By Dr. Sudha Ramachandran
Posters in the name of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Jammu and Kashmir that appeared in Sopore town last Friday have set off a wave of anxiety in the Kashmir Valley over the possible emergence of a Taliban wing in the strife-torn state. Calling on Kashmiris to refrain from indulging in “un-Islamic activities,” the posters threaten to attack gasoline stations fuelling police and Indian Army vehicles, cable operators screening Indian movies, shops selling alcohol and locals providing jobs and accommodation to migrant laborers.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Jammu and Kashmir was unheard of till its name appeared on posters last week. Whether such an outfit does indeed exist is unclear as is the authenticity of its claimed links to the Taliban.
Only a fortnight ago, posters in the name of another unheard of outfit, the Lashkar-e-Islam appeared in Sopore, an Islamist stronghold in north Kashmir. These called on people renting out their land to host mobile transmission towers, mobile phone operators, and those running recharge outlets to shut down operations or face “dire consequences.” A string of attacks on transmission towers and people associated with the mobile phone network business — at least two people were killed and three injured in the violence – indicate that these were not idle threats. Of the 2,903 transmission towers of various telecom companies in the Valley 1,058 were shut down due to attacks or in anticipation of violence.
The Kashmir Valley is the main bone of contention in the India-Pakistan dispute over the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. A powerful Pakistan-backed armed insurgency against the Indian State erupted in 1989. Through the 1990s, scores of militant groups emerged and fought for a share of the largesse that Pakistan extended them in the form of funds, arms and training.
While the worst of that insurgency is over, the alienation of the masses from the Indian State persists. What is more, violent attacks targeting civilians, the Indian security forces and infrastructure occur from time to time.
Adding to the complexity of the situation on the ground are an array of shadowy outfits: surrendered militants who are now part of pro-India militias, extortionist gangs that pose as militant groups to add heft to their name, outfits that flex their muscles on posters and pamphlets only and so on.
Do the Lashkar-e-Islam and Tehreek-e-Taliban Jammu and Kashmir fall into the poster-pamphlet category or are they new terror actors emerging in the Valley? There have been attempts in the past to create a perception that the Taliban are coming to the Valley to boost the sagging morale of militants here. Is this the motivation behind the recent posters issued by ‘Tehreek-e-Taliban Jammu and Kashmir.’
As for the Lashkar-e-Islam, while Indian authorities insist this is a front of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the largest Kashmiri militant outfit, the United Jihad Council (UJC), a Pakistan-based umbrella grouping of anti-India militant organizations, which is headed by the HM’s Syed Salahuddin has issued a statement claiming that Lashkar-e-Islam is an “India-sponsored organization” that has no links whatsoever with the UJC.
Kashmiri separatists maintain that India carried out the attacks on the mobile phone network to blame and discredit the separatist movement. By shutting down the mobile phone network and causing hardship to ordinary Kashmiris, and then blaming this on the separatists, India is seeking to turn public opinion against the separatist movement, their argument goes.
Indian authorities have said that the attacks can be traced back to incidents in Sopore where technical staff of two mobile phone companies found high frequency transmitters on the top of transmission towers and removed these “unauthorized devices.” Apparently these were installed by militants. The removal of these devices drew the ire of the militants, who then beat up the technical staff. When some others too went to the security forces with complaints regarding “devices” on transmission towers on their land, militants acted to teach these ‘informers’ a lesson. The string of attacks on Kashmir’s mobile phone network followed.
The recent surge in attacks and intimidation in the Valley will undermine livelihoods. It is only in recent years that tourism in the Kashmir Valley, after suffering huge setbacks during the 1990s, is slowly picking up momentum. And summer is the peak tourism season, when millions of tourists from other parts of India and abroad flock to the Valley. The recent attacks on the mobile phone network here would have hit business badly. It could deter tourists from visiting as well.
Dr. Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore, India who writes on South Asian political and security issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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