To blunt Pakistan’s sponsored proxy war in J&K, intelligence agencies have been keeping very close tabs on terrorist groups and the continuous string of successes achieved by security forces in anti-terrorist operations leaves no doubts regarding the existence of an extensive and effective intelligence network in J&K. That’s why when media reported the existence of two new terrorist groups in Kashmir a few months ago, both the intelligence agencies and Kashmir watchers were taken by complete surprise and there were good reasons for this.
Terrorist groups don’t suddenly spring-up overnight- they have to be painstakingly created and in order to do this, it’s necessary for those planning to form such a group to conduct a clandestine recruitment drive. Yet, even if this enlistment process is carried out with top-most secrecy, but since such an exercise entails contacting a large number of people who recruiters perceive as potential candidates, it would be really naïve to expect that word about such a development wouldn’t reach the ears of intelligence agencies, especially when they have a large number of locals who readily provide them terrorism related information.
So, in when an armed group calling itself ‘The Resistance Front’ [TRF] claimed responsibility for the murder of local BJP leader Sheikh Waseem Bari, his father and brother in Bandipora in July, it took everyone by surprise. The mystery deepened when another armed group calling itself ‘People’s Anti-Fascist Front’ [PAFF] released a 43 second video a few days later showing a masked person sitting behind a table with a rifle placed on top and flanked by two masked gun toting individuals. The speaker took responsibility for the killing of a policeman in Anantnag and warned similar actions against those who help security forces. Since there’s already an overabundance of ISI sponsored terrorist groups in J&K, sudden appearance of TRF and PAFF naturally raised hackles amongst the intelligence agencies.
In the nineties, Pakistan army had through the ISI, sponsored an unbelievably high number of terrorist groups to wage ‘jihad’ in J&K- while visiting fellow at the New York University Arif Jamal in his well-researched book ‘Shadow War- the Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir’ mentions the existence of more than a 100 terrorist groups, senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, Bruce Riedel mentions in his book ‘Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad,’ that as many as 180 terrorist groups operated during this period in J&K.
Pakistan army’s strategy of creating such a large number of terrorist groups was threefold- one, to create a crisis of such unmanageable proportions that would overwhelm New Delhi; two, ensure that the terrorist ‘population’ in J&K was so humungous that its extermination through military means was practically impossible. Lastly, creation of such a large number of terrorist groups would preclude the scope of the terrorist activity being marginalised by agreements, inducements or secret deals between these groups and the Indian establishment. However, this approach had two serious shortcomings- one, controlling and monitoring the activities of such a large number of was well-nigh impossible and two, financing so many terrorist groups was becoming unsustainable.
The ISI therefore gradually reduced the overabundance of ISI groups in Kashmir and had to establish a central committee named ‘Muttahida [United] Jihad Council’ [MJC] for exercising unified command and control over the more than a dozen terrorist groups that include Hizbul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Tehrik-e-Jihad, Tehrik-ul-Mujahideen, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, Al Jihad, Al Umar Mujahideen, Jammu Kashmir Islamic Front, Muslim Janbaaz Force, Hizbullah, Al Fatah, Hizb-ul-Momineen, JeM and Al Badr Mujahideen.
Therefore, the news that Pakistan army was in the process of creating yet two additional terrorist groups didn’t make much sense and a logical analysis corelated with the ISI’s past strategies exposed Rawalpindi’s sinister game-plan. The first giveaway came from the very names that these two terrorist groups were using. Readers will recall that expect for the defunct ‘military wing’ of JKLF, names of all other terrorist groups [both in the past or present] that have operated in Kashmir contain some reference to Islam.
So, the obvious question that harried investigators was whether the absence of any Islamic reference in the names adopted by both these latest entrants was just incidental or an intentional act?
Changing names of terrorist groups involved in heinous crimes in order to avoid international censure is an old ISI tactic. In 1991, a hitherto fore unknown armed group calling itself ‘Pasdaran-e-Islam’ kidnapped six Israeli tourists from a houseboat from Dal Lake in Srinagar. On October 31, 1994, a Kashmiri terrorist group identifying itself as ‘Al Hadid’ kidnapped four British tourists and demanded release of 10 of their incarcerated associates. The very next year, another unknown armed group calling itself ‘Al Faran’ kidnapped six Western tourists and demanded release of 20 jailed Kashmiri terrorists and Pakistani national Maulana Masood Azhar [interned on terrorism charges] who subsequently created the Jaish e Mohammad terrorist outfit and is today a UN designated terrorist!
It therefore emerges that the spontaneous emergence of TRF and PAFF is nothing but a case of old wine being poured in new bottles. Reason? Since abrogation of Article 370 completely destroyed Pakistan’s narrative on the Kashmir issue, the ISI was left with no other option but to continue fomenting unrest in J&K by directing its proxies in to escalate terrorism levels. But since morbid form of retribution adopted by ISI was liable invite severe international condemnation, it needed to create a smokescreen that would conceal its misdeeds from the watchful eyes of the Financial Action Task Force [FATF] which has already extended Pakistan’s retention on its grey-list for being neck deep in financing terrorist groups and activities and is scheduled to review Pakistan’s anti-terrorism record in the third week of October.
However, it seems that either the ISI hasn’t heard of William Shakespeare’s famous quote “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” or perhaps it doesn’t doesn’t quite agree with the Bard’s views on this issue. What else explains its dumb move to fall back on its puerile ‘name-game’ stratagem in the belief that by using names like TRF and PAFF, which have no connection with Islam, it could succeed in creating an impression that it is abrogation of Article 370 that had spawned a new breed of ‘revolutionaries’ who were fighting a just war against New Delhi’s decision to change the status of J&K, and that this struggle had nothing to do with ‘jihad’ in Kashmir.
Unluckily for ISI, just like in the past, its ‘name-game’ didn’t fool anyone and realising this, Pakistan army’s notorious spy agency went into damage-control mode by ensuring two things. One, that both the TRF and PAFF disappear from the face of the earth leaving no trace whatsoever, just like Pasdaran-e-Islam, Al Hadid and Al Faran. Two, that this disappearance takes place just as quickly as that of JeM founder Azhar after he was listed as a UN designated terrorist, and the second Indian pilot that former Director General Inter Services Public Relations Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor claimed had been shot down and was in Pakistan’s ‘custody’ after the arial duel on February 27 last year, did.