NEW DELHI: Wednesday’s fidayeen attack in Srinagar which finally ended on Thursday was not a one-off strike. It was part of a plan supported by the Pakistani military to step up terror in Jammu and Kashmir so as to avoid an increased engagement against the al-Qaida-Taliban group.
As many as 700 fully-trained terrorists are waiting in the wings to stage attacks in J&K with their "masters" in Pakistan directing them to open "other fronts" as they did in the busy Lal Chowk area in Srinagar.
The fidayeen attacks appear to be a ploy to tap into fears of the US that an escalation in India-Pakistan tensions, perhaps leading to an armed clash, will derail the Obama administration’s new offensive in Afghanistan which is critically dependent on Islamabad’s support.
Anti-India groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba are al-Qaida associates and have been itching to stage a big "show" in India as the David Headley-Tahawwur Rana plot indicated. These groups have been more than willing to step up the level of violence in J&K.
Intercepts of communication between the jihadis -- killed by security forces during the siege at Lal Chowk -- with their handlers in Pakistan during the terror siege hinted that LeT has already activated its different modules to carry out more attacks.
Referring to the intercepts, a senior official here said, "It is quite clear from their communication that the terrorists are fully prepared to carry out more Lal Chowk-type operations. Reference to opening other fronts indicates the possibility of similar attacks soon."
This is authenticated by a report by global intelligence group Stratfor which says jihadi groups operating in the state are likely to carry out more attacks to instigate more trouble between India and Pakistan and, in the process, derail Islamabad’s participation in the war on its western border and its actions against various terror groups.
"We anticipate that Kashmiri jihadist groups will continue to plan attacks against India in an effort to stir up communal violence in that country and stoke tensions between India and Pakistan -- and provide a breather to the jihadist groups being pressured by the government of Pakistan," said the report.
The matter is also learnt to have been discussed in the standing committee meeting of the home ministry on Thursday when participants were given a detailed account of infiltration attempts made by jihadis in 2009. The meeting also took note of fresh challenges before the security agencies not only in Jammu and Kashmir but also on mainland in the light of presence of an estimated 700 terrorists in the Valley.
Sources in the home ministry said most of the terrorists in the Kashmir Valley were from Pakistan who entered India during the past couple of years. While 110 of them entered in 2009, the rest of them might have entered earlier, they added.
Security experts see the fidayeen attack at Lal Chowk as a Pakistani attempt to send a message that Jammu and Kashmir is not as peaceful as claimed by the Indian government.
Retired IPS officer and former Intelligence Bureau joint director M K Dhar said, "The incident shows that Pakistan wants to frustrate Indian attempts to initiate the process of quiet talks with Hurriyat."
With such terror attacks, Dhar said, the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI wanted to convey to the separatists that the armed struggle for Kashmir was still on and the jihadis had capacity to strike at will.
Similar concern was expressed by former additional secretary in RAW B Raman. Stating that there was no change in the jihadi objective of making India bleed, he said, "The Srinagar incident clearly indicates that the terrorists still have capacity to launch massive attack at will."
He told TOI that jihadis’ masters in Pakistan, through such incidents, wanted to mark their presence, sending a message that the area (J&K) was not at all peaceful. "The terrorists are desperate and therefore they would like to carry out more such attacks in J&K and outside in coming months."