Terror redux: Fear returns to the Kashmir Valley

Last Updated: Sun, Mar 28, 2010 07:50 hrs

/New Delhi March 28 (IANS) As the sun sets in this scenic capital of Jammu and Kashmir, spreading a burning crimson on the horizon, Haajra Sofi, a 59-year-old mother, is worried and frantically waiting for her only son to return home after a day's work.

'He has not come. God knows if everything is okay outside,' Sofi says about Shabir Ahmed, who works as a salesman at a shop in Srinagar's city centre of Lal Chowk, a bustling business centre that has been bearing the brunt of a 20-year-old separatist war.

The mother is worried as the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley is fearing the resurgence of Islamist militancy in the wake of renewed guerrilla attacks, more so in urban hubs.

As the authorities were gearing up to relocate more army troops from the valley after a lull in militancy in the past few years, Kashmir, once a holidayers' paradise, has woken up to a fresh bout of violence since the last year-end.

Officials attribute this to a rise in militant incursions from across the border with Pakistan. But many of them admit, though privately, that terrorists have used the lull period to regroup and accumulate arms and ammunition smuggled in from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

According to data with the home ministry in New Delhi, 60 infiltration attempts have been foiled in Jammu and Kashmir since the beginning of this year during which one militant was killed and some 100 of them were forced to return to Pakistan.

Though the records show that militants have made no successful bid to cross over this year, officials are apprehensive that some guerrillas may have still sneaked in by breaching the multi-tiered vigil on the fenced Line of Control - the de facto border that divides Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Indian Army chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor admitted the surge in militant incursions. 'Infiltration has increased in Jammu and Kashmir this winter in comparison to last winter,' Kapoor said after he met Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram over the issue Friday.

Security and intelligence agencies in the state are fearing that a new breed of militants - all teenagers - is being created and young minds are fast falling in the trap of guerrilla groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen.

'The militant groups are organising overground workers. They indoctrinate and brainwash young minds, mostly teens,' said a police official in north Kashmir, which has emerged as the new hub of resurgent militancy and where guerrillas have been surprising police and paramilitary troopers with hit and run attacks.

There have been some 30 gunfights and around 40 other militancy-related incidents in Jammu and Kashmir since the beginning of this year, including a suicide attack in Lal Chowk in January, which left a local teenager and a foreigner -- both militants -- dead.

In the first two and a half months of this year, over 30 militants, 14 security men and seven civilians were killed in shootouts, grenade explosions and IED blasts.

Sopore town in north Kashmir has alone witnessed 12 attacks. Four army personnel, including an officer, were killed and 15 residential houses razed to the ground during a 72-hour-long gun battle late last month there.

Sources said that top militant commanders of the LeT and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen were hiding in the north Kashmir forest belt.

LeT Kashmir chief Abdullah Ooni, who is said to be masterminding the new attacks in the valley and is the brain behind the changing militant strategy in Kashmir, has been evading security forces for long. The sources say he easily escapes any security cordon and has managed to give forces the slip at least seven times in January.

Officials admit that militants are outsmarting the technological intelligence grid by frequently changing their locations after making cellphone calls and that is why security agencies have now started relying on conventional intelligence gathering.

Security agencies in the state are fearing more militant attacks in summer though they say they are capable of countering them.

But a sense of fear has returned to the state with heightening of tensions. Mothers, like Sofi, have again started worrying about their children outside home, and shops close early in the evenings - the way it used to be in early 1990s when the militancy erupted.

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at s.kashani@ians.in)

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