Author name: 
Dheeraj P.C, Doctoral Scholar in Intelligence Studies at the University of Leicester, U.K.
Images: 

Intelligence is key to any counterterrorist operation, but the challenge in sustaining intelligence throughout the period of counterterrorism (CT) demands recognition. This proposition is especially true in the case of Kashmir militancy. The Indian security forces have conducted numerous CT operations and eliminated high and mid ranking militant leaders. However, the challenge has been in sustaining channels of intelligence for extended periods of time. Owing to the direct support extended to the militants by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), acquisition of technical intelligence has been increasingly challenging, though considerable results have been achieved even here. Nevertheless, the most important source of information of tactical value comes from human intelligence or informers. In this article, an observation of the difficulties in generating an informer base in Kashmir by the security forces is made, with primary focus on informer execution.

 

Mukhbir—the Kashmiri word for informer is an expression that evokes mixed emotions amongst security forces operating in Kashmir. The reason is a result, oscillating between unwavering support offered by the Mukhbir to the security forces, and the informers who have gone cold over the years. As per a recently released government list of informers executed by the Kashmiri militants between 1996 and 2006, a slain Mukhbir’s family is compensated with 4 lakh rupees or a job for a family member. Shunning a decent and respectable life for the lure of ideology and other factors assisting the terrorists is illogical, idealists would argue. However, a realist is always aware of the tricky nature of the intelligence business and hence, cognizant of the possibility that an informer could have turned into a traitor. Between being loyal to the security forces and getting killed, and being a double agent helping the terrorists, the Indian security forces in Kashmir have found it challenging to develop an informer base, which has had a negative impact on counterterrorism. 

 

The fear psychosis present in the Mukhbir is not an imaginary one, but a carefully crafted counterintelligence tactic by the terrorists. A careful observation of the trends in intelligence flow from human sources in Kashmir shows increased levels of unsafety of the informers. During the early days of the Kashmir militancy, viz late 1980s and early 1990s, the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (SIB) was the critical source of intelligence on militant activities. But, devoid of weapons and physical protection, the civilian intelligence personnel were subject to torture and killing. If such were the conditions of government employees one could make a fair guess about the fear induced in the common Kashmiri.  In any case, information flow from the populace in the following years would be choked owing to the massive ethnic cleansing that rid the valley of the Hindu population.

 

From mid-90s onwards, it began to dawn on the Kashmiris that the ideological dictations of militants, who were predominantly foreign mercenaries of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan origins, were radical and unacceptable. To supress the disagreement, the terrorists resorted to medieval methods of torture and execution of civilians. Execution of suspected police informers was extended to other family members as well, building a stronger layer of counterintelligence. It was a long wait before differences emerged between indigenous militant groups and pro-Pakistani ones, that were exploited by the forces to develop sources within the Kashmiri secessionist movement.

 

The primary requirement to break through the terrorist counterintelligence, rid the informer of the fear psychosis, is to develop an offensive capability. The Indian security forces have hitherto been largely successful in utilising force in apprehending individuals and turning them into informers. However, the problem lies in sustaining the offensive capacity overtime, failing which the militants step-in to fill the void. There are instances where the Mukhbir has provided valuable intelligence to the forces, but the forces in turn have been incapable of providing protection to the families and neighbours. In 2016, Tariq Pandit, a Hizb operative had turned into an informer, only to quickly have his cousins shot through their legs at point blank range by the Hizb commanders. In another case, after the elimination of Burhan Wani, villages continued to live in constant fears as the Hizb cadres managed to burn down a dozen homes.

 

Such fears do not bode well for the security forces’ counterterrorist initiatives. Studies on counterinsurgency (COIN) time and again suggest that public support is a critical factor in COIN and CT operations. A population living in a climate of fear cannot be expected to volunteer information. Much worse, when information flows from such harassed and/or radicalised communities, the reliability of such information always remains low. Action on the basis of unreliable intelligence can, at worst, provide counterproductive results. Two such deadly incidents were witnessed in 2017, which cost the Indian Army six soldiers, leaving only one terrorist dead. Hizb militants had started to target informers and plant misleading information to lure the security forces into a death trap.  

 

The logical question, thence, would be: why have the Indian forces struggled to break the terrorist’s ring of counterintelligence induced by fear psychosis, and develop a loyal informer base in Kashmir? The answer to this is twofold: foreign intelligence collaboration and political inexpediency in counterterrorism. Both these factors are intertwined and deeply interrelated with each other.

 

The Pakistani ISI is a formidable foe in the fight against terrorism in Kashmir. Strangely, over the years India has provided sufficient room for interaction between ISI operatives and secessionist and militant elements in the vale. This has led not only to a capability build-up of the terrorists, but also facilitated a meticulous planning of long-term strategies and tactics. The ISI has ensured that any moderate voice originating from the valley is silenced and the language of the radical prevails. It was seen in the killing of Abdul Ghani Lone in 2002, a Hurriyat activist prepared to compromise with the Indian authorities. Most recently, it was again visible as ISI backed terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Taiba assassinated Shujaat Bukhari, a journalist, for speaking in “India’s language”. Both the Hurriyat and the media fraternity are favoured by the ISI as long as they advocate pro-Pakistani views and express concerns of alleged human rights violations by the Indian security forces. If such high-profile individuals cannot be accorded safety in the valley, the fear of the Mukhbir is certainly well founded.

 

Indian security forces operating in Kashmir, therefore, require the Indian Intelligence Bureau (IB) and R&AW to counter the ISI menace. This, however, was hitherto constrained by a lackadaisical and myopic political leadership, either incapable of comprehending the gravity of the situation in Kashmir or catering to parochial political interests. There have been sufficient calls by the intelligence agencies for a revision in their counterterrorism doctrine to effectively tackle the challenge posed by the ISI-jihadist duo, falling on deaf ears. For instance, a former IB chief who appropriately asked for greater political and legal support for safeguarding police personnel performing counterterrorist duties was projected as something that could spark a political storm! The Hurriyat despite its venomous stance against India’s territorial integrity is granted access to ISI officials operating out of the Pakistani High Commission among others. The unholy alliance was supported even until recently as an inoperable alliance between the hardliner BJP and the separatist PDP continued amidst increased levels of violence in the valley.

 

Against this backdrop, it is unsurprising that incidents of stone pelting have almost seized to exist in just a month of governor’s rule. The state under Governor NN Vohra’s administration has performed exceptionally well. Bureaucrats have expressed greater operational freedom under the governor’s rule. More so, the administrative and security developments under the governor’s rule is evident in the decline in terrorist violence. Capitalising on the new-found peace, the Indian authorities need to strengthen counterintelligence apparatus across Delhi and the valley to frustrate ISI’s operations. Consequently, the security forces can utilise this to target militants and instil confidence amongst the feared Kashmiris. Only this can ensure the revival and sustenance of the Mukhbir, without which intelligence flow to the forces can either be disrupted or manipulated.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of Manipal Advanced Research Group.