The killing of six Jaish-e-Mohammad militants at Uri in Baramulla on Monday has strengthened fears among security forces that the group is trying to step up their offensive in Kashmir

by Tariq Bhat

JeM's offensive has already won it the sympathy from the locals in south Kashmir where most of its fighters operate. Pakistan has a clear hand in JeM playing the lead role in Kashmir. In order to take away the international focus from 26/11 Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Muhammad Sayyed and the activities of Lashkar-e-Toiba that his organisation Jamat-ud-Dawah patronises, Pakistan army has decided to mainstream radicals like him. This is apparent in the fact that Sayyed decided to join politics after Pakistan army told the government that jehadi elements should be mainstreamed to curtail their activities. The Pakistan army believes the move will help dispel the impression that Pakistan is a breeding ground for terrorists.

The hidden agenda here is to blunt the Indian argument that Saeed is an asset of Pakistan Army who is involved in terrorism against India. The decision has apparently started to show results.

Dawah-backed Mili Muslim League (MML), a coalition of religious parties, had polled the third highest number of votes after Imran Khan's PTI and Nawaz Sharief's Muslim League in the by-elections for Pakistan National Assembly Constituency 121 in Lahore a few months back. The seat fell vacant after the Supreme Court disqualified former prime minister Sharief after finding him guilty on charges of conflict of interest.

The MML also performed well in a by-election in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa constituency, fomerly known as NWFP, where PTI is in power. The formation of MML seems to have unnerved the dominant Muslim League (N), which got the Pakistan Election Commission to reject MML's application for registration as a political party rejected.

The Muslim League (N) Pakistan government also ordered a ban on making donations to Dawa's charity wing, Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF).

The move against FIF has allowed Pakistan to address the concerns of International Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that had named Dawah's two charities and sought “actions against them''.

The government's decision to ban the Dawah's charities was backed by the army to prevent FATF from hurting Pakistan's economic interests.

The plan to mainstream the likes of Sayyed doesn't seem to bother India's ally US, which sought action from Pakistan only against the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan despite placing a $10-million bounty for information on Sayyed. It is in this backdrop the JeM's revival is taking place.

The idea is to take the focus away from the LeT and allow JeM, at least for some time, to take lead and provide respite to LeT and Hizbul Mujahideen from the offensive of the security forces who have killed more than 200 militants in last year.

In addition, JeM also fits the bill for sensational attacks that attract massive media publicity.

Earlier too, the Pakistan army had unleashed LeT in a similar fashion to counter the offensive by the Army and Ikhwan, renegade militants under Kuka Parry and Papa Kishtwari, and others.

The Ikhwan broke the back of militancy in Kashmir between 1993 and '95, paving way for elections for the first time after nine years of central rule in Kashmir.

The first signs of JeM's revival emerged in November 2016, the year when army foiled a major fidayeen attack on battalion headquarters at Tangdhar in Kupwara.

Three militants, Hussain, Muawia, and Rizwan, were killed in the attack while the fourth, Sadiq Gujjar, a resident of Sialkot in Pakistani Punjab, managed to escape and befriended a computer operator in Kupwara who provided him with fake Aadhaar and election cards. The computer operator also put Gujjar in touch with some youth in Baramulla, including a policeman's son. Gujjar then stayed at the subsidiary training centre in Baramulla's Sheeri, where the father of one of the Baramulla youth was posted. He also imparted arms training to the five Baramulla youth.

After Gujjar's arrest in February last year, JeM launched another group of six members. One of them was identified as Rehman. They stayed in the forests for a few weeks and then split. In October 2016, security forces killed two senior JeM commanders Abdul Rehman, alias Burma Bhai, a Rohingya Muslim from Burma, and Adil Pathan in Tral. Pathan was the brother of JeM's Pakistan-based operations chief Mufti Asghar. Pathan had fled Kashmir after Parliament attack mastermind Baba's killing in August 2003 but returned in 2012. Burma Bhai had infiltrated into Kashmir in 2013 and was part of an eight-member group of foreign militants who had established a base in south Kashmir’s Awantipora sub-district. Rehman was nabbed in Baramulla on May 15, 2017. Nine days after his arrest, the police killed two suspected JeM militants in the heart of Srinagar at Saraibala near Lal Chowk.

JeM's revival in Kashmir received a boost after a senior JeM commander Noor Muhammad Tantry, alias Noor Trali, who was out on parol since 2015 after serving 11 years in jail—eight in Delhi and three in Kashmir—received a group of 20 JeM fidayeen in Poonch last summer. After police found about his activities, Trali went underground to coordinate the activities of JeM militants.

A dwarf with a height of just 4.2 feet, Trali had also difficulty in walking freely. Police officials say he used his short stature to camouflage his activities and selected targets for the fidayeen. “He was a smart operator and would travel between districts for weapons and to guide militants to reach their designated areas,” said Muneer Khan, additional director-general of police. “Trali was responsible for reviving the JeM, which is trying to fill the vacuum created by the killing of a large number of Lashkar and Hizbul Mujahideen militants.”

Trali, as per police sources, was the brain behind the fidayeen attack on district police lines in Pulwama in which eight personnel—four each from the police and the CRPF were killed on August 27, 2017. He, a source said, was also responsible for planning of the attack on the BSF camp adjacent to the IAF base in Srinagar on October 3 in which one was killed.

Trali was killed on December 24 in an encounter in Sambora and four days later, Fardeen Khandey, 16, Manzoor Baba, 20, and Muhammad Shakoor stormed the CRPF camp at Lethpora near the saffron township of Pampore on Srinagar-Jammu national highway. Fardeen and Baba became the first Kashmiris to stage a Fidayeen attack after 17 years. The attack created a stir among security circles and ever since, search and cordon operations have been intensified, including in Srinagar after 17 years.