Jammu and Kashmir saw more killings of jihadists, but also more local recruits in 2018; new year to bring new challenges

In Jammu and Kashmir, the beginning of the year 2018 had a rather disturbing surprise. A 16-year-old Kashmiri jihadist was killed in a 36 hour-long standoff with security forces at a paramilitary training centre in south Kashmir. The incident painted a grim picture of the coming year, as Kashmiri jihadists aren’t known for their fighting capabilities.

As 2018 comes to a close, the security establishment is confident and buoyed by its “successes” this year. The security establishment has based its success entirely on the number of jihadists killed this year – at least 266, the highest in the last seven years – and the killing of prominent jihadists that the police believes were recruiters. Their killing, according to the police, has brought recruitment down to single digits.

According to the figures compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, the number of jihadists killed till 23 December, 2018 stands at 265; comparable to the figure of 270 killed in the year 2010. The graph of killings has steadily risen since 2012, when 84 jihadists were killed.

However, the story behind the numbers is a grim one. The success of the numbers masks over a worrying trend of an exponential rise in the number of Kashmiri jihadists. In the last three years, according to official data, the number of foreign jihadists killed in the state has sharply declined and most of the casualties have been inflicted in the hinterland.

According to the SATP figures, the total number of jihadists killed from 2016 to 2018 (till 23 December) was 165, 218, and 265. According to official data, 108 killed in 2016 were foreign jihadists, while 124 foreigners were killed in 2017. This year, about 110 of the 265 killed were foreigners.

Jammu and Kashmir saw more killings of jihadists, but also more local recruits in 2018; new year to bring new challenges

File image of Jammu and Kashmir Police. Reuters

According to official data, at least 70 jihadists were killed in the hinterland of Jammu and Kashmir in 2016, 140 were killed in 2017, and more than 210 this year. According to police officials, a majority of these were local Kashmiris, and at least 90 were killed in the volatile districts of southern Kashmir.

The "success" story

According to official data, 12 jihadists were recruited in January, 10 each were recruited in February and March, 16 were recruited in April. The following month, recruitment reached its peak of 30. Thereafter it has seen a considerable decline, with recruitment nearly cut by half in June and at least 4 being recruited in the month of November.

The decline in jihadist recruitment, police officials point out, was owing to the killing of several prominent and long surviving militants, some since 2011, in several gunfights across the Valley. Senior officials say that these jihadists had turned into “poster boys” for jihadists' recruitment and the consistent operations had discouraged new recruits.

Prominent jihadists slain this year include Saddam Padder, one of the fourteen jihadists who appeared in an iconic photograph with Burhan Wani in 2014. Others include Pakistani jihadist, Naveed Jutt. Local jihadists include Umar Ganai, Sameer Bhat and Manan Wani, to name a few. “This year started with many names. Very few poster boys are left now,” a senior officer said.

Correspondingly, the casualties inflicted upon security forces by jihadists have been the lowest in three years. According to official data, 85 security force personnel were killed in the Kashmir Valley in 2016 – 48 army soldiers, 19 paramilitary soldiers, and 28 police personnel. In 2017, 42 army soldiers, 18 paramilitary soldiers and 32 policemen were killed. In 2018, about 30 army soldiers, 7 paramilitary personnel and 38 policemen were killed. In all three years, the Jammu and Kashmir Police has suffered the most casualties and, unlike the other two forces, seen a rise in casualties.

Besides the conventional strategy of killing jihadists in gunfights, the police has also turned its focus on the dismantling of jihadist infrastructure. According to statements issued by the police, several jihadist modules and networks were busted this year. The extent of their success on this count is, however, difficult to gauge.

Higher numbers, little achieved

Even as the security forces have been able to kill a higher number of jihadists and have claimed to have curbed recruitment, they continue to struggle in controlling the law and order situation on the ground. Two civilians were killed after being run down by security force vehicles during handling of two separate incidents of stone-pelting in Srinagar city.

In April, civilians resisting counter-insurgency operations were, for the first time, successful in rescuing jihadists surrounded by security forces in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district. Months after the incident, senior police officials expressed their confidence in tackling crowds at sites of gunfights and claimed a decrease in the size of such mobs. Seemingly, they were caught by surprise during a gunfight in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Seven civilians were killed as a result of their lack of preparedness.

The incident once again brings to the fore the fault lines among India’s various security agencies operating in Kashmir, raising questions over the repeated claims of senior security officials of a “synergy” between the forces. The synergy remains as fragile as ever. Police officials posted with the operations wing say the army’s “lack of trust” in the local police resulted in several problems during operations. “Coordination between police and other security forces needs to be seriously reviewed,” said one police officer.

Despite the high number of jihadists killed this year, the success of the massive counter-insurgency exercise is in question as police officials estimate that about 240-260 jihadists were still active in Kashmir at the end of the year. In recent months, the state’s longest surviving militant, Amin Bhat alias Jehangir Saroori, is said to have been trying to revive militancy in the Jammu division's Chenab Valley region. In this connection, a few suspected jihadists were arrested in Kishtwar district.

New year, new problems

The current wave of jihad in Kashmir, often described as “new militancy”, is largely restricted to social media overflowing with pictures of militants, rather than actual damage to security forces. However, "selfie jihad" has had some success in garnering sympathy from the civilian masses and further strengthening and mobilising to action the prevalent anti-India sentiments.

This is evident from the security establishment’s deliberate use of misinformation in the region, particularly about the identities of militants killed in gunfights. A strategy of security officials is to spread rumours that militants have escaped from the site of a gunfight, when in reality they have been killed. Such moves, officials said, are aimed at preventing localised unrest situations, and ensuring that civilian sympathisers do not mobilise stone-pelting mobs.

Jihadists continue to hold a position of prominence, but the widening rifts between them has sowed seeds of confusion. The Hizbul Mujahideen, which once declared that its aim was the “establishment of an Islamic caliphate the world over, starting with Kashmir” had subsequently toned down its stand. Now, it is increasingly taking a hardline stance once again, perhaps gauging the popular wave. Already, the Kashmir-based Hizb chief’s sanction to the brutal killings, recorded on camera, of civilians believed to be informers for security forces has renewed fears in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the killing of a significant number of recruits of the Ansar Ghazwatul Hind, a Hizb breakaway faction that claims to have allied with the Al-Qaeda, has lent them some sympathy. On 22 December, six Ansar recruits, including the outfit's deputy commander, were killed in a gunfight in Tral. The group is said to have been left with a few recruits, but a sympathy wave could usher in more recruits. The group is also confused with the self-styled Islamic State and Islamic State-inspired modules in the Kashmir Valley. Both groups have taken a stand opposing the pro-Pakistan stand of the United Jihad Council — the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir-based conglomerate of various jihadist outfits operating in the state.

As the new year arrives, new challenges are in store for the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir: the conduct of the general elections and perhaps also the state Assembly elections. The state security establishment may express its confidence in handling the situation come what may. However, its claims must be taken with a pinch of salt. After all, none of them anticipated the unrest during parliamentary bypolls in April 2017 and before that, the fallout of the killing of Burhan Wani that led to the event that is now remembered as “2016 unrest” – another in a long line of indicators of change in Kashmir’s situation.​

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Updated Date: Dec 31, 2018 19:34:17 IST

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