|By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
A new terrorist organisation calling itself ‘The Resistance Front’ (TRF) has cropped up in J&K in wake of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution. In message TRF has claimed it is an “indigenous” armed outfit working for the freedom of J&K and that it has no affiliation whatsoever with any of the armed groups already existing in J&K. TRF also claims that news on social media of its affiliation with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is to defame and involve Pakistan. TRF denounces the J&K Police and their collaborators saying armed struggle is the only way to get the occupational forces and traitors out of J&K.
The long message is signed by an individual calling himself ‘Hamza’ which appears to be fake, meant to mislead the security forces. The text of the message is poorly drafted (by LeT or Pakistan’s ISI) to deny cross-border links. There is no terrorist organisation in J&K which is not a surrogate of Pakistan; therefore the TRF narrative to not defame and involve Pakistan. Without the support of Pakistan or affiliation to another terrorist group cross-border or operating within J&K, survival of TRF is hardly possible. The specific mention of LeT in a roundabout way, confirms it is an offshoot of the LeT, indications of which are available otherwise.In an audio message circulated through social media, TRF had said that after stripping Kashmir of its special status, India didn’t spare anyone, not even the loyal political leaders. According to media, quoting an unnamed counter-terrorist official in J&K, TRF is one of the several efforts by Pakistan to give terrorism in Kashmir an indigenous face and give the Pakistan deep state, blamed for supporting terror, an alibi. He quoted the JK PirPanjal Peace Forum another such venture by Pakistan’s ISI, adding, “We have been keeping track, on and off social media, and have spotted efforts to build a base of influencers in the Indian hinterland also.” Security officials who track terror in the valley and its links across the Line of Control (LoC) said the TRF was supported and backed by the LeT and appears to be its proxy.
TRF was first spotted on social media platforms like Twitter and Telegram.TRF appeared to be one of the many handles operated from Pakistan that was sharply focused on Kashmir, which abused the Armed Forces and made provocative claims about the ground situation in the Valley designed to incite others. Responsibility for Grenade attacks in Srinagar on October 12, 2019, after scrapping of Article 370 were claimed on social media by TRF but the concerned social media account according to the internet protocol address was being operated from Islamabad mostly from an iPhone as the Valley was under lockdown with internet snapped. Same happened in a subsequent grenade attack after a fortnight that killed a civilian. The frequency of the posts increased after internet was restored in J&K. On March 23, security forces arrested six men in Kupwara District who claimed to be from the TRF. Their interrogation led the joint Army-J&K Police team to their arms dump, resulting in the recovery of 89 x hand grenades, 8 x AK-47 assault rifles, 10 x pistols, 20-odd detonator fuses and ammunition.
TRF’s links with the LeT were confirmed in early April when the TRF social media channels operating from Pakistan pushed out photographs of the five terrorists killed in the gunfight on April 5 with Army’s Special Forces in Kupwara’s Keran sector. It claimed that the five terrorists killed at the border were from the TRF. The route, which this group of infiltrators had taken, is same as used by LeT. TRF has been threatening Kashmiris who speak against them or cooperate with the State. In one case, the Twitter handle of the administrator of the TRF with alias of American accent was tracked to Islamabad. One account which was suspended by the platform was again based in Islamabad. Another named around TRG in the Valley, also traced through its IP address to Pakistan.
Speaking to media on April 17, Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said the world's attention was focused on containing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. India too was doing its bit by sending medical teams to countries like Nepal and the Maldives. But “Pakistan is only exporting terror. This doesn’t augur well." But sitting in Beijing’s lap, Pakistan’s terror export industry is running full steam. Recent intelligence reports had indicated that Pakistan was aggressively moving COVID-19 infected cases to POK and infiltrating them into J&K. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) chaired by China has become a farce. A recent report indicates that Islamic charities linked to terror groups in Pakistan are being funded by the US government. In January 2020, ‘InterAction’ founded in 1984 and presently having 180 members received $5 million from the US. Over the last decade ‘InterAction’ received tens of millions of dollars from the US Agency for International Development and the State Department (USAID). US-based organisations are also funding other terrorist organisations in Pakistan, including Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation and the Milli Muslim League which respectively are charitable and political wings of LeT. FATF has done little to punish Pakistan for not curbing terror financing to these organisations. It is obvious there is no pressure on Pakistan to curb terror. Now a report from the US says that the Imran Khan government has quietly removed 4,800 names from the Proscribed Persons List (terror watch list) over the last 18 months without explanation or notification to the public. Significantly, the name of Zakir-ur-Rehman Lakhvi too has been taken off the terror watch list, Lakhvi being alias of LeT and mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks. With all this, there is little chance of Pakistan reining in its primary industry of exporting terrorism.