Strict action by the Jammu and Kashmir Police has put the brakes on Pakistan’s external spy agency ISI’s method of wooing Kashmiri boys into terror ranks by taking them to the neighbouring country using passport and later infiltrating them into the valley along with mercenaries, officials said on Sunday.
Citing interrogation reports of some of the youths arrested after infiltrating into the Union Territory, the officials said the ISI was pressing terrorists to get youths from the valley by any means, be it for educational and religious purpose or social functions.
Some of the Kashmiri youths who visited Pakistan through legal channels to meet their relatives were also targeted and even given a crash course of two weeks on handling of explosives and firing from a close range.
However, after the Jammu and Kashmir Police implemented a new regime with additional checks and balances, there has been no report of anyone going to Pakistan on a valid travel document for terrorist training, the officials said.
Under the new regime, police officials entrusted with the process of background verification for passports have been asked to check if an individual was involved in any law and order incident like stone pelting.
Also, they refer to digital evidence such as CCTV footage, photographs, video and audio clips, and quadcopter images available in police station records.
Be it the “savari” concept wherein unsuspecting passengers of the Samjhuta Express were used by the ISI to pump in money for terror groups as well as fake Indian currency notes to weaken the country’s economy, or the supply of narcotics, arms and ammunition through trade across the Line of Control (LoC), the Pakistani agency has been trying every trick in the book to keep the terrorism pot boiling in India, the officials said.
Terror groups in Pakistan did not even spare those youths who had gone to Pakistan for higher studies, prompting the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All Indian Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to announce in April last year that students having Pakistani degrees would not be eligible for higher studies or employment in India.
The security agencies carried out a massive exercise of identifying youths who had crossed over to Pakistan using passports and sneaked back into Jammu and Kashmir through the 724-km-long Line of Control stretching from Karnah in north Kashmir to Poonch in Jammu region.
The passports issued between 2015 and early 2018 were scrutinised and it was found that around 60 Kashmiri youths, who were later found active in terror ranks, had used the travel document to visit Pakistan and later joined terror ranks, the officials said.
One among them was Sajad Ahmad Sheikh alias Sajad Gull, a resident of Srinagar, who was involved in the killing of Shujat Bukhari, the editor-in-chief of a local daily, in 2018.
The Union Home Ministry has designated Sheikh as a “terrorist” and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has announced a reward of Rs 10 leading to his arrest.
The officials cited interrogation reports of eight such Kashmiri youths who had joined the terror ranks, returned to Jammu and Kashmir through the LoC and subsequently arrested.
As many as 26 such youths had either been killed while infiltrating or during encounters with security forces. An attempt was made to speak to some of the family members of the slain militants but none of them was willing to talk about it or recollect the incident other than expressing remorse for allowing their children to travel to the neighbouring country.
Six of them were still active in the Kashmir Valley, while four had been handed over to their families after they were found to be innocent and helped the security agencies in unravelling the nefarious plans of the terror groups and their masters sitting across the border, they said.
The initial alarm bells started ringing when security forces, during an encounter in 2019, identified one of the terrorists as Shakir Altaf Bhat, who had left the country on a valid passport for studies in Pakistan in 2018 and returned after joining a terror group.
Besides him, there were several Kashmiri youths who travelled to Pakistan on valid passports for short durations, have either not come back or disappeared after their return in the last three years.
The officials said that some of the youths were provided a quick module of fabrication of improvised explosive devices using easily available material within a week’s time.
The recruitment of youths for various terror organisations is also being carried out discreetly and it is quite possible that these youths could also be doubling up as “recruiters” for brainwashing of vulnerable men in the militancy-affected Union Territory.
The missing youths are mainly from average middle-class families and have been described as the new faces of terrorism in Kashmir. They could be waiting for delivery of arms and ammunition, which has been substantially choked due to heightened surveillance along the Line of Control, they said. (Agencies)