NEW DELHI: As small, ultra-hardline groups subscribing to jihadi ideology propagated by the Islamic State and al-Qaida in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) crop up in Jammu & Kashmir, the security establishment has stepped up technical surveillance to track radicalisation of Kashmiri youth and make timely interventions where necessary.
"Online jihadi propaganda by IS and AQIS is gaining appeal among young, net-savvy Kashmiris who may have grown up with a feeling of 'alienation'. Many of them now identify more with such campaigns than direct recruitment appeals by Hizbul Mujahideen, LeT and Jaish in the name of 'azaadi'," said a senior intelligence officer.
One of the earliest ultra-hardline Kashmiri leaders, an official tracking J&K affairs pointed out, was possibly Abdul Qayoom Nazar, a long-serving local terrorist who broke ranks from Hizbul Mujahideen and floated his own outfit Lashkar-e-Islam in 2015. Then followed the likes of Burhan Wani and Zakir Musa. "All three chose to step out from shadow of pro-azaadi groups like Hizbul Mujahideen. While Nazar, who was killed while infiltrating from PoK last year, targeted communication towers and denounced pro-azaadi outfits and those associated with Syed Ali Geelani, Burhan Wani reached out to young Kashmiris via social media and IS-inspired videos celebrating violence. Musa too has been uploading messages via an al-Qaida-linked communication network.
"More ultra-hardline elements have been cropping up lately, swayed by jihadi ideology and seeking establishment of a Caliphate rather than just attaining 'azaadi'," said the officer.
What has, however, kept these elements in check is that they are diffused rather than a cohesive unit. "While these self-motivated, independent units with 2-3 members each have been planning attacks, the lack of resources and local support has limited their capability. The Pakistan-based outfits would also not like them to grow as they may loosen their hold over Kashmir," said an observer.
Nevertheless, with the growing incidence of self-radicalised, lone-wolf attackers across the world unleashing attacks right where they are, the possibility of the ultra-hardline Kashmiris trying the same in the Valley is seen as real.
The agencies have therefore begun to pro-actively track self-radicalised individuals in J&K. Online surveillance will help the agencies gauge the extent of radicalisation, followed by timely intervention in the form of crackdown on those actively plotting attacks, counselling of ones who may be radicalised but not yet prone to violence and alerting families where the extent of radicalisation is low.
"A similar effort had helped the Indian security establishment bust a pan-Indian, IS-influenced module in early 2015. The crackdown that saw NIA arresting over a dozen youths across several states, ensured that no lone-wolf attacks were mounted in the following days and months," said an officer.
"In Kashmir, where the level of alienation of the youths is high, tackling the ultra-hardline entities will possibly take ten times more effort. The agencies concerned have been directed to alert the law enforcement agencies when the threat of an attack becomes immediate and imminent," said an officer.