On 18 December last, a column of Indian soldiers were on a regular patrol in Reshi Muqam village of Kandi area in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district when they suddenly came under fire from militants.
“They had entered someone’s house, possibly by force. When soldiers zeroed in they managed to sneak out,” a senior police official told Firstpost. This was the last time security forces had made a contact with a group of Jaish-e-Mohammed militants in Kashmir.
“They operate mainly in Lolab area of Kupwara up to Sopore. The present count would be 6-7 militants in the entire valley,” a senior intelligence officer said.
On 25 November last, militants had attacked an Army camp near the Line of Control in Tangdhar sector. Three of them were killed in the attack. Tangdhar is close to LoC and has been used as an infiltration route in the past. On December 4, Army personnel killed two more infiltrators in the same region. All of them are believed to be from Jaish.
General officer Commanding (GoC) of Army’s Srinagar-based 15 Corps Lt General Satish Dua said militants who carried out the attack in November were from the “Afzal Guru squad of the JeM militant outfit. The name of the squad was written on their rucksacks. They had infiltrated a night before they carried the attack on our camp,” he said.
Jaish-e-Mohammed in Kashmir
The connection between Kashmir and Jaish-e-Mohammed goes back to January 1994. Maulana Masood Azhar had travelled to Kashmir on a Portuguese passport then, apparently to unite the warring factions of different militant groups fighting each other in Kashmir.
Azhar belonged to Harkat-ul-Ansar at that time and wanted some factions of militants groups to be united with Harkat, as was already done in Pakistan.
On 10 February that year, Azhar was travelling with Sajad Afghani, a Harkat commander, who was killed later in a jail-break attempt, to help him unite different factions of Harkat in south Kashmir, the hub of Harkat in Kashmir. Both were travelling in an auto in Srinagar towards Anantnag when security forces arrested them during a routine check.
After many unsuccessful attempts, Azhar along with Omar Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, a Kashmiri militant, were released by the NDA government in return for kidnapped 155 passengers and crew members of an Indian Airlines plane in 1999. Jaish-e-Mohammad was formed weeks after their release in Pakistan and the first suicide attack was carried out in Kashmir in April 2000.
That summer, an 18-year-old resident of Khaniyar in downtown Srinagar, Afaq Shah, detonated a car-bomb outside the Army’s 15 Corps headquarters, killing one person and injuring seven others. This was the first time that a militant laced with explosives blew himself up in the conflict-ridden state. The outfit targeted the Army base again in December that year when a suicide bomber, who was later identified as Mohammad Bilal, 24, from Birmingham, England, blew himself up. Jaish-e-Mohammed had by then become notorious for recruiting militants from across Muslim countries and sending them to Kashmir.
Suicide is prohibited in Islam and its connotations are widely feared in Kashmir. When Shah blew himself up, people started discussing the changing contours of the ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir. Jaish had successfully redefined those outlines in Kashmir and announced its arrival in Kashmir, bringing Kashmir on the global map of Jihad, an idea which had political repercussions following 9/11. This is something most Kashmiri’s feared.
The violence perpetuated by the group was so deadly that even separatists groups in valley and Pakistani establishment alike had to condemn them. One of them was a suicide attack on the Legislative Assembly in Srinagar, that day “militancy” in valley become “terrorism,” for everyone outside the state.
Later Jaish was also accused for the 13 December, 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament in New Delhi. The outfit was banned by the Indian government under provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) on 25 October, 2001.
However, in Kashmir the organisation continued its operations but with minimum success. The reason could well have been foreigners fighting in Kashmir were always unwelcome despite a certain but minuscule population trying to club the political discontent with international jihad.
On the verge of extinction
The outfit was on the verge of extinction in Kashmir in mid-2013 when two of its three last surviving commanders were killed that year, leaving it with a total cadre capacity of eight militants in Kashmir, the lowest since it was formed 13 years ago, according to the Jammu and Kashmir Police.
After the loss of two of its most senior commanders in Kashmir, the outfit tried to reinforce its ranks by sending a batch of at least eight militants operating in south Kashmir. But most of them were killed by security forces.
Qari Yasir, again a Pakistani national, was killed in July 2013. Sidiq Ahmad, another Pakistani national was arrested in Sopore in the same year from Yemberzal area of Sopore, and is now lodged in a central jail. He was succeeded by Adil Pathan. Pathan was brother of the Jaish’s operations chief Mufti Asghar. Pathan was killed along with an associate, Abdul Rehman alias Chotta Burmi, in October 2015.
A senior intelligence official had told Firstpost last year that the outfit has the strength of about seven to eight members in the Valley after two members of the outfit were killed on October 4 in an encounter with security forces in Awantipura area of south Kashmir. "The militants were identified as Adil Pathan and Burmi who were Pakistani nationals," he said.
Following the killing, security forces were surprised to find that one of the two foreign militants killed was from Burma. Chota Burmi belonged to Arakan province, home to one of the most persecuted ethno-religious communities, the Rohingyas, according to police sources. His real name was Abdur Rehman al Arkani. Burmi had infiltrated into Kashmir in 2013 and was part of an eight-member group of foreign militants. He too was from Jaish-e-Mohammad.
End of the road for JeM?
Although the outfit's presence in the Kashmir valley remains abysmal, the spike in recent incidents of violence suggests a fresh push by it to make a comeback.
“But they are not carrying out attacks inside Kashmir valley. They are only registering their presence by carrying out high profile attacks, first in Tangdhar than in Pathankot,” the intelligence officer said.
“It is a game of survival for Saifullah, who heads this Jaish group in Lolab valley. They can’t and won’t come out of Lolab-Sopore belt and we will kill them before the end of this year,” he added.