The New Hardline in The Valley Part 2: North Kashmir is home to foreign militants, witness to deadly strikes

In North Kashmir, the militants are well-trained and equipped, and the major attacks have been reported in this region.

Written by Muzamil Jaleel | Hajin | Updated: June 2, 2017 8:00 am
army, indian army, army india, kashmir tensions, kashmir crisis, india news According to a recent verification report on the presence of foreign militants in North Kashmir, 102 are with Lashkar: 12 in Bandipore, 6 in Baramulla, 9 in Sopore, 37 in Kupwara and 38 in Handwara. Similarly, Jaish has 16 foreigners: one in Bandipore, three in Baramulla, 7 in Sopore and 5 in Kupwara.

ON THE evening of April 15 in Hajin, militants barged into the house of Abdul Rashid Parray alias Rashid Billa, a dreaded commander of Ikhwan, the government-backed counter-insurgency militia of the 1990s, and killed him. Twenty days later, two militants appeared at Hajin’s Jamia Masjid, addressed the Friday congregation and joined a pro-freedom rally. The Friday after, they were back. Billa was a “proclaimed offender”, indicted for the killing of five men and two women in Sadarkote village in 1996 for supporting a National Conference candidate against Ikhwan chief Kuka Parray, who was gunned down by militants seven years later.

Read | The new hardline in the Valley: South Kashmir their roots, new militants tap into local anger

And Billa’s killing, and the appearance of militants at the local mosque, tells the story of how the ground has shifted in Bandipore’s Hajin, which was once a hub of the Ikhwan. It also shows the steady rise of militancy across North Kashmir — whose contours are strikingly different from the strands that have emerged in South Kashmir. Despite a relative calm in North Kashmir, this region has more militants active on ground than the South. While Burhan Wani became a symbol of militancy among youth, particularly in South Kashmir, when he abandoned Valley North is home to foreign militants, witness to bigger attacks anonymity and posted pictures and videos on social media, the militants in North Kashmir have stayed the old course.

Read | The New Hardline in the Valley Part 3: Who’s shattering the calm in central Kashmir

Their numbers have grown but the difference is mainly on two fronts:

* While militancy in South Kashmir is predominantly local, the North has largely foreign militants (militants from Pakistan and PoK). According to J&K Police records, the number of militants active in South Kashmir is 112, of whom 99 are local. The number of militants active across North Kashmir is 141 — 118 are foreign and 23 local.

* The militant demographic is different, too. In South Kashmir, Hizbul Mujahideen has 63 locals (including Musa group) and one foreigner, Lashkar-e-Toiba has 35 locals and nine foreigners, Jaish-e-Mohammad has three foreigners, and Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami has one local militant. In North Kashmir, Hizb has 20 locals, LeT has 102 foreigners and two locals, and Jaish has 16 foreigners. Al Badr outfit, present in North, has one local active on the ground.

* Unlike in South Kashmir, where militants openly declare their affiliation on social media, the situation in North Kashmir is in complete contrast. Here, nine local militants have gone underground because of the Burhan Wani phenomenon but most of them have shifted to the South — not including five youngsters arrested in Baramulla for their alleged involvement with Jaish-e-Mohammad.

* In South Kashmir, the focus of militants is primarily survival. To garner weapons and funds, they have snatched rifles from police and CRPF or allegedly looted banks. There have also been targeted killings of political activists or those accused of being informers. But there hasn’t been a single instance of a big militant attack on an Army or paramilitary camp.

In North Kashmir, the militants are well-trained and equipped, and the major attacks have been reported in this region. On October 3 last year, a BSF man was killed in a fidayeen attack on a Rashtriya Rifles Battalion headquarters in Baramulla — the militants escaped. On February 14 this year, three soldiers and a militant were killed in an encounter at Hajin. On the same day, a Major and three militants were killed in an encounter at Kralgund in Handwara. On April 27, three Armymen, including a Captain, and two militants were killed and five soldiers injured in a militant attack on an Artillery unit at Panzgam in Kupwara.

* The recruitment patterns, too, are different. Sources said that around 30 youngsters in the Sopore-Zaingir belt had approached militants, wanting to join. But they were turned down by the militants who wanted “proper scrutiny” and “subsequent training”.

“We are aware that militants in North Kashmir are lying low on purpose. They are well-trained and have no dearth of guns and ammunition. They can escalate whenever they want, they have enough men on the ground. There are four modules in Lolab valley, three in Kupwara and six in Handwara. There are militants in the Sopore belt, as well,” a police officer told The Indian Express. He said that forces see “serious problems” in the Zaloora belt, Vilgam, Hafruda, Affan, Lolab, Dardpora, Devar, Anderbugh, Malangam, Kunzar, Kralweth, Zunreshi and Marsari. “There are reports of militant presence in Sumlar (Bandipore) and ahead, in Koota Satri, too. These militants don’t expose themselves to the local population and stay anonymous. Unlike in South, the local population will only know them by their codes. For example, little is known about Sarfaraz Seer, a Hizbul militant from Malangam,” said the officer.

According to a recent verification report on the presence of foreign militants in North Kashmir, 102 are with Lashkar: 12 in Bandipore, 6 in Baramulla, 9 in Sopore, 37 in Kupwara and 38 in Handwara. Similarly, Jaish has 16 foreigners: one in Bandipore, three in Baramulla, 7 in Sopore and 5 in Kupwara. The report says Umar Gazi, operating in Sopore area, is Lashkar’s divisional commander; Adil, operating in Zaingir, is Jaish’s divisional commander. While Khalid bhai and Abu Qakah are Lashkar’s commanders in Baramulla and Kupwara respectively, Lashkar’s slain top commander Abu Qasim’s brother Salahudin is active in Bandipore.

However, despite the differences in the nature and complexion of militancy in the two regions, there is a growing “apprehension” among police and security agencies that North Kashmir may go the South Kashmir way. “During 2016, there were massive protests at several places in North Kashmir too. But it was nothing like in South Kashmir. Srinagar city was relatively calm. Post-election (after the Lok Sabha bypoll), we have seen that the new protests have begun from all the old Ikhwan centres in North Kashmir. Militants are taking a lot of risk, like in Hajin,” said another police officer.

SSP Bandipore Zulfikar Azad, however, has a different take on the Hajin escalation. “There are five-six militants active in the area who have been under tremendous pressure to do something after Abu Musaib was killed in an encounter. That was a big jolt to Lashkar,” said Azad. Musaib was the nephew of Lashkar chief Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and a divisional commander of the outfit.

“There is no selfie militancy in North Kashmir. But we don’t know how long it will stay this way. Either North will go the South way or militancy in South will gradually become like in North again. It will depend largely on what will happen to the Zakir Musa group,” said a police officer.

Musa was a Hizb militant till mid-May, when he threatened to hang separatist leaders for calling the Kashmir issue “political”. He quit the militant outfit after Hizb reprimanded him. The police officer also said there was “chatter that veteran Hizb commander Qayoom Najar is back”. “If Najar decides to support Musa, the entire complexion of militancy will change here. But if he stays with the Hizb, it will give a boost to the outfit in North,” he said.

One of the longest surviving militant commanders in Kashmir, Najar was expelled from Hizb in 2015 after he had questioned the militant leadership and Hurriyat. Sources said the differences between Najar and the militant leadership were resolved and he went across.

READ | From PhD and MPhil to BTech and BE: New local militants are young and educated

The security establishment wants the ideological differences among militants to deepen, but sees little hope. “Like Najar, this recent ouster of Musa from Hizbul Mujahideen has again opened an opportunity. There isn’t any other efficient antidote to militancy than a clash among groups. We have seen it in the early-1990s. Najar is a hard nut to crack and even with a feud going on with the militant leadership, he didn’t cross over to us. Zakir’s case seems similar,” said a police officer.

Yet, it’s the Musa brand of militancy, placing Kashmir on the larger global Jihad map and questioning the separatist leadership, that is “worrying” security agencies. They feel this ideology, though at a nascent stage, “may not be limited to South Kashmir” and “can get out of control”. The story of Jameel Sheergojri, a mechanical engineer from Naz colony in Bandipore, is a case in point.  Sheergojri was a teacher at the polytechnic in Bandipore before he left for Dubai in search of a job in May 2016. His family members lost contact with him, until several months later when they received a four-page letter addressed to his parents.

READ | The New Hardline In The Valley: Overnight lock-up, 5 days in custody for this 10-year-old

Sheergojri began by thanking them for taking “good care” of him, giving him a good education and providing for all his needs. He wrote that he has decided to join “Jihad fi sabililah (Jihad for Allah)” and explained his decision by quoting from religious texts.

At the end, he requested his parents to pray for the “victory of Mujahideen and his martyrdom”. He asked them not to cry when they hear about his death, but read these pages instead. The family declined to speak about Sheergorji but Bandipore police confirmed the contents of the letter. “We received information and contacted the family who showed us the letter. We think he has gone to Pakistan. There is no further information,” said an officer.


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  1. Shoeb Hamid
    May 30, 2017 at 6:12 pm
    bits and pieces, but no one knows the reality in Kashmir completely. Jaleel has started from Billa, but it could be started from Altaf Laptop or may even go before that... it would only be rewinding the clock. Jaleel has in fact put greater emphasis on the "jihadi" part than the actual cir stances in which new developments are taking place in Kashmir. I am sure his sources have not revealed how the security establishment is responsible for the creation of the militants. The malaise is deep rooted. What would Indian army do if it is said that there are now no militants left in Kashmir. No matter now Jaleel or IE or Indian state takes it, the Indian army won't be comfortable with it. The infiltration has to happen, militants have to be in Kashmir and the Army has to remain relevant in Kashmir. The rest is theatre and noise. We all hear things, we all hear stories, we all hear the noise, but no one claim to know the truth.
    1. S
      May 30, 2017 at 9:48 pm
      Arny will be too happy to move back to its traditional role if Police can handle everything. But the Kashmiri CMs never took the ownership to run the state. They have to make a choice either make J&K yet another state or join separatists and fight. Sikhs always fought with honour and pride whether for India and against India. The Kashmiris every second sentence keep running to BBC and West
    2. Shoeb Hamid
      May 30, 2017 at 5:56 pm
      falls somewhere in the centre. If militancy were restricted to North and South only, what was Indian Army doing in the east and tying Farooq Dar to the bonnet of the jeep. If the police and Indian establishment is the source, it is an exercise in waste. Perhaps, Jaleel must go back to a report planted by military establishment which said an Indian armed force person was shot dead by Pak-based sniper, somewhere near the infamous RS Pura. Consider the claim -- a forces person dies here, the establishment does not want to say that infiltration happened, does not want to reveal how the man died and comes up with an incredible story, a sniper had aimed from across the line and killed the jawan. Police finds a different story, but the matter gets buried. Why is not anyone interested in the rise in suicide cases, if they happen to be, in Indian armed forces personnel. May be they are not suicide cases after all. But since the source says so, that becomes the truth. I think we all get these
      1. Shoeb Hamid
        May 30, 2017 at 5:39 pm
        Muzamil Jaleel of IE has done the best a journalist could do with facts and figures. The report in fact is written from a journalist's view, missing some essential elements that often escape scrutiny while hunting for enough details to make it look comprehensive. The dichotomy of describing militancy in Kashmir as North Kashmir and South Kashmir-infested reeks of a researchers bias to approach the subject meticulously. Most of the facts in the report have already been published or have been out, but emb bits and pieces to give it a shape may not be good enough. Almost every journalist in Kashmir is asked one simple question on credibility, who is the source of all the information and detai -- very few have been able to provide a convincing answer that would grant merit to their own reports. The most violent day in Kashmir recently was the day when by-elections of Srinagar cons uency were held. Budgam, if we consider the journalists map falls in the east and Srinagar
        1. S
          May 30, 2017 at 2:37 pm
          My Request All kashmiri's to Join the mainstream India .. And bring the Remaining Kashmir as well back to Indian Republic ...
          1. M
            May 30, 2017 at 3:33 pm
            Shahid Bhai, Good appeal... Having lived in a few countries around the World, my honest opinion is, the "organic flavour" of India is such that it truly accommodates DIVERSITY.... There is SCOPE for everyone in India, but armed people causing trouble cannot be tolerated by any government in the World.
          2. A
            May 30, 2017 at 11:32 am
            The government must give full operational freedom n support to the army to ensure elimination of anti nationals n jihadis from the valley.
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