In May 2017 when Mehbooba Mufti was the chief minister and the chief of the Unified Command, top army officials flew from New Delhi to Srinagar to participate in a crucial security meeting where top officials of various security agencies also participated. The meeting was held in highly fortified army’s 15 Corps Badamibagh Headquarters where it was unanimously decided to roll out “Operation All-out” in a bid to wipe out new age militancy born after the killing of young HizbulMujahideen commander BurhanWani on July 8, 2016.
From May to December 2017, 215 militants were killed including top commanders of HizbulMujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad. Top security experts opine that after sustaining back to back jolts in 2017, Jaish-e-Muhammad militants, especially those who managed to infiltrate from PirPanjal range, carried out at least three major suicide attacks—two of them in Pulwama district. “The attacks were a message to Hizb and Lashkar to take a back seat for re-grouping and saving commanders who were on the government forces’ radar.”
The top security officials believe that the winter months of 2017-2018 were utilized by the Hizb and Lashkar militants to “re-organise themselves and to re-group as well” and to some extent they succeeded. However, the forces changed their strategy by deciding to target top militant leadership and a hit-list was prepared. Police believes that top commanders were mainly responsible for the recruitment of local youth into militancy.
The list of 25 commanders of Hizb, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish, Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen and the Ansaar-Gazwatul Hind prepared by the forces went viral on various social networking sites. Though earlier it seemed difficult for the forces to catch the big fish, but according to police officers, on the basis of “renewed human intelligence supported by the technical intelligence” they gradually started zeroing-in on the top commanders who started falling one after another in the encounters, most of whom took placed in the restive Southern Kashmir.
Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh said that many militant commanders had a habit of uploading videos and photographs on the social sites to lure the youth into militancy fold, but “the same also helps the forces to track the militants.”
According to police, 2018 saw the killing of 240 militants, the highest ever since 2007, including 18 top commanders of Hizb, Lashkar, Jaish and AnsaarGazwatul Hind. Among the slain commanders were most wanted faces— SadaamPaddar, Sameer Tiger, AltafKachroo, Towseef Sheikh and Umar Ganai. But for the forces, the major success of the year was the killing of top most commander of Lashkar-e-ToibaNaveedJatt alias Abu Hanzallah, who escaped from police custody in February this year after killing two policemen who were accompanying him from Central Jail Srinagar to SMHS Hospital where he was brought for a check-up. Naveed, according to police records, had infiltrated from Kupwara sector in October 2012 when he was only 15. He remained active for two years and was arrested and lodged in Central Jail Srinagar. However, he managed to escape from SMHS Hospital. His successful bid to flee from the hospital triggered suspension of the then Director General of Prisons and the SSP also. Besides, the then DGP S P Vaid also issued directions barring medical check-up of prisoners in State-run hospital and instead made it obligatory that non-local or local militants in need of medical check-up be brought to police hospital only.” Naveed’s escape also resulted in the shifting of all non-local and local militants lodged in Central Jail to Jammu prisons.
Now police, army and the CRPF have decided to track the movement of remaining seven top militants including three top most commanders, ReyazNaikoo, the chief operational commander of Hizb, Zeenatul Islam, who took over the reins of Al-Badr, and ZakirMoosa, the chief of AnsarulGazwatul Hind.
While addressing the press men after the killing of top Lashkar commander Naveed at police control room (PCR) Srinagar, DGP Dilbagh Singh said that 240 militants were killed till November 15 this year while 250 were still active. DGP’s revelation about the number of active militants signifies that the security agencies had been earlier downplaying the number of active militants. If one goes by figures shared last winter, 300 militants were active. As many as 240 were killed this year, then there should have been just 60 militants active at present.
A top police officer revealed to the Kashmir Ink that though 240 militants have been killed and that 250 more are active signifies that the there has been successful infiltration attempts and also some silent recruitment of militants. “Successful infiltration is possible given the terrain and dense forest cover along the LoC stretch in Kashmir’s Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara districts,” he said.
However, DGP Dilbagh Singh said that there was zero militant recruitment since October this year. “Not a single case of militant recruitment was witnessed from October this year. Recruitment has gone down, stone pelting incidents too are down and there is a lot of improvement in law and order situation,” he said. “We will see a better tomorrow.”
Now that the police assert no militant recruitment has taken place since October 2018, it indicates that before October there has been a militant recruitment “at a good pace” given the number of active militants at present. A police officer while replying to a query whether militancy would be wiped out from Kashmir given the pace forces are killing militants, said: “As long as infiltration continues, militancy can’t be done away with.” He also said that killing militants “was no solution” and “ultimately political handle is highly inevitable for the long lasting peace in the region.”
Almost similar statement was echoed by the general officer commanding (GoC) of Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Lieutenant General AK Bhat, who stated that the military can only create conditions of normalcy. “Beyond that, the initiatives have to be at levels of good governance, politically talking to people. During the Vajpayee era, it has happened, and similar initiatives the government will take at the right moment. I am sure they will,” Bhat told a newspaper in an interview. He said one of the main things was to find the methods and means to convince the youth that the path of violence will not deliver anything.
“And second, more importantly, is to work in the psychological space with the populace of Kashmir, to tell them that their future is far better in India than in Pakistan… that they are only being used as tools by the Jama’at, by the separatists and Pakistan,” he said. “Army’s role was to ensure that peace is maintained. Of course long-term solutions, the government have to look at them.”
Talking to reporters on the sidelines of a function at Kapurthala, Punjab, recently, northern army commander Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh said that that initiatives taken by the government and forces had resulted in a decline in militancy as well as a drop in the number of “local youths being radicalised” in Kashmir.
“Our operations are carried out in a very professional manner,” Singh said. “More importantly these successful operations are possible only because information regarding the movement of militants is now coming from local population, which is a very positive sign and indicates the decline of militancy. More than the number of militants killed, information from locals is a much encouraging and positive sign.”
The Story Was First Published On Kashmir Ink (A Greater Kashmir Publication)