By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch
June 28, 2018
Amongst the four terrorists gunned down in a gunfight in Srigufwara of Anantnag area on 22 June 2018, police identified Dawood Ahmad Salafi, chief of ISJK (ISIS affiliate). Security forces cordon and search operation with inputs about presence of terrorists turned into gunfight after terrorists fired at security forces. A SPO and a civilian were also killed in the exchange of fire and three civilians critically injured. The security forces were also subjected to stone-pelting by local youth at the encounter site. In extended operations next day on on June 23, security forces have killed another four ISJK terrorists, bringing the total tally to eight.
The killing of Dawood Ahmad Salafi and another seven ISJK terrorists signifies the rise of Islamic State in J&K – a fact that was either being denied altogether or talked in hushed tones despite proliferation of ISIS flags. Considering the ISIS ideology, this should shame the politicians who profess “talk to boys with guns”. As for Musharraf, he is a fugitive in his own country, Pakistan, today. He should have been court-martialed for the Kargil misadventure. And considering publicly said “Osama-bin-Laden, Ayman-al-Zawahiri, Haqqanis are our heroes ….. We trained the LeT against India” and “Even if the Kashmir issue is resolved, jihad against India will continue”, Indians who extol Musharraf are no lesser jihadis who need to be dealt with accordingly.
The Centre has recently declared Al-Qaida in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham-Khorasan (ISIS-K) unlawful because they are radicalizing Indian youths for global jihad and encouraging terror acts on Indian interests in the subcontinent. AQIS Chief Mullah Asim Umar is a Pakistani national shaped in radicalized seminaries and madrasas of Pakistan. His appointment in September 2014 for heading AQIS, with responsibility from Afghanistan to Myanmar, not only denoted Pakistani connection but obviously was on behest of Pakistan’s ISI. His mother organization HUJI was running branches in Kashmir and Myanmar. His calls to Indian youth for jihad replicate calls by the ISI. In July 2016, Umar urged Muslim youth in India to follow example of youths in Europe and strike against Indian police and senior officials; senior government officials should be held responsible for communal violence, the state and its departments are equally responsible for incidents against Muslims in India and senior officials must be targeted to cause financial loss to the government and start riots in the country. That this was on best of ISI is obvious
The first official recognition of ISIS presence in J&K came with ISIS claiming responsibility for attacking a police party in Zakura area of Srinagar on 17 November 2017, killing one sub-inspector and injuring one SPO. ISIS again claimed responsibility for killing a policeman guarding residence of Hurriyat leader Fazal Haq Qureshi in Soura area of Srinagar on 25 February 2018. These may be small incidents but should be viewed in backdrop of recent statement by Kuldeep Khoda, former J&K police chief, “When political grid is inactive, even if security grid gets results, common man …. becomes a victim of favouritism and nepotism … . with militancy now firmly entrenched for last three decades, taking up the gun is not only a readily available option but an attractive and glamorous … large number of educated youth are getting enthused to be part of the ‘movement’ and to spearhead it…. A cult has been born… success of operations gets diluted when the neutralized number of terrorists gets replaced by infiltration and fresh recruitment”.
Inner circles of own intelligence agencies are of the view that AQIS has more influence in the sub-continent compared to ISIS. However, the notion that al Qaeda-AQAIS and ISIS are at loggerheads has been dispelled on many occasions in West Asia and Afghanistan. Their aims in the subcontinent coalesce in concert with that of Pakistan’s ISI. Intelligence reports had also indicated that ISIS and Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have joined hands under tutelage of Pakistan’s ISI with eyes on South Asia; Afghanistan and India in particular. Over the years, ISIS-ISI have also been trying to rekindle militancy in Punjab, prelude to which has been mass infusion of narcotics into Punjab, particularly in the youth and rural areas and establishing conduits on the Indian side. The Bhopal-Ujjain train blast on 17 March 2017 was heralded as ISIS’s first strike in India. This module, led by self-styled ‘emir’ Atif Muzaffar, after forming a ‘core’ group of ISIS-influenced youths in Kanpur in February 2016 contacted immigration agents in cities, travelling to Srinagar, Amritsar, Wagah and Jaisalmer, exploring ways to exfiltrate to Pakistan.
In January 2017, NIA suspected 22 Kerala youths having joined ISIS training in Afghanistan. ISIS logo T-shirts have been distributed by radical Mullahs in South India and posters inviting youths to join ISIS surfaced in Bihar’s Rohtas district during March 2017. There have been reports of some youth returning from Iraq-Syria but they could be ‘sleepers’ for executing ‘lone wolf’ / module-based terror attacks when so directed. In recent past NIA has busted ISIS cells in Kerala, Maharashtra, Hyderabad and other places. ISIS flags and T-shirts have also been seen in these places as also Pakistani flags in UP and Bihar.
Post the capture of ISIS Twitter handler Mehdi Biswas alias Shami Witness, a former DG NIA went on record to say that there are some 100 individuals in India engaged in similar recruitment for ISIS. The flatness of the internet and social media makes propagation of terrorism and radicalization so very simple, Also in July 2016, Voice of America had reported Afghanistan officially telling Pakistan that Hafiz Saeed, former LeT chief was behind the Islamic State attacks in Afghanistan. So, this rabid mullah who is ISI’s blue-eyed should be expected to also coordinate Islamic State operations in India.
NIA probes also show that Indian Mujahidin (IM) cadres are tech savvy and have been using proxy servers and complex code to chat: exceptional knack for IT setting up email accounts that disappear if they not accessed in 24 hours, proxy servers to camouflage geographical location, encrypted files and complicated code language; use of US-based Yahoo Inc, Paltalk Inc, Sophidea Inc and Hurricane Electric, plus providers in Nepal, Canada and Ireland; IP address of Nimbuzz chat traced to Pakistan Telecom Company Ltd and others traced to France, Germany, Netherlands, Nepal and India. Asymmetry through non-war operation encompasses fields like finance, ecology, psychology, media, drug trafficking tech etc. Such asymmetric approaches will invariably be used in conjunction others.
Creeping radical Wahhabi-Salafi culture overtaking the Sufi culture and Kashmiriyat of Kashmir Valley has been steady, facilitated by misadministration, corruption, politico-terrorist nexus and intransigence. Operation ‘All Out’ has taken off well but inactive political grid dilutes effectiveness of the security grid. Proliferation of ISIS flags, signifying consolidation of this most virulent terrorist organization in Kashmir Valley doesn’t bode well. If Pakistan can direct ISIS attacks in Afghanistan, it would do so in India as well. The ISIS threat can therefore not be taken lightly. It needs to be stamped out with concerted action on multiple levels.