By the end of year 2005, Pakistan trained and backed terrorist outfit HizbulMujahideen (HM) had been effectively decimated in Kashmir. Its top commanders and planners were eliminated one by one by the security forces (SFs) as intelligence flowed in like never before. The finances were drying up and cadre was low on morale even as cross border infiltration had been curbed largely. The Pakistani terror outfits like Lashkar e Toiba (LeT), Jaish e Mohammad (JeM) etc. whose cadre depended almost entirely on the largely local HM for logistics, hideouts, guides felt orphaned in pursuing their evil designs in J&K.
The valley was inundated by the tourists once again and the local population was brimming with hope. Srinagar Muzaffarabad crossLoC bus service had started as were the other Indo-Pak confidence building measures. General ParvezMusharaf was on record saying that UN resolutions had lost their relevance in their application to the Kashmir issue. Late Mufti Mohammad Syed as the chief minister of J&K was seen as living up to his election promise of peace with dignity. The guns on the Indo-Pak border had fallen silent and the spirit of reconciliation was in the air.
With a pulsating synergy between the intelligence, law enforcing and operational forces, terrorism in J&K had been dealt with a deadly blow. Not only hundreds of terrorists were killed but a large number of over groundworkers’ (OGW) networks mainly of pro-Pakistan Jamaat e Islami was destroyed. Hawala channels such as those through Western Union transfers were effectively plugged with the help of financial experts and revenue intelligence besides local surveillance.
The momentum of the rediscovered normalcy and hope had apparently broken the stranglehold of bickering Hurriyat and proponents of armed violence on the people. Mufti’s two pronged policy of promotion of peace through dialogue and surgical elimination of terror and separatism found wholehearted support from the federal government. The Track II dialogue process with Pakistan was invigorated and many possible solutions including Musharaf’s formula were discussed. A permanent end to the long festering sore seemed close by 2007, just before the Lal Masjid standoff blew away Musharaf’s presidency.
However, it was not to be. General Musharaf started losing the grip. The hardliners backed byJamat e Ulema Islam Pakistan(linked to terror outfits such as Pakistani Taliban and Jaish e Mohammad) and their cohorts in armed forces joined hands to reverse his policies. Late retired Lt General Hamid Gul, a staunch critic of Musharaf’s Kashmir policies was one of the main players of Pakistani establishment which refused to tow General Musharaf’s line on Kashmir. Consequently, anti-India terror outfits such as LeT and JeM, which had been very critical of Musharaf’s policies and had full backing of the “establishment”, revved up their camps and activities in PoK with a vengeance and infiltration attempts again started picking up.
Almost, as if in tandem and conspiracy with the ascendant anti-India activities in Pakistan and PoK post 2007, the gains made in the State of J&K began to be forgotten and frittered away. In ideal situations, peacetime is utilised to consolidate and fortify the gains made in difficult times. And now was the time to work upon the dividends of peace and hope. Unfortunately, complacence and arrogance of the politico-administrative setup in the State and New Delhi coupled with the lethargy and fatigue in the security and intelligence apparatusled to a colossal failure in doing so, the consequences of which are before us.
To paraphrase retired Air Vice Marshal ManmohanBahadur:”Insurgency is a long drawn out event requiring patience, resilience, fortitude and common sense”.
Proxy wars and cross border terrorism(CBT) are long extended events as they are low cost options for the perpetrator and do not directly expose it. In a country like Pakistan, where Army is the prime mover of foreign relations, no political party or leader, howsoever powerful, has been able to turn around forever Army’s long-term policies and hostilities towards India. So, they started again and this time with greater understanding and intelligence obtained through Cross LoC visits and Pugwash interactions.
The ISI had understood that its low cost sponsored armed insurgency as proxy war had failed in Kashmir due to its over-dependence on locals includingJamaat e Islami and its armed outfit HM. With the attrition of HM, foreign terrorists of LeT or JeM found it hard to operate for want of logistics and guides. The local terror infrastructure had been rent asunder by the surgical; intelligence pointed operations as well as the astute political process initiated by Mufti Syed, who had largely won over Jamaat and other fringe elements. Moreover, due to choking of funds through traditional hawala channels, the insurgency could not be sustained in the valley. The local population was perceived to be capricious and not radical enough to carry on Pakistan’s war out of religious conviction alone. And that is how the gameplay was changed for the new phase of Kashmir Disturbance.
The Muslim population of Kashmir has traditionally followed Hanafi school of Islam flavoured by spiritual and cultural uniqueness of Sufi-Reshi order. Kashmiriyat as a conceptual way of life is structured on this premise with its pillars of secularism, tolerance, non-violence and brotherhood. For a long duration of history, the valley has been able to secure its unique religious essence from the radical onslaughts. However, though to a small extent, Salafi/Wahhabi and Deobandi influences were moving alongside.
In the late 1990s, Salafi institutions flush with Saudi-Pak axis funds started growing in the valley. Al-Qaeda’s strikes against the West were seen propelling the youth towards more intolerant and radicalised form of Islam and pan-Islamism. Opulent mosques ofAhle-Hadis (A Salafi strand of Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence and the ideological parent of the Pakistan based terror outfit Lashkar e Toiba) started coming up in small number in Srinagar and other areas of the valley, especially South Kashmir. However, the keen intelligence and surveillance setup was quite successful in arresting its ideological and material spread till around 2008. The initiative, however, was lost later unfortunately.
Pakistan Army/ISI exploited the lax security and political climate in J&K post 2007 with a new strategy of vigorous promotion of Salafi/WahhabiIslam with lavish funding to the valley based Ahle-Hadis workers and LeT cadre. The advantage was envisaged as two-fold. Firstly, an elaborate OGW network of its own for the LeT terrorists, who did not need to depend on the HM network for hideouts, logistics and guides. Pakistani LeT terrorists could just get dropped on LoC and get transported through Ahle-Hadis mosques and hideouts to any part of the State. TheLeT terror attack on a BSF convoy on Srinagar Jammu NHW at Narsooin 2015 by Pakistani terrorists infiltrated from the Gulmarg sector, one of whom was caught alive, is a case in point.
Secondly, the radicalised and Islamised sections of population thus transformed out of the Hanafi-Sufi majority could anytime be used for anti-India/pro-Pakistan uprising. Funds and fear were to be used for the purpose. The Sufi believers in the valley are thought of as a meek and coercible lot by the Pakistani establishment. The radicalised youth blame their parents for following Sufi practices and “unIslamic”way of life which in their view has led to their “political subjugation”- a typical Islamist reaction. The waving of ISIS, Pakistani, LeT flags is in fact an assertion of pan-Islamism over Kashmiri nationalism and gives a lie to those who prefer to call it a political issue and struggle for Independence.
All these indications and developments were either not perceived by the intelligence agencies, both of the Centre and State or were thought of as inconsequential as things were very “normal”. The mushrooming of Salafi mosques, the very visible radical traits among youth, the stone-pelting by mobs during encounters, the increasing use of Mosques for mob incitement, the growing hatred against “infidels “especially after 2014 parliament elections etc. were enough of an indication to read and analyse the undercurrents. The resurfacing of 1990 type mosque exhortations as witnessed during the JKEDI terror attack in Pampore, should have been flagged and probed as a major game-changing event. Was it too much to expect from the local intelligence setup, when the street buzz in the valley was itself rife with the rumours of something big being planned, to be executed after Eid-ul-Fitr !
The flow of foreign funds meant for radicalisation and mass protests going undetected is another big failure of the concerned agencies, who could not maintain the pressure on hawala and money laundering channels after 2008.
“The more you sweat in peace the less you bleed in war” goes the old security adage. Complacence, lethargy, corruption and lack of unfaltering national spirit have let us down in every aspect of life. We all bleed, thus.
( The writer is a security expert)