Lethpora attack signals the arrival of Kashmiri fidayeen
With a Kalashnikov leaning against the wall on either side of him and one laid out in front of him, 16-year-old Fardeen Ahmad Khanday speaks with poise and persuasion about the need for Kashmiri youth to wage jihad in a video he made shortly before attacking a security encampment at Lethpora in South Kashmir on New Year’s eve.
Five CRPF personnel were killed besides the three fidayeen, two of them Kashmiris. Khanday was one of them. Another was Manzoor Ahmad Baba. They belonged to the Jaish-e-Mohammad group.
This is the first time that Kashmiri militants have been a part of the Fidayeen attack, otherwise a preserve of the foreigners. The only earlier instance of a Kashmiri carrying out a suicide attack was when a Class 12 student Afaq Shah blew himself up outside the gate of Srinagar-based 15 Corps in 2000.
“By the time my message reaches you, I would have become the guest of the God’s heaven, God willing,” says Khanday who ironically is the son of a constable in J&K Police. “O, youth of Kashmir, listen to the call of mujahideen and obey. Please remember, youth give their lives for the life of their nation. Azadi is not granted without sacrifices. Only the hands splattered with blood can knock on the gates of Azadi”.
This is the first video of its nature in Kashmir. In recent years, the militants have used social media videos to glamourise militancy and draw more youth to their ranks, but never before have they issued a video of a militant about to carry out an attack on the security forces.
This makes Lethpora attack an ominously important one. It signals the arrival of Kashmiri fidayeen on the scene. And it also shows their willingness to publicise their imminent death to exhort and inspire more youth to join jihad.
What is more, Khanday’s video also underlines a deeper ideological commitment among sections of the militants to the separatist cause. In 7.5 minutes of speech, Khanday speaks extempore and fluently articulates Jaish’s jihadi narrative, even enumerating the major strikes carried out by the outfit - from Afaq’s suicide mission to Pathankot air base attack to J&K Police lines early this year and warning more of them in future.
“God willing, Jaish militants will defeat India in Kashmir,” he says in the video.
The development, as a result, has been a cause of deep worry among the security establishment. Just when they were playing up the killing of around 218 militants during 2017 – the highest in the past seven years - and the consequent setback to militancy, Jaish-led fidayeen attack on the eve of the new year has made the situation look worse.
“We are told that the killings of a record number of militants has improved the situation. But Lethpora attack shows nothing like that has happened,” says political analyst Gowhar Geelani. “In fact, the situation now looks more fragile than anytime. Despite killings, militants retain the capability to strike anytime and anywhere”.
Similarly, an editorial in a local daily also rubbed it in: “A Fidayeen attack on the eve of the new year has once again underscored the grim security scenario unfolding in Kashmir. Despite killing around 2020 militants in 2017, the militancy seems to have grown only deadlier in Kashmir”.
However, security experts are playing down the attack. “It is very difficult to prevent a fidayeen attack. A small number of brainwashed militants can carry it out. Killings of more militants, on the contrary, thins out their presence on the ground and releases more space for peace and the mainstream political activity. This is what has started happening in parts of South Kashmir,” said a senior police officer not wishing to be named as he was not authorised to speak to press. “But we expect things to change for the better this year”.
The officer said that the Lethpora fidayeen attack hasn’t been followed by protests and stone throwing in the adjacent villages. “So, this is one positive take-away from the attack,” the officer said. “Another big positive, and it is about the last year, is that 65 militants returned to their families after persuasion by J&K Police”.
However, protests did erupt at Drubgam, Pulwama during the funeral of the militant Manzoor Ahmad Baba. One protester reportedly received a bullet in the face.
But Kashmiri militants becoming a part of the attack is a development that the security agencies won’t find easy to shrug off. “Yes, this is something that has happened for the first time. And we can’t ignore it,” said the police officer.
In Valley, the participation of the local militants in Fidayeen attacks is seen as an inflection point for the militancy. It has for once removed the critical difference between the Kashmiri militants and their local counterparts. The situation, if it continues in this direction, has the potential to make things worse.