Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba’s ambition to enter mainstream politics has made way for the resurgence of fidayeen-oriented (suicide attacks) Jaish-e-Muhammed as the frontrunner terror group in Kashmir, sources close to developments in the state have told TOI.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), with China’s support that has repeatedly blocked India’s bid to designate JeM chief Masood Azhar a terrorist under the al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, is spending more resources on the terrorist group. Consequently, Azhar has been holding rallies exhorting people to join jihad in Kashmir, going by audio recording of his speech accessed by the TOI.
In his 105-minute speech inside a mosque in Pakistan, Azhar admitted that Jaish was behind the BSF camp attack in Srinagar — belying China’s claim that there isn’t enough evidence against him.
Azhar threatened that JeM, which has been involved in suicide attacks in Kashmir since its launch in 2000, will continue to train terrorists for missions. The evidence of his claim emerged again on Monday when his nephew, Talha Rashid, who’d volunteered to infiltrate into Kashmir for such a mission, was killed with two others in Pulwama.
The space for JeM has been created by Lashkar’s front, Jamat-ud-Dawah (run by Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed) that aims to enter Pakistan’s politics by contesting the 2018 general elections as Milli Muslim League (MML). A candidate backed by MML finished third in Lahore by-poll from where ex-PM Nawaz Sharif’s wife Kulum Nawaz was elected in August this year.
Though the Election Commission of Pakistan has rejected MML’s application for registration as a political party, it’s common knowledge there that even if it’s not permitted to contest, candidates backed by it will be up and running by the time of elections a year from now.
The last three months of terror-related data, according to security agencies, reveals that JeM has been at the top compared to other groups. On level one threat, which includes attacks against security forces, Jaish has hit ferociously with three fidayeen attacks, one each against BSF, CRPF and Army. JeM has also been at the forefront of killing civilians and grenade throwing.
A senior counter-insurgency officer in Srinagar said all these events were “indicators that Jaish has renewed its efforts at gaining supremacy over other groups in the valley.”
Though IGP Kashmir Munir Khan said on Tuesday that around 16 to 20 JeM terrorists are still active in the valley, intelligence sources said there are over 50, split across south and north Kashmir. Intelligence profiling of JeM cadres active in Kashmir shows that most of them are in the age group of 30s and above, unlike Hizbul and Lashkar which have men in their 20s and even teenage.
A senior officer who specialises on Pakistan-based terror groups said, “Most of them are battle-hardened from Federally Administered Tribal Areas. In Kashmir, they usually stay in the upper reaches and don’t descend in local habitations of the valley. They’ve been using the Mughal road in Poonch to infiltrate into the valley during heavy ceasefire violations through the summer. The Balakot to Poonch route is easier than Tangdar route.”
He added, “Unlike Lashkar and Hizbul, which issue press statements from Kashmir, Jaish believes only in action. They are committed to ‘jihad’ and prepared for ‘shahadat’ (martyrdom).”
Jaish, the officer said, also has a different organisational structure from the other two groups. “They don’t have as many commanders as Lashkar or Hizbul have. The most important men in the organization are Azhar’s two brothers. Usually, there’s only one commander at the very top, based in Pakistan and those who are active in Kashmir have equal status.”
Indian security forces, however, have managed some successful operations against JeM and made some significant arrests like that of Arzoo Bashir Najar in the recent months. Four days ago, the forces killed its major arms trainer, Badar in Samboora, an area in south Kashmir that had seen no counter-insurgency operations in last 11 years.