Srinagar: Local support for terror outfits has been on the decline, but “hybrid terrorists” continue to pose a challenge for the J&K Police in the Kashmir Valley, Inspector General of Police (IGP) for Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, has said.
In an interview with ThePrint, the 1997-batch IPS officer said security forces have brought down the number of operational terrorists in the Kashmir Valley down to 150 over the last three months. As many as 70 terrorists with ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) were killed as part of these operations, he added.
Kumar further specified that top commanders were among terrorists gunned down by security forces in the Valley in recent months. The IGP also spoke at length about the J&K Police’s plan to increase the frequency of counter-terrorism operations, to bring down the number of terrorists in the Valley to below 100.
‘Plan is to increase frequency of operations’
Asked what is the target J&K Police have set for themselves, IGP Kumar said “to bring down the number of terrorists in the Valley down to double digits by the end of this year.”
This, he said, would require “constant, high-speed operations” and “local support”.
“Since December till the end of March, over 70 terrorists have been killed. This month (April) alone, 19 terrorists have been killed. These include top commanders of LeT and Jaish. This is a big blow to them as they are now leaderless and they are not left with any old experienced hands. Most of them are now new recruits,” he said.
“For instance, there is no top commander now left in Jaish. We killed 20 of their terrorists in the last few months. They are now working with new recruits who indulge in sending threats online,” Kumar explained.
‘Local support for terrorists declining’
Lack of local logistical support for terrorists is another factor that has affected their operations in the Valley, the IGP pointed out.
“Local support for these terrorists is on the decline in the Valley. This happened because we took both punitive and preventive action against people who supported terrorists,” he said.
“Times have changed. Now, if teenagers leave their homes to join terror ranks, their parents approach us for help. They file a missing complaint and this helps us keep recruitment in check. In 25 per cent of the cases, we have made terrorists surrender by taking help from their families and have brought them into the mainstream,” he continued.
A number of over ground workers (OGWs) and their associates have been booked under relevant sections of the Public Safety Act (PSA) and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), which IGP Kumar says, have acted as a big “hindrance” for terrorists.
“In punitive action, we booked sympathisers and associates under PSA and UAPA. If we found that a terrorist was staying in someone’s house, we started attaching that property and also arrested the owner. This way, people started resisting terrorists. They also started giving us information about their movements,” he added.
The top cop also said a manifold increase in the number of counter-terrorism operations in the Valley has “broken the backs” of terror outfits. This is why terrorists are now “desperate” and “targeting civilians”, he claimed.
According to J&K Police data, targeted killings have claimed the lives of over 23 civilians in the Kashmir Valley since October 2021.
“They [terrorists] are desperate to show their presence and hence, are targeting civilians. Their targets are now labourers working in fields, policemen and CRPF personnel who are on leave and without a weapon, besides the Panchayat leaders,” IGP Kumar said.
‘Hybrid terrorists operate on case-to-case basis’
Outlining the biggest challenge for J&K Police in Kashmir, IGP Vijay Kumar said a large number of “hybrid and part-time terrorists” continue to operate in the Valley. In most cases, these “hybrid terrorists” are locals with no prior criminal record, which is why it is difficult for the police to track them down.
“Last January, when the owner of Krishna Dhaba was targeted in the Valley, it was a blind case for us. Investigation revealed that the killers were locals and we had no record of them. Further investigation revealed they were given instructions online from Pakistan to carry out the target killing,” the IGP said.
“We also found that these killers never met any handler physically but were just recruited and given instructions online to carry out the killing,” he revealed, adding, “we then termed them as hybrid terrorists”.
“These hybrid terrorists operate on case-to-case basis. Their parents, neighbours, no one knows that they are associated with any terror group. They are recruited online, given training online and even the target is conveyed online. The weapon is sent to them through a second person. They execute the killing and then return the pistol. They then go back to their daily lives,” he said.
“We have arrested many of these hybrid terrorists. Some surrendered, some were made to surrender by taking help from their parents,” he said, adding, “we arrested 37 terrorists in the last four months, 15 of which are hybrid.”
He also said that most recruits, foreign terrorists or local militants, have ditched the AK-47 in favour of pistols as handheld weapons are “easy to hide and operate”.
“Since last year, a lot of pistols have come from Pakistan via drones. The hybrid militants are using them as they are easily available and are easy to hide. Earlier, AK (47) was used more frequently. Now, we even find Pakistani terrorists using the pistols,” Kumar said.
Target — bring down number of terrorists to below 100
“When I joined here, people told me that no matter how many operations we carry out, till the end of the year, the count of terrorists will be over 200. But we decided that we won’t let it happen. Last year, after many years, we brought that count to 170,” added the 1997-batch IPS officer.
“My plan is to increase the frequency of operations even more, and by December this year, bring that count to less than 100. This 100 should include all terrorists — the newly recruited, ones that infiltrate, and the ones existing. The target is to bring the number to double digits,” he said.
“If the number keeps decreasing the way it is going now, the pace of carrying out operations is maintained and increased and we have public support, we will wipe terrorism out of Kashmir in a couple of years.”
In 2021, 171 terrorists were killed in encounters with security forces in the Kashmir Valley, compared to 207 in 2020.
According to data maintained by J&K Police, at least 60 per cent of terrorists operating in the Kashmir Valley have ties to the LeT, while the rest are linked to JeM, HM, Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGuH) and Al Badr. Many terror outfits have also floated offshoots such as The Resistance Front and Kashmir Tiger Force.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)