Jammu and Kashmir Police believes Jaish-e-Mohammad behind Anantnag attack; Al-Umar Mujahideen just a cover to escape backlash

Even as Wednesday’s attack in south Kashmir that took the lives of five paramilitary soldiers was claimed by the Al-Umar Mujahideen, senior officials of the Jammu and Kashmir Police believe the attack was carried out by the Jaish-e-Mohammad.

According to a senior police official, the Al-Umar has claimed the attack despite not having a significant footprint in the Valley in the last decade. The Al-Umar at present lacks the cadres on the ground in Kashmir to mount an offensive. “The attacker was a Pakistani national, Al-Umar has no Pakistanis with them,” said a senior police official. “It is obviously the Jaish’s doing.”

 Jammu and Kashmir Police believes Jaish-e-Mohammad behind Anantnag attack; Al-Umar Mujahideen just a cover to escape backlash

Adviser to Jammu and Kashmir Governor K Vijay Kumar pays floral tributes to five CRPF personnel, who were killed on Wednesday. PTI

The Al-Umar is an old outfit formed by Kashmiri jihadist Mushtaq Zargar also known as Latram. Zargar was one of the three jihadists released by India in 1999 in exchange for the hijacked Indian Airlines flight 814 and has since been based in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. One among the other two was Maulana Masood Azhar who went on to carve out the Jaish from the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.

Security officials in Kashmir believe the Al-Umar claimed the attack to ease off the backlash against the Jaish amid ongoing international scrutiny. On 1 May, this year, Azhar was declared a “global terrorist” by the United Nations.

Wednesday’s incident is a significant attack since the February bombing by the Jaish that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war. Even in the aftermath of the bombing, pro-Pakistan jihadist outfits, particularly the Hizbul Mujahideen, had seemingly attempted to deflect attention from the Pakistan-based outfit by emphasising on the role of a local Kashmiri who took to arms to fight “against oppression”.

Prior to this attack, the Al-Umar had similarly claimed an attack on a police post in Srinagar, on 26 April this year, in which a police constable was critically injured. Two days later the police arrested a three-member module of the Jaish and held it responsible for the attack.

After the arrest of the Jaish cadres, the police superintendent in Srinagar, Haseeb Mughal, had said at a press conference: “We are investigating why a different outfit staked the claim for the attack [on April 26].”

Security officials in the Valley point out that a fidayeen strike “nullified” the hype given to the damage inflicted upon the Jaish. The security establishment had patted itself on the back last year on having eliminated the leadership and cadres of the Jaish but the outfit resurfaced to carry out the 14 February bombing this year.

Security forces killed 10 of the Jaish’s top jihadist commanders, including the mastermind of the suicide bombing, between 14 February and the end of the month and went on to focus its effort on eliminating the outfit’s cadre once again.

A little over two months after the suicide bombing, the Indian Army’s Srinagar-based Chinar Corps commander, Lieutenant General KJS Dhillon had said at a press conference that “the situation now is such that there is no one willing to take up the leadership of the JeM in the valley” after its leadership was targeted. “In spite of Pakistan’s best efforts, we will continue to suppress the JeM.”

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s attacks, however, the security establishment and the administration did not seem to be on the same page. While the police shied away from calling the attack fidayeen or suicidal attack, terming it a “stand-off firing attack”, the state’s central government appointed Governor, Satya Pal Malik went ahead to acknowledge it as a fidayeen attack.

“[W]henever successful attempts are made by the Security Forces to either conduct peaceful elections or continuous elimination of terrorists, the masterminds of terrorists from across the border order them to carry out fidayeen attacks on Forces and yesterday’s attack in Anantnag district was also a fidayeen attack,” Malik observed as per a government handout. “Governor noted that terrorists and their handlers should know that our resolve to eliminate this menace is unshakable.”

Security forces have, this year, killed at least 122 jihadists, of which only about 27 are foreigners, before this Wednesday’s attack and despite most operations focused against the Jaish, the outfit has once again managed to resurface. Eradicating the Jaish, security officials believe, is impossible to do from the Indian side alone.

Furthermore, security officials say, the replacement of ethnic Kashmiri police officers with non-local officers who lack the knowledge of local culture, religious nuances, and the militancy has led to increasing reliance on technological inputs rather than human intelligence. As such the police despite having failed in maintaining a human intelligence network off late, sources said, has achieved short term success but the face possible long term drawbacks even if there were rapid gains in the short term.

Ties with several “over ground workers” who had gradually entered into a relationship with the security forces were being severed over fears of a double cross, also not unheard of. While the security establishment may or may not have scored a self-goal by booting out Kashmiri officers, what is required in the current scenario, the official said, is an approach that involved both human and technological intelligence gathering in conducting operations.

Updated Date: Jun 14, 2019 12:17:49 IST