that letter not to search for him as he had 'chosen a path to stand up against oppression'. For the family, the search ended that day: According to the Jammu and Kashmir government, Ahmad is among 59 youths who have taken to militancy after the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani on 8 July in south Kashmir's Bumdoora village. In off-the-record conversations, senior police officers in south Kashmir would say that the number of young boys who have joined militancy after the unrest began in the Valley was less than 36 - mostly from south Kashmir, and that there was the presence of at least 250 to 300 militants in the state. But Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's written reply to the legislative Assembly on Tuesday that at least 59 youths have joined militancy since unrest began in the Valley last summer has surprised many here. 'As reported by CID headquarters, 59 youths have joined militant ranks after 8 July, 2016,' Mehbooba said in a written reply to the question by MLA Mubarak Gul in the state Assembly. This is the first time the state government has acknowledged that in last six months, many local youth have chosen the path of militancy, something that was already public knowledge in the streets of the Valley, although the number has surprised many. Unlike the ones before the death of Wani, the average life of a militant is likely to be three to four months as security agencies have multiplied efforts of counter-intelligence on the ground, particularly in south Kashmir where the writ of the state was missing for months during the unrest, and counterinsurgency operations were the last priority. 'The efforts to trace the fresh recruits have been multiplying for some time now,' Shridhar Patil, SSP Kulgam, told Firstpost, recently, 'because we have moved from countering street unrest to concentrating on counter insurgency operations.' However, despite this surge, the presence of foreign militants in the Valley has also shot up in the past few months. Sources in police department say the number of foreign militants in valley has almost doubled since the death of Wani. Before the unrest in the Valley, the police said the number of foreign militants was less than 70, which has gone up to the more than 170 in recent months. Police say the reason behind the surge is the six months of unrest in valley coupled with rising infiltration, despite a strong counter infiltration grid in place. Few among these foreign militants were able to carry out attacks like the one in Uri, which left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead in the premises of 12 brigade in the border town of Uri. This summer, police in north Kashmir's Sopore town said say the footfall of foreign militants have also increased in recent months. The number of encounters between police and militants have also seen a dramatic spike since last few weeks in the Valley. On Tuesday the police said they killed a militant belonging to Lashkar-e-Taiba in an encounter in Haritar Tarzoo area of Sopore. 'He took active part in the 2016 unrest and remained part of protests during which he resorted firing at many occasions,' a statement issued by police, said. The state government says the militancy related incidents across the state have increased. Against 151 incidents in 2014, there were 143 incidents in 2015 which jumped to 243 in 2016. The number of militants operating in region, according to police, is estimated to be 235 to 250, Among them, 107 are linked to the LeT, 89 to Hizbul Mujahideen, 19 to Jaish-e-Mohammed and two to Al-Badr. With the winter chill imposing an uneasy calm in the Valley, the insurgency indicators point out that the coming summers are going to be hotter in the Valley. Are the agencies prepared to handle the challenges?