New Delhi: Intelligence agencies are preparing for a spurt in militant activity in Kashmir, with reports revealing militant groups plan to use the winter months for ratcheting up covert radicalization and recruitment drives.

Senior intelligence officers stated that with active militancy on the decline in Kashmir, groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen were looking at cashing in on the snow cover in passes and ravines between December to March.

However, with security forces continuously manning the areas along the Line of Control (LoC) as well as regions within the Valley, intelligence units stated that there would be little to no overground radicalization, recruitment rallies or group meetings.

The tip-off comes just days before the centre’s interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma travels to Kashmir for a second round of talks on 26 November.

“This is the cheapest and safest form of radicalization. The Hizbul has been losing ground steadily to the JeM in Kashmir and they will try more aggressively to garner support. The JeM has the support of Pakistan’s ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) and ever since their regrouping in 2014, they have been stepping up their radicalization process. Underground radicalization activities are hard to trace and this is becoming the new modus operandi," said a senior intelligence official in New Delhi, requesting anonymity.

The method began to gather momentum after Hizbul Mujahideen’s Burhan Wani was killed by security forces in July 2016, prompting militants to reach out to local Kashmiri youth through text messages and anti-India propaganda on social networking sites.

According to the Union home ministry, security forces had gunned down 135 militants in Kashmir till 30 September, 38 of whom belonged to the Hizbul Mujahideen.

“The militant groups use proxy servers from Peshawar or Rawalpindi to send out messages to their points persons in Kashmir who then circulate the message further. If these servers are traced, the location shows up as Korea or Mongolia or other unrelated places. The Hizbul is keeping quiet now and actively devising a fool-proof method to absorb youth," the official added.

Intelligence officials added that while this method had been used to garner civilian support and stone-pelters in Kashmir, militant organizations have now begun to tread the same path adopted by the Islamic State (IS) to radicalize youth online.

Intelligence reports reviewed by Mint also stated that militants from the Hizbul Mujahideen were looking at recruiting and radicalizing youth in Jammu and Kashmir’s Doda-Kishtwar and Poonch-Rajouri districts.

“Poonch-Rajouri had been made free of militancy. But we have noticed that recruitment rallies by the Hizbul in Pakistan have stopped and there is evidence to believe that they are using the web to lure young Kashmiri boys into militancy. JeM is on the upswing and the Hizbul is trying to catch up with them," said another intelligence official from Kashmir.

Defence analysts stated that India needed to step up military operations to combat this threat.

“These groups have mastered the art of remote controlled attacks. Syed Sahuddin, who is the leader of Hizbul Mujahideen, also heads the United Jihad Council in Pakistan, which is used to control the Kashmiri youth. Our forces have been doing an excellent job in Kashmir, but we are functioning on just 40-50% of our combat capacity and that needs to be increased," said Gurmeet Kanwal, defence analyst at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), a Delhi-based think tank.

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