On May 21, 2023, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist, Mohammad Ubaid Malik, from Kupwara District in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). According to a NIA release the accused was in constant touch with a Pakistan-based JeM ‘commander’ and was passing on secret information, especially regarding movement of troops and Security Forces (SFs).
On May 5, 2023, SFs arrested two JeM militant associates, identified as Bashir Ahmad and Gulzar Ahmad, in the Awantipora area of the Pulwama District of J&K. They were found to be in possession of weapons and ammunition, including an AK-56 rifle, two AK magazines, 56 AK rounds, three pistols, six pistol magazines, 24 pistol rounds and other incriminating items.
On April 29, SFs arrested a Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist associate, identified as Khursheed Ahmad Bhat, in the Handwara area of Kupwara District.
So far in 2023, according to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), SFs have arrested at least 13 JeM terrorists/terror associates (data till May 28). Through 2022, 43 such elements had been arrested. Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data, a total of 419 such elements have been arrested from across India, including 366 in J&K alone.
Moreover, SFs have killed 1,049 JeM terrorists since March 6, 2000, across India, including 1,030 in J&K alone. This number includes one killing in 2023. On February 28, 2023, in an encounter in the Padgampora area of Awantipora in Pulwama District of J&K, SFs killed two terrorists, including Aijaz Ahmad Bhat, a JeM cadre, active since May 2022. One AK- 47 rifle, one AK-74 rifle, one pistol, two grenades, five AK magazines, and two pistol magazines were recovered at the site of encounter. One SF trooper was also killed in the operation.
A total of 14 terrorists/terrorist associates have surrendered since March 6, 2000, all in J&K. The last surrender was reported on May 29, 2019, when a JeM militant, identified as Mohammad Maqbool Ganie, who was trapped by SFs at the Chopan Mohalla of Nagpathri Tral village in Pulwama District, surrendered. One Chinese pistol, one pistol magazine and six rounds of ammunition were recovered from his possession.
On the other hand, the JeM has killed 339 persons (including 100 civilians and 229 SF personnel) during this period, across India, including 311 fatalities (98 civilians and 213 SF personnel) in J&K alone. [These numbers may be an underestimate as group identity of terrorists involved in a large number of killings in J&K remain unattributed].
Despite the significant fall in its capacities to strike, as is evident from declining fatalities inflicted upon the SFs by the outfit over the last several years, JeM remains one of the most potent threats in Kashmir. Significantly, all 10 SF fatalities in J&K in 2023 have been claimed by its offshoot People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF). These fatalities occurred in two incidents:
May 5: Five Army soldiers were killed and an officer was injured when militants triggered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast with a remote control in the Kesari Hills Forest in the Kandi area in Rajouri District. The incident occurred during a SF combing operation targeting the perpetrators of the April 20, 2023, Poonch attack, who had killed five soldiers in an ambush.
April 20: Five Army soldiers were killed and another was injured when terrorists targeted a moving vehicle of the Army with grenades and small arms’ fire at Bhatta Durrian in the Mendhar area of Poonch District. According to reports, one of the terrorists managed to stop the truck by throwing grenades while another opened calibrated fire towards its fuel tank, triggering a massive blaze in the vehicle. In the meantime, a third terrorist opened fire at the soldiers on-board.
It is useful to recall here that, after the February 14, 2019, Pulwama Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) Attack by JeM, which resulted in the death of 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel – the highest fatality figure for SFs in a single attack since the commencement of the insurgency in J&K in 1988 – the State/Union Territory (the State of J&K was made a Union Territory in 2019) has recorded at least nine major attacks (each involving three or more fatalities), including the two in 2023, targeting the SFs, resulting in the killing of 41 SF personnel. Of these nine incidents, four attacks have either been claimed or attributed to a specific terrorist outfit – all of these involve JeM/PAFF.
JeM was also responsible for the last and major attack recorded outside J&K by a Pakistan-based Islamist group. The terrorist outfit carried out an assault on the Indian Air Force (IAF) Base at Pathankot through January 2 and 3, 2016. 11 persons – six SF personnel, including one Air Force commando, and five JeM militants – were killed in the attack and the counter-offensive.
The JeM was moreover responsible for the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi.
The outfit had been launched on January 31, 2000, by Maulana Masood Azhar in Karachi, after he was released from an Indian jail as part of the terrorists for hostages swap of December 31, 1999, following the hijacking of the Indian Airlines Flight IC 814. He continues to enjoy the hospitality and patronage of the Pakistan Military Establishment’s, and carries out his activities – proselytizing, funding, recruiting and training – in the open in Pakistan.
JeM has been banned by the Indian government under provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) since October 25, 2001. More recently, the government, through a notification on January 6, 2023, banned PAFF, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The notification stated,
The 'People's Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF)' emerged in the year 2019 as a proxy outfit of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a proscribed terrorist organisation listed at serial number 6 of the First Schedule under the UAPA. It regularly issues threats to Indian security forces, political leaders, civilians working in Jammu-Kashmir from other states and is involved, along with other organisations, in conspiring pro-actively physically and in social media to undertake violent terrorist acts in Jammu-Kashmir and other major cities in India.
Earlier, in a notification dated April 11, 2022, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs designated a JeM terrorist, Mohiuddin Aurangzeb Alamgir alias Maktab Ameer. The notification noted, "Alamgir has been involved in Pulwama Central Reserve Police Force Convoy attack of 2019."
Meanwhile, India's efforts to put Maulana Masood Azhar's brother, Abdul Rauf Azhar, the deputy chief of the outfit, sanctioned by the United States (US) in December 2010, on the sanctions list of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), has been repeatedly thwarted by China, most recently in May 2023. The US had observed,
[Abdul Rauf Azhar] has urged Pakistanis to engage in militant activities. He served as JeM's acting leader in 2007, as one of JeM's most senior commanders in India, and as JeM's intelligence coordinator. In 2008 Azhar was assigned to organize suicide attacks in India. He was also involved with JeM's political wing and has served as a JeM official involved with training camps.
India and the US had jointly made the proposal to designate Abdul Rauf Azhar in 2022 as a terrorist. Incidentally, China had also opposed the listing of Maulana Masood Azhar, a proposal put by India in 2009. However, China finally withdrew its 'technical hold' in May 2019, and the UNSC designated Masood Azhar as a "global terrorist".
JeM is one among the three most active terrorist proxies of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, in India, with a particular focus on J&K. The other prominent groups that currently remain very active are Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM). While JeM has seen periods of eclipse in the past, it has more recently emerged as the biggest challenge for the SFs in J&K.