KASHMIR: SEASON OF ENCOUNTERS
Three fierce encounters in the space of three days, resulting in 15 deaths and gunshot or shrapnel injuries to dozens—the winter calm one expects in the Kashmir Valley is clearly not on the cards this year.
Early on February 14 morning, a joint ‘cordon and search’ operation by Jammu & Kashmir Police Special Operations Group, CRPF and two Indian Army Rashtriya Rifles (RR) units escalated into a full-blown encounter with four terrorists. Armed with Kalashnikov rifles and grenades, the four men, suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants, were hiding inside a house in Parraypora village, some 65 km from Srinagar in Bandipora district. It ended with three army jawans and one terrorist killed. Eleven security personnel including a major and six policemen were injured, many of them critically. Three terrorists managed to escape.
Only hours after things ended in Bandipora, gunfire rang out again, this time in the relatively peaceful northern border district of Handwara. Here, security forces, perhaps acting on more precise intelligence, surrounded and shot dead three more terrorists, without taking any casualties.
Since January 3, as many as eight security personnel and 23 terrorists have been killed
Since January 3, as many as eight security personnel—five soldiers and three general reserve engineer force workers have been killed. In addition, 23 terrorists, including category A operatives like Muzaffar Ahmed of Al-Badr and LeT commanders Abid Sheikh, Maqsood Ahmad and Adil Reshi were felled in 14 separate encounters. Senior police and intelligence officials in Srinagar attribute the unusual spurt in armed encounters to the long months of strife following the slaying of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8 last year.
The unrelenting agitation and furious stonepelting demonstrations had forced security forces to back off, virtually abdicating control of the hinterland in both north and south Kashmir. The situation, a senior J&K Police officer told india today, made it conducive for infiltration from Pakistan. Indian intelligence agencies name “12 active terror launch pads”—Balakot, Garhi Habibullah, Batrasi, Mashare-Akshah, Abdullah bin Mausam, Dalai, Chela Bandi, Kotli, Dungi, Gulpar, Barali and Mandakuli—across the Line of Control. Police officials estimate that of the 300 ready-to-be-launched terrorists at these camps, over a hundred may already have made it to hideouts across the Valley. Adding to this number, according to chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s own response in the J&K assembly to a question by National Conference legislator Mubarak Gul on January 3, “59 youth have joined militant ranks after July 8, 2016”. Worse, as J&K’s People’s Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party government told members of the house, since January 1, 2016, “63 rifles (AK-47s, SLRs, INSAS rifles), pistols and carbines and 186 magazines and a huge number of loose rounds of ammunition looted by militants and mobs in 16 separate incidents under the jurisdiction of nine Valley police stations”, remain untraceable.
And it looks like the summer will only bring more of the same. An intra-government report, prepared by the J&K police, warns of a bloody 2017, while underscoring the administration’s lack of preparedness to handle another crisis—like the strife in the wake of Wani’s killing last July. Officials at the top of J&K’s security establishment confirm the apprehensions, but the new director general of police, S.P. Vaid, claims that his men are ready to handle any situation.
The ‘unified’ Hurriyat, with the pro-Pakistan Syed Ali Shah Geelani and moderate Mirwaiz Umer Farooq on the same page, is another, separate worrisome prospect for the establishment.
ABID BHAT GETTING INVOLVED Priyanka Gandhi leaving the residence of Congress leader Ghulam Nabi A SECURITY FORCES ON PATROL IN THE VALLEY