Srinagar: Since the COVID-19 lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, anti-militancy operations in Jammu and Kashmir have intensified. In the three months since the beginning of the lockdown, 78 militants have been killed by government forces.
This year, 102 militants including top commanders of Hizbul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Muhammad, the Al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Ghazwat-Ul-Hind and Lashkar-e-Taiba outfits were killed in various gun battles across the Valley.
The top militant leaders who were killed include Reyaz Naikoo, the chief operational commander of the Hizb, Naikoo’s close aide Junaid Sehrai, Burhan Koka of Ansar Ghazwat-Ul-Hind and Bashir Koka of Lashkar, along with Jaish IED expert Abdur Rehman alias ‘Fouji Bhai’ of Pakistan.
In the past two weeks, 32 militants were killed in the twin southern districts of Shopian and Pulwama alone. According to police, most of the militants who were gunned down in south Kashmir were newly recruited ones.
In the meantime, 15 civilians and 20 security personnel were also killed, either by militants or through shelling on the Line of Control.
Role of Pakistan
According to a Hindustan Times report quoting intelligence sources, Pakistan has activated terror launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’s Sharda, Dudhnial and Athmuqam areas across the Line of Control.
The thrust by Pakistani terror handlers appears to be north Kashmir, where the security agencies suspect militants may have crossed LoC during various infiltration attempts. They may now be hiding in the northern belts of Kashmir.
Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar last Tuesday declared that militancy stands almost wiped out from south Kashmir and said that the police would now shift its focus on north Kashmir from the next month. Kumar may have been signalling the active presence of Pakistani militants who during the past few months have launched attacks on security forces in Kupwara.
On April 5, five Indian soldiers were killed while fighting infiltrators close to the LoC in Kupwara district.
On May 4, three CRPF troopers were killed in an attack by militants in North Kashmir’s Handwara. Two weapons of para-military troopers were also taken away by the militants. The new militant outfit ‘The Resistance Front’ immediately took responsibility of these attacks. The little-known outfit, in an audio message circulated through social media, said after the scrapping of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, India had not “spared” anyone, “not even the loyal political leaders.”
According to police sources, the newly formed ‘TRF’ is a Pakistan-backed outfit and militants from Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen may have jointly formed it in early March. “TRF has been actually formed to mislead the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global watchdog for terror-funding, which has threatened to blacklist Pakistan for supporting terrorism,” a source in the police said.
Besides TRF, the source said, Pakistan has also ‘formed’ two other outfits — the Tehreek-i-Millat Islami and the Jammu and Kashmir Fighters Front.
The past few months have not only witnessed a rise in infiltration attempts along the LoC, but also in gun battles between militants and security forces, mainly in southern Kashmir. The violence in the region had sharply gone down since August 5, 2019 when the Union government announced its decision to read down Article 370. The COVID-19 lockdown seemed to have suddenly triggered a spurt in encounters.
Barely five days after the lockdown began across India, a gunfight started on April 1 after militants infiltrating through the LoC were intercepted by the Army in North Kashmir. An encounter followed, deep inside the Valley. Five militants and five security personnel were killed in the five-day gunfight.
According to police sources, in March, seven militants were killed, in April the number rose to 28, and in May, 18 militants were eliminated. In the first 19 days of June, as many as 32 militants were killed.
With the killing of eight militants within 24 hours in south Kashmir, IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar Friday congratulated joint forces for “completing a century” on the front of anti-militancy operations.
On June 13, Indian Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane attributed the success to the close cooperation and coordination between all security forces operating in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
This year, militant outfits have suffered significant losses. While people in south Kashmir are loathe to rule out the active role played by informers, many believe that the Indian security establishment has brought in new equipment or devices which are helping in the tracing of militants in a particular area.
Police sources said last year a total 158 militants were killed, previously in 2018, 254 militants were killed and in 2017, a total of 213 militants were killed. This year within the first six months, the figures have crossed 100 and if the present pace of encounters continues, the toll can break all previous records.
A police official told The Wire that in 99% of the encounters, militants have failed to inflict any casualties on security forces. In the past one month, hardly a week has gone by without a militant casualty.
Kashmiri youngsters continue to be recruited into militant ranks, which is a cause for worry for the security establishment. There are reports that many young men have recently gone missing in south Kashmir and may have joined militants. “Militants are showing their presence whether by getting killed in gun battles or attacking security forces,” said a policeman posted in south Kashmir, who added that the role of local informants is paramount here.
“Despite local informers being abducted, killed and tortured by militants, the inflow of intelligence has continued to reach the doors of security establishments,” he said.
The police, on the directions of the Union home ministry have stopped handing over the bodies of local militants for burial. Unlike in the past, local militants, too, are now buried at places like Sonamarg and Baramulla, where only a few family members are allowed.
General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Lieutenant General B.S. Raju, on Friday said that the successful anti-militancy operations are taking place with the active support of people. “In next few months, we will try to ensure that normalcy is restored in full across the Valley so that people can resume all kinds of activities in a peaceful manner,” the Army officer said.
Addressing a joint press conference at the 15 Corps headquarters, top officials of Jammu and Kashmir’s security grid stated that this year so far over 100 militants were killed. The number includes 50 from the Hizbul Mujahideen alone and 20 each from Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba while remaining were from Ansaar Ghazwat-ul-Hind and other small militant groups like Al Badr. In Jammu region, almost half a dozen militants were killed.
The top Army officer also added that this year 49 youths have joined militancy of whom 27 were killed.
Jammu and Kashmir DGP, Dilbagh Singh, said that there were number of successful operations against militants this year and most of them have been “clean” with little collateral damage.
Irfan Amin Malik is a journalist based in Kashmir, he tweets @irfanaminmalik.