Several of those 'missing' are suspected to have joined terror groups. The trend in recruitment numbers is 'around the same as 2020' and is being seen as a cause for worry

New Delhi: Even as guns have fallen silent at the Line of Control (LoC) following a ceasefire with Pakistan, terror recruitment in Kashmir continues despite the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown.

According to sources in the security establishment, at least 40 youths have joined terror ranks this year while 50 are “missing”. Several of those “missing” are suspected to have joined terror groups but have not been included in the official count by the police and security forces as the recruitment is not established yet.

“This year there have been around 40 who have joined terror groups, basically the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Al-Badr. However, around 50 are still missing,” a senior-level source said.

This continuing trend of recruitment was also confirmed by another arm of the defence and security establishment, which is involved in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations.

“Yes, we have not been able to arrest this recruitment trend. The trend in numbers is around the same as 2020 and that is a worry,” a source said.

Meanwhile, several new groups with different names have cropped up in Kashmir to provide a front to traditional Pakistan-sponsored terror organisations. This will allegedly allow the country to claim deniability on these terror groups.

On 2 June, it was reported that while there had been no ceasefire violations since 25 February, Pakistan’s support to terror elements in Kashmir continues through hawala operators and other means. The scale of the support, however, is smaller than before now.

Incidentally, BJP leader Rakesh Pandita was shot dead by terrorists in Pulwama district the same night.

FATF Factor Behind Pakistan’s Peace Initiative

Defence and security sources believe the peace initiative by Pakistan, which led to the ceasefire in LoC, is a move to escape the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) action against it. The FATF is a Paris-based global body against money laundering and terror financing.

Pakistan was placed on the ‘grey list’ by FATF in 2018 and has been struggling to come out of it since.

On Monday, the Asia Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering, a regional affiliate of FATF, had retained Pakistan on “enhanced follow-up” status for sufficient outstanding requirements. However, it did improve the country’s rating on 21 of the 40 technical recommendations made by the global watchdog.

“Pakistan’s peace moves are to get itself out of the grey listing of the FATF and to showcase to the world that it is not supporting terror and is actually wanting peace with India. So yes, while there has not been any infiltration attempt since February end or any ceasefire violations, the support to the terror groups in Kashmir continues,” another source said.

Old Terror Groups Get New Fronts

Pakistan is attempting to ensure that while terror continues in Kashmir, no attack can be traced to the country, according to sources.

“The terror situation in Kashmir is at a stage which is under control from a security point of view given the history of the place. This is primarily because strict instructions have been given by the ISI and the Pakistani establishment to terror groups against any infiltration at LoC or big attacks that will bring a spotlight on terrorism in Kashmir,” said a source quoted earlier.

To this end, Pakistan has been propping up various fronts for original terror groups since early 2020. These fronts establish these groups as indigenous and ‘revolutionaries’.

“All the traditional terror groups, which were operating from Pakistan with direct support of the ISI, like the LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba), Jaish-e-Mohammad have now got frontal organisations with peculiar names to showcase that Pakistan has no role in the terror activities in Kashmir,” the source said.

Most of the recent recruits have joined The Resistance Front (TRF), which is a front for LeT. Another front for the LeT is the People’s Anti Fascist Front, which claimed the attack on Pandita.

Similarly, the infamous 313 Brigade of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen has converted into what is now known as the Jammu and Kashmir Ghaznavi Force.

The Lashkar-e-Mustafa is a front for JeM, which came into the spotlight following the Pulwama attack in 2019.

Hizbul Sees Decline In Recruitment And Operations

Meanwhile, the operations and recruitment for terror group Hizbul Mujahideen has declined, primarily because of tensions in its headquarters in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

One of the earliest terror groups in the region, the Hizbul Mujahideen is largely believed to be indigenous since it was formed in 1989 by Kashmiris who crossed over to PoK for arms training.

However, it also comprises sections of Kashmiris from PoK, who are known as Pir Panjal, along with Pakistani Punjabis among its ranks. Sources said there is widespread discontent among the ranks in PoK with many who had crossed over now doing normal jobs to earn a living.

“As per inputs, the salaries paid to the HM cadres in PoK have not been revised for several years. Salaries still range from about Pakistani Rupees (PKR) 10,000-11,000 (about Rs 6,000) for single men to about PKR 17,000 for those with family,” a source said.

Terror Recruitment Remains A Worry

Even if there is no spike in recruitment, sources in the security establishment noted that the continued recruitment is still a cause for worry.

“These recruits don’t even have arms initially and many of them after two weeks or so get pistols. In many encounters since last year, pistols have been recovered from the dead terrorists. The fact that many of these boys preferred to fight to death with pistols than surrender like in many other cases, shows the level of brainwashing that is happening,” a source said.

According to another source, measuring success based on how many terrorists are killed needs to change, instead the focus should be on ensuring that recruitment comes down. “This kill based grading system needs to change,” the source said. Incidentally, former 15 Corps Commander Lt Gen. B.S. Raju had withdrawn the points system for recovery of arms and ammunition. The points earned by each unit for various operations helped it earn citations and other forms of recognition.

Meanwhile, the government is also working on a surrender policy for new recruits but it is yet to be finalised by the home and defence ministry. According to official statistics, 131 Kashmiri youth had joined terror groups in 2020 till early October. This was higher than the 117 recruitments in 2019.

The highest recruitment in the last few years happened in 2018 with 214 youngsters joining terror groups.