The waving of ISIS flags in Kashmir is a matter of concern and “deserves the highest attention of the security agencies” so that the Valley youth are prevented from being lured into the ranks of the jihadist organisation, a top Army official said Tuesday.
The comments by the General Officer Commanding of the Army’s 15 Corps, Lt Gen. Subrata Saha, come a day after Chief Minister rubbished the appearance of the jihadist group’s flags in the Valley as an act of “some idiots”.
Lt Gen. Saha, while noting that the ability of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to attract a large number of volunteers was a cause of worry, said that concerted efforts have to be made to secure the “right to prosperity” of the youth in the Valley if they were to be kept away from the path of terror.
“The emergence of the ISIS flags (during protests) merits concern and deserves the highest attention of the security agencies to prevent the youth of Kashmir from getting lured (into ISIS),” Saha told PTI.
“The ability of ISIS to attract large number of volunteers is a matter of concern. There are believed to be 10,000 to 15,000 volunteers at present fighting for ISIS. The fanaticism shown by the fighters is also a cause of concern,” he added.
A protester was seen waving an ISIS flag last week after Eid prayers whereas in July, too, a similar incident had occurred in the Valley.
Speaking to reporters in Delhi yesterday, Omar had said, “You have to understand that no ISIS group has been identified so far in the Valley. The flag… was waved by some idiots, which does not mean that ISIS has any presence in Kashmir. Unfortunately, some channels have tried to make an issue out of this and drag me into this as if we are not doing anything about it.”
Asked about Omar’s comments on the matter, Saha said he was “not aware about the contents of the statement made by the Chief Minister”.
Saha refused to divulge any information about the presence or absence of ISIS recruits in Kashmir “for obvious reasons”, but asserted that media reports about some youths from other parts of the country joining the group were worrisome.
“Media reports have suggested that some youths from Mumbai and Hyderabad had joined ISIS. There was even a report about a Kashmiri-origin youth living somewhere else (Australia) having joined,” he said.
In such a scenario, Saha said, security agencies have “to be conscious of any indicators” about the ISIS ideology finding takers in Kashmir as the ISIS ideology “also has a potential of creating sectarian divide”.
He said that it cannot be entirely ruled out that there is no movement on the ground about ISIS.
Asked what steps need to be taken to pull youths away from the lure of ISIS, the Army officer said that “the biggest counter is to ensure that the youth are positively engaged”.
“There have to be concerted efforts to secure the future of the youth… ensure their right to prosperity. Once this is done, they will be dissuaded from the temptations of this propaganda,” Saha said.
Meanwhile, the GoC said that the Army was ready to ensure a safe environment for conduct of Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir whenever the Election Commission of India fixes the dates for the exercise due before the end of this year.
“From the security point-of-view, we are ready to ensure a safe and peaceful environment for the conduct of the elections in Kashmir,” Lt General Subrata Saha told PTI.
Asked if the time was right to hold elections in the flood-ravaged state, Lt Gen Saha said that is a call for the Election Commission of India to take.
In response to a question, he said there was no significant increase in the infiltration from across the Line of Control in the Valley during the period of floods last month.
“The figures for infiltration attempts are at par with those for the month of August,” he said.
Lt Gen Saha said the Army, however, is ready to take on any challenge on the infiltration front.
“The anti-infiltration grid has been active even when the Army was busy in carrying out the massive rescue and relief operations in the flood-affected areas of Kashmir. We had a number of successes at the Line of Control even during the month of September,” he said.
The Army officer said there will be no lowering of the guard along the LoC in view of the recent snowfall in the higher reaches of the Valley.
“The snowfall late last month was just eight to 10 inches high. From experience, we know that this snow melts away and will not close the passes across the LoC,” he added.