Terrorist Groups: An Overview
A sustained campaign of insurgency in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) for over a decade has been made possible by the presence of a dynamic Islamist terrorist infrastructure, largely controlled by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on US targets, Islamist terrorism has come under global condemnation and Pakistan has faced pressure to withdraw its support. In response, some cosmetic measures have been taken by Pakistan in curbing the overt activities of terrorist organisations based on its soil. However, the support these organistaions receive from official sources - to further the insurgency in J&K - has shown no signs of receeding.
The ISI, has gradually built up its control over the terrorist violence in the State. When, insurgency first broke out in 1989, this agency, which was pre-occupied with supervising the Afghan jihad, was caught completely unawares by the anti-State sentiments that built up in J&K following the 1986 elections to the State Legislative Assembly that were allegedly rigged. As a result, it took a few years before a network of loyal terrorist outfits operating under its command could be established.
The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), and the People's League were two notable terrorist fronts that were in existence before insurgency began in 1989. Of these, the JKLF (originally established in 1964) was more active and took the initiative to propel militancy in the State. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that the JKLF merely ignited the insurgency in the State over which the ISI assumed total control in the subsequent years.
It was after 1986 that some youth from J&K crossed the Line of Control (LoC) in search of weapons and training. Pakistan coordinated with the JKLF, the only active terrorist outfit at that point of time, in training and equipping these youth. Simultaneously, a network was established to indoctrinate more youth in J&K and encourage them to cross the LoC for arms and training. The JKLF's importance during the initial phase of the insurgency was demonstrated by the concentration of militancy in Srinagar, the chief base of operations of the outfit.
Problems between JKLF (which made no secret of its preference for an Independent J&K) and Pakistan (which has repeatedly stressed its claim on the State) prompted efforts by the ISI to sideline the JKLF and promote other outfits, particularly the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) that would further Pakistani interests. Another objective, following the age-old prescription of 'divide and rule', was to create numerous outfits which could be manipulated through the provision of resources such as arms and money. Each outfit was, thus, made dependent on the ISI.
The ISI gained expertise in effectively supporting and coordinating the Jihadi elements in Afghanistan. This expertise was put to use in J&K in marginalising the pro-autonomy and nationalist elements and promoting radical elements within and outside the JKLF. The initial strategy of Pakistan was to create outfits largely manned by Kashmiris and dedicated to Islamisation of the nascent insurgency in J&K. The easy targets were disgruntled JKLF cadres. These cadres parted ways with the JKLF owing to differences with the leadership and formed smaller outfits such as the Jammu and Kashmir Students Liberation Front and the Al Badr (established in 1989 and different from the present Al Badr formed in late 1998 by foreign terrorists). The latter was chosen by the ISI for intensive promotion and it was renamed as Hizb-ul Mujahideen. Other notable outfits targeted by the ISI included the Ikhwan-ul Muslimeen (the Islamised nomenclature adopted in April 1991 by the terrorist faction of Jammu and Kashmir Students' League) and Al Umar (established in early 1990).
The Islamisation drive also implied replacing the predominantly Sufi culture of the local population with an orthodox version of Islam corresponding to the variety practised in Pakistan. This movement preceded the insurgency with the setting up in 1987 of a womans quasi-military front Dukhtaraan-e-Millat (DeM, Daughters of the Nation). This outfit has since then been 'persuading' Muslim women in the State to conform to orthodox Islamic life-style in matters of dress and values. Other outfits involved in the 'persuasion' process are the Allah Tigers and the Hizb-ul Nisa.
By 1991, the ISI appears to have assumed control over the State's militancy, having successfully sidelined the JKLF. It then sought to ensure co-ordination among the numerous outfits it had helped create. Two organizations, Tehrik-e-Hurriyat-e-Kashmir and Mutahida Jehad Council, were reportedly mandated with this responsibility (the organisations were formed in 1990 but assumed their co-ordinating roles only in April 1991).
The nature of the insurgency in J&K witnessed a major shift in the post-1992 phase when the involvement of foreign terrorists increased rapidly. Several factors contributed to this change. Pakistani Intelligence agencies and the army harboured a deep mistrust of the Kashmiris after the 1965 episode. On that occasion, information provided by locals in the Valley helped the Indian army to neutralize and capture some of the top, covert subversive units of the Pakistan Army that were sent as a part of Operation Gibraltar. The ability of Kashmiri terrorists in effectively spreading terror and attacking Indian security forces, too, was doubted by their Pakistani sponsors. As the counter-insurgency response from India began to gain effectiveness, the terrorist-potential of Kashmiri outfits declined. These outfits' activities were largely restricted to some hit-and-run attacks on security forces and abductions to secure the release of jailed terrorists.
Since 1992, the ISI has aimed at escalating militancy in J&K by imparting a more violent and brutal face to it (the militancy). This was sought to be achieved through creating outfits manned by Afghans, Pakistanis and mercenaries from other countries.
With a view to create an Islamic hard-line terrorist outfit, the ISI helped to create the Harkat-ul Ansar (HuA) (established in October 1993). Two outfits that actively waged jihad in Afghanistan, the Harakat ul-Jihad al-Islami and Harkat-ul Mujahedin (the latter was a splinter organisation of the former) were to be merged into this front. While the merger of these outfits' cadre in Pakistan was accomplished, Maulana Masood Azhar (who was released from an Indian prison in the wake of the hijacking of the Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 in December 1999), was appointed general secretary of the Harkat-ul Ansar and sent to J&K to ensure a smooth merger of the local units of the two outfits. However, he was arrested in February 1994, immediately after his arrival, and the merger remained incomplete. Occasional actions have been reported by the Harakat ul-Jihad al-Islami.
The average active life span of a Kashmiri terrorist has been variously estimated to be between 6 and 12 months. Though a comparable average is yet to be calculated for the outfits, they, too, grow and dwindle as a result of sustained anti-insurgency operations by security forces. The Harkat-ul Ansar has been a victim of this process. After most of its leaders were arrested the organisation's role in J&K gradually declined. To remedy this, a last ditch attempt was made by some elements within the outfit to obtain the release of some of the jailed leaders. The Al-Faran was formed to further this objective. The precaution of using a front organisation to abduct foreigners did not pay, when some of the hostages were killed and the US banned the Harkat-ul Ansar. Consequently, the Harkat-ul Ansar adopted the nomenclature of Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HuM) (1997), one of its original factions.
With the decline of the Harkat-ul Ansar, the ISI promoted the growth of a new front, Lashkar-e Toiba (LeT) (began operations in Kashmir in 1993), which has emerged as a major actor in insurgency in J&K. Another outfit that is jostling for a space in the State's militancy is a new organisation launched by Maulana Masood Azhar, the Jaish-e-Mohammad Mujahideen E-Tanzeem (JeM) (established in February 2000). Some recent reports had hinted at a merger of the Harkat-ul Mujahideen and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, but these were denied by the former.
Besides these major groups, numerous smaller outfits, created at different points of time, operate in the State's insurgency. Locally known as tanzeems, these are more in the nature of small militia outfits, normally associated with the larger outfits. For instance, when the People's League declined after the arrest of its chief, Shabbir Shah, his colleague Firdaus Ahmad Baba alias Babar Badr started the Muslim Janbaz Force (established in May 1990) which largely comprised of People's League cadre who were trained in Pakistan. It later merged with the Kashmir Jehad Force to form the Al Jehad Force.
There are also several lesser known terrorist groups operating in J&K.