India Today - - INSIDE - By Asit Jolly

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

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