|By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
Of the four terrorists killed in Anantnag area of J&K 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. Security forces were also stone-pelted by youth at the encounter site. The presence of Saifi and his three aides 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, it should also shame politicians who profess "talk to boys with guns". Musharraf is a fugitive in Pakistan today. He should have been court-martialed for the Kargil misadventure. And considering he said, "Even if the Kashmir issue is resolved, jihad against India will continue", Indians who extol Musharraf are no lesser jihadis.
The Centre recently declared Al-Qaida in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham-Khorasan (ISIS-K) unlawful because of radicalizing Indian youths for global jihad and encouraging terror acts on Indian interests in the subcontinent. AQIS chief Mullah Asim Umar is Pakistani national steeped in Pakistani madrasas, whose appointment in September 2014 not only denoted Pakistani connection but obviously was on behest Pakistan's ISI. Asim Umar's calls to Indian youth for jihad, mirrors calls by the ISI.
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 victim of favoritism and nepotism ... . with militancy firmly entrenched for last three decades, taking up the gun is not only 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 Pakistan's ISI.
Reports also indicate ISIS and Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) joined hands under tutelage of Pakistan's ISI with eyes on South Asia; Afghanistan and India in particular. ISIS-ISI have 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 IS-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 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. According to Voice of America, Afghanistan officially told Pakistan Hafiz Saeed, former LeT chief is directing ISIS operations in Afghanistan. So, he should be expected to do the same in India in concert ISI.
Creeping radical Wahabi-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. It needs to be stamped out with concerted action on multiple levels.