New Delhi: In 1995, a Kashmiri militant had kidnapped five tourists, demanding the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, who went on to create the Jaish-e-Mohammed.

On 31 August, suspected Jaish terrorists abducted three policemen and eight of their family members from their south Kashmir homes, breaking a 30-year-old unwritten code for militants and police not to target each other’s families.

Following the incident, intelligence units have signalled a dangerous new trend in the valley.

While kidnappings of civilians had been used as a pressure tactic by terrorist outfits in Kashmir in the 1990s, last week’s kidnappings have shown a possible shift in tactics.

An intelligence official, requesting anonymity, said it was the arrest of Hizbul chief Syed Salahuddin’s second son by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on 30 August that set the wheels in motion for the tit-for-tat kidnappings.

The NIA had arrested Syed Ahmed Shakeel on charges of terror funding.

“The arrest of Salahuddin’s son was a tipping point and now the terrorists will start using this arm-twisting tactic as leverage. Security forces are not afraid of being hurt or attacked. But the moment a militant touches their families, the security forces will succumb to the pressure—this is something that militants have studied very closely and will use to their advantage," the official quoted above, added.

“This indicates a very dangerous trend, because brokering a deal between trading civilians for militants can be hugely damaging. Earlier, there was a tacit understanding that the terrorists will not touch the families of policemen. But that truce has now been broken. The families of the police personnel are highly at risk because they do not live in fortified camps like the army officers’ families," said another senior intelligence official, requesting anonymity.

A deal was brokered within hours of the 31 August kidnappings—the abducted policemen and their family members were set free after the state police released several family members of terrorists, including Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riaz Naikoo’s father, Asadullah Naikoo, who had been arrested on 30 August by the police during a night raid in Pulwama district.

Naikoo was arrested after four policemen were killed in a terror attack by the Hizbul Mujahideen in Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama districts.

Experts, however, said that while this shift in tactic had come about suddenly, it was not something that should catch the security forces by surprise.

“Terrorists keep changing their strategies, so when the police hone in on their relatives, they strike in the same coin. It is a kind of tactic which has been used before also. There are no rules in insurgency and this is a form of retaliation for the terrorists," said Lt. Gen (retd) H.S Panag, a former Indian Army official and defence expert.

Experts said that while the families of Indian Army officials living in the valley enjoy greater protection in fortified camps, the families of Jammu and Kashmir police personnel are vulnerable, as they live in civilian areas in the valley.

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