Why militants are targeting cellphone towers in Jammu & Kashmir


By Rukma Singh

The region of Jammu and Kashmir has always been under constant threat due to a multitude of reasons, the most recent one being a sabotage of the very communication services of the area. What follows is the instillation of a deep fear in the minds of the residents, and a continuation  of the long lasting insecurity.

Following a series of attacks and threats by militants who claim that cell phone services are being used to target their members, dozens of communications towers have been shut down in the Sopore area of Jammu & Kashmir. The attacks have moved from Sopore to neighbouring areas; two men have been shot because of leasing land to telecom towers and working at a mobile phone shop respectively. Presently, out of the six service providers, only the state owned BSNL is functional in the area, Reuters reports suggest. Grenades were hurled at at a mobile phone tower used by Vodafone, Aircel and Airtel. These however did not result in any damage.

Last week, the Sopore area’s landscape was dotted by multiple posters, putting forth their demand that phone companies shut down their operations.”Due to these cellphone companies, our commanders and militant brothers have been arrested or killed,” said one poster. It further read, “We warn all the people associated with the telecom companies to stop working for them and tower site owners to dismantle the towers. We also warn shopkeepers who recharge cell phones to stop it. If not, they will be killed.”

The Reason Behind

To comprehend the possible reasons behind these attacks, it is essential to assess the claims made by the militant group. Earlier this month, a previously unknown militant group called Lashkar-e-Islam warned people working for or with telecoms companies to stop, claiming that cell phone services were being used to target members of the group.

Researchers suggest that the idea behind these activities is to call for a revolution, demanding a radical restructuring of the social, political, and economic order. Apart from expressing wrath against the targeting of their members, such activities have earlier occurred because the militants do not want to be covered under the mobile operation network. Thus, they exercise attacks on mobile towers in order to stop several cellular operators from continuing with their plans.

“Militants had installed a communication system on a telecom tower in Sopore, and after we seized it, they started pressuring people,” said Javed Gilani, the Inspector General of the Kashmir Police. A very important concern associated with this string of events is the implausibility of providing individual security to the vast multitude of people associated with the telecom business.

Government’s Response

What is essential to be analyzed is the Government’s reaction to the event. Downplaying the recurring attacks, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed referred to them as a “temporary phase” against which action will be taken.  “It is a temporary phase and not a permanent one,” Mufti told reporters on the inauguration ceremony of an International Buyer-Seller Meet at SKICC. He further added, “Now they want to see good times and return of peace. They want to earn their livelihood and want to live with dignity.”

Subsequent Measures

The question, however, revolves around how people of J&K can live a dignified life if their basic sources of livelihood are sabotaged? What is required by the ministry isn’t a reiteration of facts, but a strict plan of action to deal with the issue at hand. After the happenings, fear psychosis has engulfed both, people directly associated with telecom companies as well as users of these services, who fear that the very usage of mobile phones might result in a loss of life.