The abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, profoundly influenced the Kashmir Valley’s course and decades of insurgency perpetrated by the Pakistani state and non-state actors. The various political sides within the violence-hit state running a sinister agenda, based on the fabricated narrative, were in for a rude awakening. None of them had expected the government to take such a bold step to execute long pending demand of assimilating J&K with the rest of the country.
Leading the perplexed parties was Pakistan, which has unleashed a proxy war since independence through its hold in Kashmir. That country has now seen its returns dwindling in recent times due to massive offensives launched by the Indian security forces. Various ‘tanzeems’ with hidden agenda are now getting exposed. Along with that, reduced terror funding coupled with international pressure have affected terror factories in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Pakistan and the top brass of its notorious intelligence agency, the ISI, have needed a fresh crop of terrorists to continue the proxy war with deniability. The agenda is clear: the new wave of insurgency and a surge in violence could hit international headlines even before the link is established with Pakistani state actors. And this search for deniability has given birth to a new terror outfit with same old Pakistani institutions at the helm of affairs.
Birth of TRF
Post Article 370 abrogation, Pakistan launched a social media offensive with its Army spokesperson taking the lead. But, what became more interesting was the birth of a new terror front on social media. Called ‘The Resistance Front’ (TRF), it has tried and applied every theory in the textbooks of ‘Marketing 101’ and ‘How to increase online presence’. Various reports have come out on its links across the Line of Control; many have corroborated that the TRF was supported by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Often claims have been made that the TRF even appears to be a proxy of LeT.
“A freshly-minted terror group, The Resistance Front, is funded and backed by Pakistan,” a top counter-terror official in Kashmir said. The group is part of several efforts, often repeated in the past two decades, to give terrorism in Kashmir an indigenous face and give the Pakistan deep state, blamed for supporting terror, an alibi, the official said. Since its appearance on social media platforms, it has resorted to claiming high traction acts and owned up the terrorists active in the Valley.
From claiming the grenade-throwing at Srinagar’s Hari Singh High Street on October 12, to the next one within a fortnight that killed one civilian, TRF has been holding every thread to associate itself with small and big terror incident. It is also known that their social media accounts, according to the internet protocol address, are being operated from Islamabad and, that too, mostly from an iPhone. The connivance and support of Pakistan is clearly visible since Kashmir is still under lockdown and the internet has been intermittently snapped to contain propaganda. It is not a new tactic — the moment a group surfaces, it starts a series of tall claims to set up and validate itself as the top rung among others.
“What has differentiated them is the sheer planning and precision of execution. From nicely printed English announcements on a letter-head with serial numbering to professionally made videos of audio messages are all tools used for enhancing their image as an organised and ‘better tanzeem’ than others,” said a top officer of anti-terror unit based in Kashmir.
The officer further pointed that it is an old marketing technique to establish one’s credibility in a new theatre. It is being applied with almost more than required fervour and speed.
But TRF’s credibility is hit by the realities on ground. The cadres and networks are getting exposed each day with caches of arms getting seized and inexperienced boys being misled into their ‘tanzeems’ getting arrested. In north Kashmir’s border district of Kupwara, on March 23, six men claiming to be a part of the TRF were arrested. The quick interrogation guided the police to recover 8 AK rifles, 10 pistols, 89 hand grenades, 20-odd detonator fuses and ammunition. These facts simply point to the reduced support their attempt to revive terror in the Valley is getting from the locals. People are tired of violence and are not interested in harbouring them anymore. The so-called over- ground supporters are providing exact google map locations to the police.
“Every claim they make is swiftly followed by an online barrage of tweets and telegrams,” the officer said. Like in a recent incident when a terrorist drew out an AK-47 rifle concealed under his robe to shoot three CRPF jawans, the TRF rushed to claim accountability, and described the killings as revenge for the deaths of their cadre in recent incidents.
Their desperation on ground to prove their relevance in today’s Kashmir is clearly visible from their “hurried efforts to claim every small opportunity to stay in news”, a senior Indian Army officer said. Recently they have been belting out neatly made audio tapes on every agenda under the sun from slandering other ‘tanzeems’ to giving threats to claiming their self-righteousness. The frequency and urgency of these tapes speaks for itself. These are simply signs of the pressure and desperation this brand new social media terror sensation is trying to prove. They have recently even gone as far as claiming the terrorists that were killed in the Kulgam encounter with fanfare of neatly written tweets and posts with expressive posters. But it was a false claim. In reality the terrorists didn’t even belong to TRF.
“In today’s online universe, we are seeing TRF as an example of how a twitter handle gains fame by making tall claims and then it is anxious to make people and the so-called followers believe those claims as reality,” said a senior officer with country’s intelligence agency. The officer explained that these are nothing but feeble attempts of Pakistan to try a new tactic in Kashmir after every few years. However, this time the stark desperation and urgency is unashamedly visible as they know that time for them is running out.
The recent killing of the poster boy of Hizbul Mujahideen, Riyaz Naikoo, in a clean surgical operation by the security forces in Kashmir has again brought many facts to the fore. The last phone call of the terrorists from the encounter site and even the false claims by TRF in Handwara clearly point to the inter-tanzeem rivalry, which is now escalating each day. This has now reached a stage where complicity of TRF in the elimination of Naikoo has also been established first hand. The major ‘tanzeems’ in the Valley are all left without any credible leadership, and their control over their cadres and operations in Kashmir is all but lost.
The haphazard attacks, snitching on each other and desperate attempts to lay claim to one another’s operations clearly depict an environment of complete disarray and lack of either unity of cause or coordination. The major escalation in the summer of 2020 which had been threatened since August 5, 2019 has also manifested itself in random incidences of firing and grenade lobbing. There is a clear terror leadership deficit which has now begun to show, in not only their actions but their ability to carry out attacks on ground.
If nothing else, the summers have bought with them a big change in the attitude of the locals wherein the inputs about the whereabouts of these terrorists are flowing freely. This is one of the major enablers for the security forces to carry out precise operations with a frequency and tenacity not seen in a long time. The poster boys are gone and there is no credible ones to replace them.
The people don’t want these new faces, as they have grown tired of the same old rhetoric being peddled by every new ‘tanzeem’ leader. Pakistan’s long-term plan is now looking like a distant mirage.
With the ‘tanzeems’ left leaderless and bickering among themselves, internal financial woes and other stigmas have started haunting them in the international fora. No one wants to believe Pakistan’s sob story on harbouring terrorists and actively supporting them. As a known terror state, Pakistan has lost whatever little sympathy it had among developed nations. The recent events also show that people from both sides of the border are now tired of the constant motormouthing by the Pakistani hierarchy. This is slowly beginning to look like, that the transition in Kashmir is finally around the corner, not only optimistically but pragmatically.
The loosening of the Pakistani terror grip on gullible Kashmiri youth will surely usher in a new era in the Valley that has been bloodied for decades by Pakistan. India’s effort to build a new Kashmir with active participation of locals will definitely make the Pakistani narratives a thing of the past.