A series of incidents in recent months, most of them leaving a trail of questions and confounding serious observers of conflicts, is dragging the Kashmir Valley back into chaos.
The overall improvement of the security scene under way for many years has been stalled in these months, as several mysterious killings, repeated attacks on mobile networks, weapon snatching and other alleged militant activities change the very nature of the over 25-year-old Kashmir militancy.
The lowest number of militancy-related incidents, 113, was reported in 2013, but climbed to 155 in 2014. In 2015, 77 incidents have been reported already by July.
One official pointed out that the 2013 figure was probably the lowest since 1990. The increase in number of violent incidents since then comes along with the fact that for the first time in several years, the indigenous Hizbul Mujahideen is the dominant militant group now.
While the numbers show a sharp rise in militancy-related incidents in 2014 and 2015, most of them are unusual and do not fit into the pattern of militancy noticed in the Valley since it plunged into violence in the late 1980s.
Mysterious killing of people in the valley is one of them. The latest discovery of the bodies of three young men on Monday led to widespread protests and a shutdown of the Valley on Wednesday. The police said that at least one of them belonged to Lashkar-e-Islam, reportedly a splinter group of Hizbul Mujahideen and which has been grabbing much attention of late.
Hizbul chief Syed Salahuddin has denied the police claim, while saying that the three youths were members of his militant group. He said the militants were tortured by security forces and killed them.
In recent months, several other instances of mysterious killings of people have been reported in the Valley. While security agencies have been pointing a finger at a possible split in the militant ranks and internecine war among them, the Hizbul chief said there was no such group as Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI).
He could be off the mark, as the LeI has been at the forefront of a series of attacks in the Valley in recent months.
The group carried over a dozen attacks on mobile-phone towers starting in May. Security forces say this was in retaliation for the seizure of a communication system that militants had installed on a telecom tower in Sopore.
The LeI issued posters in Urdu in various towns of the Valley in the last week of May warning people who were in the mobile-phone business to stop it and asking those with towers on their premises to switch them off.
Posters came up in some parts of the Valley warning girls against using mobile phones.
Hundreds of towers were switched off as panic spread, and there were sporadic attacks on installations related to the mobile-phone business.
While mainstream militant groups were perplexed by the rise of the so-called splinter group, the nature of attacks has been evolving regularly. While suicide attacks and high-impact improvised explosive devices have become rare, milder grenade throwing and weapon snatching have become routine.
Since summer, there has been a spate of snatching of weapons from security forces, which is unusual to the traditional habits of Kashmiri militants. On May 11, assistant sub-inspector Omkar Nath Singh was killed when terrorists fired at a road-opening party of the Central Reserve Police Force in Anantnag. The militants ran away with Singh’s AK rifle and another INSAS rifle.
On May 24, when a police constable, on security duty with the BJP district president in Pulwama, was offering prayers, the politician’s driver ran away with the constable’s AK rifle. Similar theft of weapons of security personnel have been reported regularly in recent months.
It is not just the increasing number of incidents that is worrying observers. The strange nature of recent militancy incidents is adding to the confusion in the Kashmir Valley, and resulting in a new wave of anti-India sentiments and regular disruption of people’s lives.