Tuesday, October 12 2021

Dive In


Wo kabhi Rahul hai, kabhi Raj
Kabhi Charlie toh kabhi Max
Surinder bhi wo, Harry bhi wo
Devdas bhi aur Veer bhi
Ram, Mohan, Kabir bhi
Wo Amar hai, Samar hai,
Rizwan, Raees, Jehangir bhi

Shayad isliye kuch logon ke halak mein fasta hai
Ki ek Shahrukh mein pura Hindustan basta hai

That’s a poem by Akhil Katyal that went viral yesterday in a show of emotional support for Shahrukh Khan—whose son Aryan is still in custody after being arrested in a drug bust on a cruise ship. You can read an English translation here.

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Big Story

The new face of Kashmiri terrorism

The TLDR: The recent spate of killings in the Valley have turned the spotlight on a new terrorist group called The Resistance Front (TRF)—which is using different rhetoric and tactics to exploit anger over the annulment of Article 370. But is it really an ‘indigenous’ Kashmiri group or just Pakistani wine in a new bottle?


First, some context

A spate of attacks: Contrary to the hopes and claims of the government, militancy has once again raised its ugly head in Kashmir. Here’s a quick glance at the recent trends:


  • Just yesterday, five soldiers were killed in a gunfight during an anti-insurgency operation in Poonch—the worst in the area in 17 years.
  • Since October 2, seven civilians have been shot dead—bringing the number of terror victims to 28 this year. Point to note: The vast majority have been Muslims.
  • Four of them were Hindus and Sikhs, and the other three were Muslims. They include a school teacher, pharmacy owner and a panipuri seller.
  • In the most recent attack on a school, the victims were identified by religion and then killed.
  • Since the revocation of Article 370, BJP workers have become popular targets—and 23 have been killed since 2019.
  • Until 2018, Srinagar was relatively insulated from terror attacks—but has witnessed at least nine incidents in 2020 alone. Most experts attribute this to increasing pressure on militants in rural areas—who are opting for hit-and-run attacks in cities instead.
  • Data to note: There have been 187 militant-related incidents in Kashmir this year—including 47 gunfights.


The recent fallout: Security forces have detained more than 700 people in recent days to “break the chain of attacks.” They are described as Overground Workers (OGW)—who are defined as “anyone who supports the insurgents”—i.e. provides information, accommodation or any other kind of assistance. And the police have also shot or arrested a number of those allegedly involved in the killings. Many non-resident Hindus and Sikhs—plus Kashmiri Pandits—have temporarily fled the Valley, while others stay home out of fear.


Tell me about The Resistance Front...

The group has claimed credit for many of the recent killings—and represents the new face of terror in Kashmir. 


The first attack: TRF announced its existence in October, 2019—two months after the government revoked Article 370, stripping J&K of its special status. It launched a grenade attack that injured eight civilians in Srinagar—and declared on Telegram the “inception of indigenous resistance of Kashmir to flush out the occupational Indian regime out of IOJK [Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir].” But no one paid much notice at the time.


The rise to infamy: The group shot into spotlight in April 2020 after it engaged security forces in a five-day gun battle near the border—taking them by surprise. The “well-trained” and “motivated” militants were killed, but so were five soldiers. Also this: At least three of them were local Kashmiris who had travelled to Pakistan on valid visas. In the same month, TRF killed another three soldiers, and five others in a 16-hour gunfight in May.


Old terror, new label? After the May encounter, one of the two dead militants was linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba—a terrorist outfit created, funded and trained by Pakistan. Ever since, Indian intelligence sources and the local police insist that TRF is basically a hodge-podge of members of existing militant groups—but rebranded by Pakistan to make them seem new. A senior police officer told Scroll:


“It’s just an attempt to give the benefit of deniability to Pakistan. There’s a whole baggage of evidence against Pakistan being behind Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad. By giving it a new name, they want to localise militancy in Kashmir. Given the kind of international scrutiny on Pakistan for rearing terrorists in its backyard, the strategy makes sense.”


Point to note: Pakistan has been under tremendous pressure from international organisations like the Financial Action Task Force—which have insisted that it must crackdown on terrorism to qualify for financial assistance. FATF has greylisted Pakistan for now. Getting on the blacklist would be a disaster for a country drowning in debt. So maintaining distance and deniability is key.


So what’s new about them?

Kashmir not jihad: Unlike other terror groups, TRF has deliberately adopted a non-religious discourse—which includes its name, say police officials:


“The name TRF was an attempt to secularise the idea of jihad to present the Kashmir insurgency as a political cause rather than a religious war as was manifested by the names such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Muhammad.”


Also: when claiming credit for killings, TRF always describes its victims as involved in “anti-Kashmir” activities.


Point to note: The think tank ORF notes that this is a pattern among new militant groups that have popped up since 2019—including Peoples’ Anti Fascist Front (PAFF) and United Liberation Front (ULF):


“This marks a tactical shift in branding of the militant outfits to the outside world. There has been an increased effort to secularise the propaganda of the outfits with emphasis on ‘resistance’ instead of jihad or a holy war sanctified by Islam. The ULF uses ‘Resist to Exist’ as its slogan. The logo of this group uses a Chinar leaf to give it a Kashmiri identity. Apart from that, the logo uses sketches of a clenched fist and a falcon. Older groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, and Jaish-e-Muhammad always borrowed religious iconography in their logos, flags, and slogans.”


Tech-savvy terror: Like the other new groups, TRF is on all the usual social media platforms—especially Telegram—but uses VPNs to hide their digital footprints. The handles are primarily used for recruitment—and to share training videos that introduce weapons and provide instructions, all dubbed in Kashmiri. The discipline in the narratives and language used indicates a level of centralisation—even though many groups keep popping up under new names. FYI: TRF also uses GoPro cameras to record attacks on security forces—to inspire fresh recruits.


Point to note: Unlike other established terror groups, TRF carefully keeps the identity of its members entirely anonymous:


“They don’t have a face…They know exposing their faces or releasing their pictures and videos will basically make them more vulnerable. Usually, the announcement of new recruits comes through audio messages.” 


But they are far more eager to claim credit for terror attacks on social media:


“TRF is perhaps the only group which gives an explanation behind every killing, irrespective of [whether there is] any semblance of truth in it or not…Given the response against civilian killings in society, older militant groups would usually avoid taking ownership [of such killings]. But this group doesn’t shy away from owning its acts.”


Civilian vs civilian: Most terror groups rely on trained members to launch attacks. But TRF recruits ordinary people—i.e. Overground Workers who typically only offer support—to actually participate in them:


“One of the reasons they have been able to kill so many civilians is that they task people who aren’t listed as militants in police records with those killings…They just kill a soft target and return to normal life. Therefore, it becomes more challenging when it comes to hybrid militants.”


Point to note: While the use of ‘civilian’ recruits is challenging, security officials see the recent targeting of civilians as a sign of weakness


“Due to killing of huge numbers of terrorists of all outfits specially their leadership, terrorist handlers have started targeting unarmed policemen, innocent civilians, politicians and now innocent civilians from minority communities including women.”


The bottomline: The more things change…


Reading list

Scroll has the best profile of The Revolutionary Front, while The Hindu explains why TRF is different from other groups. Indian Express reports on the new focus on civilian targets. The Wire looks at the shift to Srinagar. ORF has a detailed analysis of how the new groups use social media.


Headlines that matter

India & China are not talking…

  • On Sunday, top level commanders held their 13th meeting  to resolve the border dispute in Ladakh—and it ended in a mutual blame game. 
  • Indian ministry officials said they had made “constructive suggestions… but the Chinese side was not agreeable and also could not provide any forward-looking proposals.” The 
  • The Chinese said: “The Indian side continued to insist on unreasonable and unrealistic demands, which made the negotiations more difficult.” 
  • The big sticking point: Beijing’s refusal to rollback its incursion into Hot Springs on the Ladakh border. Indian Express explains why this particular region has long been a hotspot.
  • Point to note: Army chief General M M Naravane recently flagged a massive Chinese build up along the border. 


Yes, Superman is bisexual

Well, not Clark Kent but his son Jon—who has taken up his mantle (or is it cape?). Jon’s love interest: his friend Jay Nakamura—“a bespectacled, pink-haired reporter.” While we don’t have plot details, DC comics released this image of a tender kiss. (BBC News)


Two things to see…

One: Bill Whitaker—a journalist for the TV news show ‘60 Minutes’—got the deepfake treatment. AI made him 30 years younger, took away his mustache—and was able to speak exactly like him. Yes, it’s very creepy, but maybe women news anchors won’t be pressured to undergo plastic surgery in the future? (Yahoo News)


Two: Tom Cruise—who has been the subject of many a deepfake vid—went to a baseball game, and managed to look very real (and kinda like a hottish dad). Hilariously, many people responded to the clip below, saying: “It looks like a deep fake.” (Vanity Fair)



In today’s edition

Sanity Break 

  • Lovely images from Kitty Wolf’s project: ‘Boys Can Be Princesses Too’


A list of intriguing things

  • ‘Schitt’s Creek’ lovers can now own the Rosebud Motel
  • Lego’s largest ever model
  • A special pasta that can change shape while it cooks
  • Boji the dog, who takes subways, ferries and trams in Istanbul

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