By Sanchita Bhattacharya*
The Resistance Front (TRF) is the product of one of the several efforts, often repeated over the past two decades by Rawalpindi, to give terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) an ‘indigenous’ face, and to provide Pakistan’s deep state, an alibi. According to intelligence sources, the outfit emerged as an online virtual identity, acting as a mouthpiece for major Pakistan-based terror outfits such as Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Thereafter, it has sought to claim a number of terrorist attacks executed by cadres of these groupings.
On May 4, 2020, four people, including three Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers and a 14 years old physically challenged boy, were killed when several terrorists attacked a group of CRPF personnel in Kupwara District’s Wangam village. The responsibility of the attack was later claimed by TRF.
On May 2, 2020, five Security Force (SF) personnel were killed in an encounter at the Chanjmulla area in Handwara region of Kupwara District. Two terrorists were also killed in the encounter. One of the two terrorists killed in the operation was later identified by the Police as LeT ‘commander’, Haider, a Pakistani national. The other was a local terrorist, a resident of Handwara. However, TRF claimed the attack.
On April 18, 2020, three CRPF personnel were killed and another two sustained injuries, when a lone militant with an AK-47 rifle concealed under his traditional robe struck at a security checkpoint in Sopore, Baramulla District. TRF claimed responsibility for the attack.
On April 4, 2020, five SF personnel were killed in Kupwara District. Following a ceasefire violation that took place in the intervening night of April 1-2, a movement of infiltrating terrorists was first picked in the Keran sector (Opposite Shalabatho in Pakistan) on April 2. On April 4, two teams of the 4 Para were inducted into the area. A hand-to-hand combat and close fire occurred that left five Special Forces personnel killed in action. All five terrorists who had sneaked in from Pakistan were also killed. The TRF later claimed the killing of five Special Forces personnel.
On February 2, 2020, four civilians and two troopers of CRPF were injured in a grenade blast in the Lal Chowk area of Srinagar. The attack was claimed by TRF.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since its ‘inception’ on October 12, 2019, TRF has claimed involvement in the killing of a total of 17 persons, including 16 SF personnel and one civilian. Seven TRF cadres have also been killed since. Further, in one incident, on March 23, 2020, the Police arrested six persons in Kupwara who claimed to be part of TRF. A joint team of the Army and state Police, seized 89 hand grenades, eight AK rifles, 10 pistols, 20-odd detonator fuses and ammunition.
Originally, TRF announced its arrival online via the encrypted chat platform Telegram on October 12, 2019, following a grenade attack in Srinagar’s Hari Singh High Street, in which seven civilians were injured. In its first message, posted on Telegram, taking responsibility of the grenade attack, TRF stated,
Today’s grenade attack is the inception of indigenous resistance of Kashmir to flush out the occupational Indian regime out of IOJK [Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir]. The attack was carried out by our cadres and in future such attacks will follow.
Five days later, on October 17, 2019, it posted a ‘warning’ for the Indian Government,
If India thinks of changing the direction of waters then it will be dooms day (sic) for India & blood will flow in every state of India.
This social media account, according to the internet protocol address, was being operated from Islamabad, mostly from an iPhone device.
Facing regular blocking on Telegram, TRF turned to other platforms simultaneously to create a backup, prominently including TamTam, an encrypted Russian messaging platform. TRF is claiming terror attacks in an effort to raise the group’s profile and encourage youth to join its ranks..
The group was apparently formed after August 5, 2019, when the Indian Parliament scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and divided the state into two centrally-administered Union Territories – Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.
Referring to its ‘birth’, an unnamed top intelligence official disclosed,
The outfit, which owes allegiance to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and two other Pakistan-based groups, first made an appearance in the Valley in September last year. Their J&K commander Anas Mustafa, who hails from Kakapura in Pulwama, reports to a Pakistan-based chief who uses ‘Andrew Jones” as his alias on Telegram. His WhatsApp ID on the same number bears the name ”Khan Bilal”.
Moreover, reports indicate that TRF is being controlled by three top LeT handlers in Pakistan: Sajad Jatt for South Kashmir, Khalid for Central Kashmir and Hanzala Adnan for North Kashmir.
Jammu and Kashmir Inspector General of Police, Vijay Kumar disclosed,
Almost every TRF terrorist, arrested or killed, has been listed in our records under the Lashkar-e-Taiba…The idea is to show the world that what Kashmir has is local militancy.
Subsequently, TRF expanded its net and also began inducting HM terrorists, he added.
TRF is a Pakistan Army – Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) ploy to bring all terrorist cadres under one common umbrella and to secure deniability in terms of its linkages with terror outfits operating under the ISI’s aegis in J&K.
Not surprisingly, in April 2020, the outfit came under the scanner of government agencies in India for its suspected links with LeT. An unnamed Enforcement Directorate (ED) official stated,
We have reason to believe that the outfit is a front for the LeT. It has been launched to evade the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) scrutiny and avoid further sanctions. The FATF is to review Pakistan’s performance in acting against terror funding at its meeting in Beijing (China) to be held from June 21 to 26.
Reports now indicate that the plenary could be held in October 2020. FATF has confirmed postponement of the Plenary, due to the COVID 19 pandemic, but is yet to intimate a firm date for the next meeting.
It is still too early to predict the future trajectory of TRF. The formation of group may be seen as an attempt to consolidate manpower, strength, and training of various terrorist formations in J&K under a single identity, and to create a new ‘front’ to project to the world that the militancy in Kashmir is a ‘homegrown resistance movement’, distanced from Pakistani sponsorship and the terrorist groupings that under FATF scrutiny.
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management