India: OGWs Cogs In The Machinery In J&K – Analysis


By Bulbul Prakash*

On June 12, 2023, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir, J&K)-based 15 Corps Lt. Gen. Amardeep Singh Aujla stated that many Over Ground Workers (OGWs) of terrorist groups, who act as conduits for them, have been picked up. Though he did not provide any specific number, according to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 738 OGWs have been arrested since 2001 (data till June 18, 2023). This includes seven arrests of OGWs in 2023, so far: 

May 7, 2023: Security Forces (SFs) arrested an ex-militant turned OGW, identified as Rafiq Ahmad Khan, from Kralpora village in Kupwara District, along with a grenade. During preliminary investigations, he has revealed that the grenade was received by him from the Chogul area of Handwara District and was to be delivered to a contact in Kralpora on the instructions of his Pakistan-based Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) handler. The grenade was to target SFs.

May 7: Police arrested two OGWs, identified as Mushtaq Ahmed and Nisar Ahmed, and recovered arms and ammunition from their hideouts in the Mendhar area of Poonch District. 

April 29: District authorities in Rajouri booked an OGW, Waqar Hussain Bajran, under the Public Safety Act (PSA), for engaging in anti-national activities and working as an active guide/facilitator for terrorist organisations. 

February 18: Three OGWs of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), Mohammad Abass Wagay, Gowhar Shafi Mir and Nisar Rehman Sheikh, were arrested from the Kulgam District. One pistol, two magazines and 13 live rounds were recovered from their possession.

Of the total 738 OGWs arrests since 2000, 256 have been recorded after August 5, 2019. While 14 OGWs were arrested between August 6 and December 31, 2019, at least 131 were arrested in 2020, 62 in 2021, and 42 in 2022. The data indicates a significant spike in the number of OGWs in J&K since the abrogation of Article 370.

The issue of OGWs and their involvement with terrorists in J&K remains an enduring concern in the region’s security landscape. While a precise definition of OGWs is lacking, the J&K Police broadly identify them as “anyone who supports militants”. These actors assume a pivotal role, offering logistical, material, and moral support to terrorists. They also facilitate communications between terrorists and their handlers across borders. Functioning as the “eyes” and “ears” of terrorists, they actively contribute to the planning and execution of attacks, without actually taking part in any violent activity themselves. 

However, there have been some fatal incidents in which OGWs were directly involved, including:

December 1, 2021: A traffic policeman in Srinagar was injured in a shooting in the Rajouri Kadal area of Srinagar District. Investigations revealed that the 19-year-old accused, Tajamul Bilal Dar, was a Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) OGW, providing support and shelter to terrorists Waseem Qadir Mir and Aqib Mushtaq. 

November 16, 2021: Four individuals, including a foreign terrorist and his local OGW associate, and a civilian, were killed in an overnight encounter in the Hyderpora area of Srinagar District in J&K. The foreign terrorist, identified as Haider from The Resistance Front (TRF)/Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), was harboured by the OGW Mudasir Gul, who also ran a call centre and property business from a rented space in the building.

OGWs also play a significant role in facilitating terrorist funding by various means. In the case of terrorist groups such as LeT, HM, and JeM, OGW networks are instrumental in ensuring movement of financial resources. These funds serve as a crucial lifeline for terrorist organizations, enabling them to finance their activities and sustain their operations. OGW teams, typically consisting of two to three members, are strategically deployed on a rotational basis, to collect cash from various sources, including hawala (illegal money transfer) operators, Line of Control (LoC) traders, or individuals needing to transfer 

money to relatives across the LoC. Once the OGW team collects the funds, it is transferred to field ‘commanders’ through a complex chain of intermediaries. The rotational deployment of OGW teams ensures that the detection of one person does not disrupt the overall flow of funds. To mitigate risks, transactions are often broken down into small amounts, minimizing potential losses in the event of detection. These OGWs also have the capability of simultaneously extending their support to multiple terrorist organizations.

The OGW problem is further compounded by the fact that many of them are radicalized youth who have been indoctrinated by the terrorist organizations. The individuals recruited range in age from 7 to 32 years, and typically the Public Safety Act (PSA) is enforced on them. These youth are often disillusioned with the government and the SFs, and are easy targets for terrorist organizations. In one incident demonstrating the radicalisation of a young OGW, on December 9, 2018, a 14-year-old boy, Mudasir Rashid Parray, was among three LeT terrorists killed in an encounter in Srinagar District. Mudasir had gone missing from his home in Hajin town in Bandipora District and his picture holding an AK-47 later surfaced on social media, confirming his involvement with the terrorist group. He was said to be an OGW of two LeT ‘commanders’.

Additionally, the involvement of women OGWs in recent terrorist activities in Kashmir has become a new challenge for SFs. 

On April 10, 2023, SFs neutralised a terrorist module and arrested two LeT OGWs, Farooq Ahmad Parra and Saima Bashir, the latter, a woman from Baramulla District. On May 16, 2022, a woman, identified as Sheema Shafi Waza, an OGW, was arrested along with a module of six other terror activists in the Bandipora District. 

Meanwhile, OGWs have infiltrated various sectors of society, including government services, the media, the legal professions, and educational institutions. Their presence across diverse domains poses a considerable challenge in effectively identifying and countering their influence.

On May 13, 2022, a teacher in the School Education Department, a professor in the chemistry department of Kashmir University, and a Police constable, were terminated from their positions as they were identified as OGWs involved in radicalizing individuals.

On July 11, 2021, a medical assistant at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences in Srinagar District, and an Agriculture Department worker were dismissed for working as OGWs and aiding terrorists by providing information on security forces’ movements and abetting and harbouring terrorists. 

Historically known as Soyath (wick) or Pout Palaw (tail of a shirt), OGWs were not considered of great significance as they had not crossed the LoC to receive arms training. However, there are now reports of several OGWs making such efforts. On February 26, 2021, SFs arrested three OGWs who were trying to cross the LoC in Kupwara for arms training in Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The trio had established contacts with a militant ‘commander’ in Pakistan and were on their way to cross the LoC via Kupwara, to meet him

By aiding terrorists in evading SFs, furnishing them with valuable intelligence on security force movements, and providing critical logistical support, OGWs create a formidable challenge for Counter-terrorism (CT) forces. 

The issue of the growing use of OGWs, consequently, needs to be tackled urgently if terrorism is to be neutralized in J&K. On February 13, 2023, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Jammu Zone, Mukesh Singh, thus observed, “Neutralising a terrorist is not enough unless all those involved in harbouring and supporting him are identified and brought to justice.”

Meanwhile, to counter OGW networks and curb terror funding, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has conducted raids in various locations throughout 2023. The NIA’s efforts include attaching properties of OGWs involved in supporting terrorist organizations, targeting individuals, recovering assets, and gathering evidence to disrupt the activities of OGWs and associated terrorist groups.

Most recently, on May 31, 2023, the NIA carried out searches at three locations in Srinagar and Budgam Districts, at the residential premises of sympathisers and cadres, hybrid terrorists and OGWs linked to newly-formed offshoots and affiliates of proscribed Pakistan-backed terror outfits such as the LeT, JeM, HM, Al-Badr and Al-Qaeda. Earlier, on May 9, 2023, the NIA attached the properties of Fayaz Ahmad Magray, an OGW, for his role in supporting JeM terrorists. The properties included six shops constructed over land measuring 5.5 Marlas in Lethpora, Pulwama District.

Addressing the OGWs problem requires collaborative efforts, vigilant security agencies, and targeted strategies. It is crucial to tackle underlying causes, including youth radicalization and limited economic opportunities in the region. Collaborative efforts involving multiple agencies are essential for identifying and analysing the networks of OGWs, terrorists, and anti-national elements, enabling accurate intelligence assessment based on ground realities. Careful and targeted legal actions is required, ensuring that only the most deeply involved OGWs are prosecuted. Indiscriminate enforcement of such measures against young individuals eliminates their potential for rehabilitation and increases their vulnerability to terrorist indoctrination. By investing in education, skill development, and socio-economic initiatives, the government and civil society can provide a positive path for the youth of Kashmir, blocking off pathways to radicalization.

*Bulbul Prakash
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management


SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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