Shopian: How apple bowl turned into hotbed of terrorism in Kashmir

South Kashmir has been the most restive zone of the Valley for some time now and Shopian has emerged as a hotbed of terror in recent times.

Recent reports from Shopian talk about nothing but increasing incidents of terror from this south Kashmir district. The security forces have launched a massive manhunt in about 20 villages of Shopian in search of some terrorists.

Some reports suggest that the security forces have got a tip-off about Hizbul terrorist Umer Majid, who is said to be hiding along with two of his accomplices in Shopian. Umer Majid is the prime suspect in the case of killing of seven policemen in south Kashmir in separate incidents recently. Jammu and Kashmir police has announced a cash reward of Rs 10 lakh for Umer Majid.

Earlier this week, militants snatched service rifles of five policemen guarding the court complex in Shopian (when). In April, three political activists were killed in the span of a week, including one in Pulwama. Two of the victims were local PDP leaders.

A video of armed terrorists, reportedly shot in an orchard in Shopian, surfaced on social media. Amid this gloomy picture also came the news of 500 youths from Shopian applying for jobs with security forces.

South Kashmir has been the most restive zone of the Valley for some time now and Shopian has emerged as a hotbed of terror in recent times. But, Shopian has not always been like this.

SHOPIAN IN RECORDS

According to the 2011 census, the Shopian district has a population of 265,960 - roughly equal to that of Barbados, which has sent cricketers like Sir Garfield Sobers, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall to the West Indies team.

A centre of horticulture, Shopian is famous as the apple bowl of Kashmir. Its apple orchards produce nearly 2 lakh tons of apples every year.

Before the partition of India, Shopian was one of the Wazarat districts of Kashmir. During medieval times, Shopian was known as Sheen-e-van, meaning forest of snow. In some records, Shopian's ancient name is mentioned as Shiv Pavan, while in some texts of Persian literature, it is referred to as Shah Payan, meaning resting place of emperor during a stopover.

RISING STOCK OF TERRORISTS

Jammu and Kashmir police has been in denial for the past several months. But, intelligence agencies have been saying that the number of local youths joining militancy in Kashmir has shown an alarming increase.

This new trend has picked up after the killing of Burhan Wani on July 8 last year. Jammu and Kashmir police has not put out any concrete figure, but security agencies estimate that not less 250 local youths have joined terror groups since July last year.

Umer Majid, hailing from Kulgam, is one of those who joined Hizbul Mujahideen last year.

DIFFERENT FROM 1990s

Security forces have been red-flagging the changing trend in south Kashmir and calling for urgent action to be taken on the ground.

The security agencies underscore that the current trend is different from the militancy of the 1990s in its ideological flavour. While Kashmiri identity was at the base of militancy in the 1990s, the present day trend is that of ' pan-islamisation'.

Hoisting the Pakistani flag by militants was not unusual in some pockets of the Valley, but only during the last week, some students hoisted an Islamic State flag inside the Shopian degree college premises. Such incidents have become frequent in Shopian and adjoining districts of Kulgam, Pulwama and Awantipora.

MIXING OF LOCAL AND FOREIGN TERRORISTS

Before the current spurt in local youths joining terror outfits, these organisations depended largely on infiltrated militants. But now foreign terrorists are said to be getting help from the locally-trained militants.

Foreign terrorists are being accompanied by local militants, who have full knowledge of topography and routes. This collaboration has made the job of security forces more difficult.

Further the over-ground workers of terror networks maintained by Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba have been found to be more active than earlier. Terrorists are possibly getting advance information about the movement of troops.

The recent statement by Army Chief General Bipin Rawat warning the locals of facing strong action should they act in tandem with the terrorists betrays the changed dynamics on the ground.

ROUND-THE-YEAR MILITANCY

Earlier, terror-linked incidents used to subside after the onset of winter, which made infiltration through the Line of Control (LoC) difficult. But, intelligence reports now suggest that militants from across the LoC are well mixed with the locals and equally distributed with the objective of continuing terror attacks throughout the year.

According to reports, the interrogation of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Amir Wagay, who was arrested last month, revealed that the terror chiefs based in Pakistan had given a clear instruction to the terrorists operating in the Kashmir Valley to continue with the attacks on security forces.

Amir Wagay is said to have told his interrogators that the militants had been asked to keep the Kashmir issue simmering round-the-year.

DISENCHANTMENT WITH PDP

Shopian has traditionally been a bastion of the PDP, which was seen as a party with a soft-separatist agenda. The PDP formed an alliance with the BJP - which has been advocating abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution - after the Assembly election.

PDP supporters are said to be disillusioned with the party's decision to share power with the BJP. This has, reportedly, pushed many away from the PDP and turned them into separatist sympathisers while youths are said to be moving towards militancy due to this disenchantment.

TWO AXES OF TERROR ACTIVITIES

Reports suggest that with Shopian and Pulwama as centres, two definite axes of terrorism have emerged in the Kashmir Valley. Tral to Yaripora axis in south Kashmir is dominated by Hizbul Mujahideen, which is reportedly strengthening its grip over Shopian.

In the north, the Sopore-to-Pattan belt forms the other axis. The northern axis is controlled by all three - Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad - terror groups.

Intelligence reports say that the leadership of all the three groups is with the local militants, unlike the earlier trend when infiltrating terrorists used to direct the local attacks on security forces. The 'missing boys' of south Kashmir - about whom the police say that they are still investigating - are said to be new militant leaders in the Valley.