The Pulwama attack conundrum: tracking the rise of militancy in Kashmir
The story of Adil Ahmad is not new. Kashmir has witnessed a cycle of such violence before.
The explosion that killed about 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Pulwama was so intense that even 20-km away, scores of families in Srinagar were shaken by its impact. Some people ran out of their homes to make sense of the earthshaking sound. This was the deadliest attack on the armed forces in Kashmir since 1989, when armed upheaval first erupted in the valley.
When scribes drove from Srinagar’s Press Enclave towards the spot in Pulwama’s Lethpora area, they witnessed overwhelming scenes from a distance. “The spot looked war-torn, as if air bombed,” said a senior journalist.
What lay behind the guarded spot—a no-go zone for the media—were craters of a mangled bus. “Some forty personnel were brought dead here,” a doctor in Srinagar’s Army Hospital said.
Soon after the attacks, the state’s winter capital, Jammu, was put under curfew after some Kashmir-based vehicles were set afire in retaliatory protests.
But while everyone – from security personnel, to the government, and even the civilians - were still making sense of the attacks on Thursday afternoon, a video shot by the young suicide bomber, Adil Hassan, went viral on social media. In this video, the Jaish-e-Mohammad’s local recruit said that he had been waiting “for this moment for the last one year".
Adil belonged to Kakpora in Pulwama, a region in south Kashmir. South Kashmir, of late, has become the focal point of militancy in the state. Particularly four regions in south Kashmir have begun, repeatedly, to figure in the radar of security personnel: Pulwama, Shopian, Anantnag and Kulgam. From 2014 onwards, this region has seen a steady increase in the number of local youths taking up militancy.
The video of Adil proclaiming his "martyrdom" was shot just before he rammed his explosives-laden Scorpio vehicle into the CRPF bus.
Last spring, Adil took to militancy after leaving his home along with his cousin on a routine outing. As soon as this class-12 dropout announced on social media that he was joining the Jaish, and changed his name to Waqas Commando, he figured on the radar of law-enforcing agencies.
But long before he took to militancy, Adil was a mason in his village.
As Jaish’s local recruit, Adil happened to be the second suicide bomber who shot his final moments before launching the attack.
But the story of Adil is not new. Kashmir has seen this before. On the last day of 2017, for instance, a teenager from South Kashmir’s Tral had left home under similar circumstances and ended up targeting a military installation in the same Lethpora belt.
Then, as now, local sleuths had sent out alerts about a possible fidayeen attack in Kashmir.
The subsequent attack took place at dawn on December 31, 2017, when a vehicle ferrying two newly recruited Kashmiri fidayeen—Fardeen Khandey and Manzoor Baba—stormed the highly barricaded paramilitary Commando Training Centre (CTC) at Lethpora, Pulwama, along with their Pakistani associate.
The militants killed five CRPF men and were, subsequently, gunned down.
And much like Adil, Fardeen, too, had shot a video before the attack, saying he would be “in heaven” before people would watch it. This was the first time that any militant in Kashmir’s 30-year-long militancy had shot such a video.
(Scene from the Lethpora attack, 2017/Photo Courtesy: Bilal Handoo)
The return of Jaish-e-Mohammad
It needs to be remembered that Jaish claims “separating Kashmir from India” as its prime motive.
In recent times, Jaish has been involved in a string of fidayeen attacks, including the January 2016 attack in Pathankot, the September 2016 attack in Uri, the August 2017 attack in Pulwama and the October 2017 Srinagar airport attack.
Since fidayeen attacks are mainly suicidal in nature, the return of Jaish’s fidayeen squad in the valley has put the security forces on ultra-alert mode now.
The situation may be getting serious, as it was decades back.
In July, 1999, during the Kargil war, Kashmir saw the emergence of fidayeen attacks. Two militants barged into a BSF camp in Bandipora. Later that year, the BB Cantonment in Srinagar faced a similar attack.
By 2002, when Jaish was banned by Pakistan, 55 fidayeen attacks had taken place in Jammu and Kashmir, mostly in the Kashmir Valley. Besides 90 fidayeen, these left 161 military, paramilitary, and police personnel dead.
After the outfit’s recent return, the security apparatus in Kashmir had added a layer of concrete fencing around its security installations last year. Since then, the sand pickets and bunkers have returned to Srinagar, from where they were removed some years ago, as tourism began yet again.
The concern in the Jammu and Kashmir police establishment now is that Kashmir might enter yet another violent phase, where sudden attacks would only turn it into a low-intensity battlefield.
(The author is a Srinagar-based independent journalist. He has written extensively on Kashmir and militancy for various publications.)