Despite rising coronavirus cases in Pakistan, Islamabad continues terror missions in Kashmir, seeks to fuel Khalistan movement

As much of the world is occupied with the pandemic, a new war with not just political, but social overtones is being launched to denude and destroy India’s border areas.

Tara Kartha April 20, 2020 15:28:22 IST
Despite rising coronavirus cases in Pakistan, Islamabad continues terror missions in Kashmir, seeks to fuel Khalistan movement

Even as Delhi is channelling all its resources into fighting a fast-spreading virus, another kind of war is being waged across multiple points on the western front. Apart from the recently thwarted infiltration attempts in Kupwara where five paratroopers of an elite unit lost their lives, the Line of Control has been on fire.

Despite rising <span class=coronavirus cases in Pakistan Islamabad continues terror missions in Kashmir seeks to fuel Khalistan movement" width="380" height="285" />

Representational Image. PTI

Further inland, the Kashmir Valley has witnessed a proliferation of terrorist groups, all claiming to be represent the true voice of Kashmiris. And to the east, the Punjab border has become active as terror group use modern technology to move weapons and drugs. It's like K-2 all over again, with a heady mix of post 9/11 terrorist methodology.

Anyone who follows the turbulent India-Pakistan relations of the 1980s will remember that Pakistan once rather successfully ran a ‘Khalistani’ as well as Kashmiri uprising, putting the Indian establishment into a tailspin. Though that hasn’t been replicated since it's not for want of trying.

Firing along the Line of Control has risen significantly after the ‘reorganisation’ of the state following the abrogation of Article 370, with about half of the 3,200 incidents recorded after this. A definite rise is apparent this year, with 1,197 incidents so far, a figure which is far higher than the same period last year. Militant cadres are being pushed in earlier than before despite severe weather, indicating highly trained and motivated cadres.

Notably, some of these are Kashmiris youth who went across on legitimate visas and returned as diehard militants. This was the case in the Kupwara encounter, with two of the three local youth having crossed via the Attari border. That this group were able to kill highly trained paratroopers points to a very high level of training.

In actual operation, motivation is not enough. Opening fire is not easy in any circumstances when a normal person simply freezes in fear. The desperation to push in militants may be due to the high ‘kill rate’, the rather cringe-worthy term used in counterterrorism operations. Some 41 militants have been killed in the last three months, leaving some 200 plus active,  half of whom are ‘foreigners’.

Intel reports warn of a high concentration of militants on launch pads, which is the last point before they begin their journey. Incoming consignments of arms are expected to increase, with at least one large consignment seized in Keran recently.

All of this comes alongside another track of terrorist strategy. Even as of two years ago, militant groupings had become increasingly self-contained, with no clear organisational hierarchy. This was an operational strategy, which meant that if you nabbed a leader in Anantnag, for instance, you had little information about who was operating in adjoining districts.

Now there is a strategic shift. A motley crowd of smaller groups have surfaced, among them ‘The Resistance Front’(TRF) which announced its first attack last year immediately after the reorganisation of the state. It is active on all social media channels and has taken to claiming any and every attack. Backtracing of its handles shows an IP address in Islamabad.

Detained cadres only know that their orders come from an ‘Andrew Jones’ or a  ‘Bilal’ who may be directing another small group. The TRF seems to be centred around Sopore. Yet another is the Tehreek Millat I Islam (TMI) of Nayeem Firdous also active on social media, which amplifies their actual presence on the ground, which is rather restricted to South Kashmir.

Then there is the newly announced Islamic State Wilayat for Kashmir, which operates around Bijbehera, and which again has a far larger media presence than on the ground. Then there is the rather less than glorious Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent, which is centred around Anantnag. The strategy is simple.

As the noose put around Pakistan’s neck by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and other international bodies tightens, the attempt is to create both ‘indigenous’ groups and ‘international ‘ groups. At a time of extreme weakness, Islamabad assumes this is enough to keep India busy. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh obliged by announcing ‘targeted strikes’ against launch pads in Pakistan. The next thing will be Islamabad taking foreign diplomats and journalists to view the damage on its villages and cry foul.

All of this is expected. What is receiving less international attention is the activities of the other ‘K’, the Khalistani groups. In March, the National Investigation Agency filed a charge sheet against nine members of the Khalistan Zindabad Force under not only the Arms Act but also for using drones to fly in fake currency, explosives and arms.

A total of eight such sorties were flown, using Chinese commercial drones, flying from about 2kilometres inside Pakistan territory. The Punjab Police are pursuing leads towards a possible Kashmir connection in terms of the weapons consignments, which also included satellite phones, and that rare commodity, ammunition packs.

This testifies to the almost legendary savvy of these militants, accustomed not only to gun-running operations but also narcotics smuggling. The war for control over the narco routes may have led to the murder of Harmeet Singh in Lahore in February this year. He was listed against some 17 cases in India.

Add to this, the seizure of about 200 kilograms of heroin in the Amritsar area, which provides the perfect case of narco-terrorism. Other drugs being seized in Kashmir include prescription drugs including alprax and codeine. A whole generation of youth in Punjab have been affected, and Kashmir stands next in terms of the level of seriousness. Local hospitals see drug abuse in boys as young as eight.

Meanwhile, social media is seeing a resurgence of the call for Khalistan, through a ‘Referendum 2020’ following the announcement of the Kartarpur Corridor.

As much of the world is occupied with the pandemic, a new war with not just political, but social overtones is being launched to denude and destroy India’s border areas. While security agencies may be pardoned for focusing more on the terrorist aspects, the decay and loss caused by narcotics cannot be set aside.

A Pakistan that is bereft of adequate funds is more dangerous due to the alternative routes it pursues to get its objectives. Meanwhile, the hundreds of health workers fanning out to the lowest levels could also be tasked to get data on drug addiction to get reliable statistics on the extent of a subterranean problem. Meanwhile, pandemic or not, those borders to the west are likely to get more active as summer comes. Stay ready.

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