A freshly-minted terror group, The Resistance Front, set up in Jammu and Kashmir after Parliament scrapped its special status in August last year is funded and backed by Pakistan, a top counter-terror official in Kashmir told Hindustan Times.
The group is one of the several efforts, often repeated in the past two decades, to give terrorism in Kashmir an indigenous face and give the Pakistan deep state, blamed for supporting terror, an alibi, the official said.
The JK Pir Panjal Peace Forum was another, he said, adding that this was part of a pattern in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence's handling pressure over its support to terror groups in J&K.
"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," the official said.
Security officials who track terror in the valley and its links across the Line of Control, said the TRF was supported and backed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Sometimes, one of them said, the TRF even appears to be a proxy.
Security agencies had first spotted the group on social media platforms such as Twitter and Telegram.
Initially, it appeared to be one of the many handles operated from Pakistan that was sharply focused on Kashmir, abused the armed forces and made provocative claims about the ground situation in the Valley designed to incite others. Or posted photographs of the terrorists "martyred" or the jawans punished, he said.
When one of the first grenades was thrown after the scrapping of Article 370 in Srinagar's Hari Singh High Street on October 12, the TRF had claimed responsibility. Ditto with the next one within a fortnight that killed one civilian.
This social media account, according to the internet protocol address, was being operated from Islamabad, the official said. Mostly from an Iphone.
It wasn't rocket science anyways. Kashmir was still under a lockdown and the Internet had been snapped simultaneously.
The frequency of the posts increased after Kashmir got back the Internet. These social media accounts now had the target audience within earshot.
But it was only last month that security forces came face-to-face with some newly-recruited cadre.
In north Kashmir's border district of Kupwara, the police on March 23 arrested six men who claimed to be part of the new group, The Resistance Front, or TRF. Their interrogation led the cops to their arms dump.
Apart from 89 hand grenades, a joint team of the army and state police seized 8 AK rifles, 10 pistols, 20-odd detonator fuses and ammunition, Inspector General of Kashmir Vijay Kumar announced.
The assessment about the TRF's links with the Lashkar-e-Taiba was confirmed early this month when the TRF social media channels operating from Pakistan pushed out photographs of the terrorists killed in the Keran gunfight with the army's Special Forces in Kupwara's Keran sector. Five terrorists and an equal number of commandos were killed. It claimed that the five terrorists killed at the border were from the TRF. The route, which this group of infiltrators had taken, is believed to have been in use by Lashkar terrorists.
It has, since then, been bombarding its channels with near-live updates of terror attacks and counter-terrorist operations. Or take responsibility.
Also, officials point how the threats to people who speak against them or cooperate with the State have become shriller and frequent. Like when a terrorist drew out an AK-47 rifle concealed under his robe to shoot three CRPF jawans, the TRF rushed to claim responsibility, and described the killing of soldiers for the death of their cadre in recent incidents.
In many ways, officials said this was the template followed by other social media handles of the group. In one case, the Twitter handle of the so-called administrator of the TRF - his alias sounded American - was also tracked down to Islamabad. One account which was suspended by the platform was again based in Islamabad. Another was named around the so-called resistance in the Valley, also traced through its IP address to Pakistan.
"While the world is fighting the coronavirus, Pakistan is using the time to prepare for the next stage of violence in Jammu and Kashmir in the name of resistance against the so-called Indian occupation," said a senior official.
Disclaimer: This article first appeared on Hindustan Times