A CRPF commandant and two militants were killed in a gunfight near a famous Sufi shrine in downtown Srinagar on Monday, police said, as the country celebrated 70th Independence Day.
Eight security personnel were injured, one of them critically, as the militants opened fire at a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) patrol at around 8 in the morning near the Naqshband Sahib shrine in the city’s Nowhatta area. The historic Jama Masjid is close to the site of the attack.
“The attack was specific to Independence day. Why else would they choose this time and day? Information has been coming to us regarding the presence of militants. The deployment was very heavy but they (the militants) succeeded,” inspector general, CRPF, Atul Karwal told HT, adding that the militants looked “non-local”.
Separatists had called for August 15 to be observed as a black day and the security forces were out in full force. Taking no chances, the CRPF deployed its troops an hour earlier, at 5.30 am, but the two militants who opened fire on the paramilitary personnel had been hiding in the area overnight.
The first bullet was fired at 8:05 am and the battle continued for over four hours.
Both militants were killed but their identity is yet to ascertained, Kashmir’s inspector general of police Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani said. Two AK-47s and several Chinese grenades were recovered from the encounter site, police said.
In the line of fire
CRPF spokesperson Bhavesh Choudhary identified the deceased officer as Pramod Kumar. Eight of the injured are also from the paramilitary force while a Jammu and Kashmir police officer, who was shot in the head, is battling for his life.
According to a CRPF statement, its troops came under fire and grenade attack at four places in Srinagar – at Nowhatta Chowk, Gojwara Chowk, Bata Gali and Khaniyar Chowk. On receiving information, commandant Pramod Kumar rushed to the spot and managed to eliminate two attackers but sustained gunshot wounds in the upper neck.
He was rushed to the base hospital in Srinagar in a state of coma, but succumbed to injuries a little later.
Pramod Kumar, originally from Bakhtiyarpur village in Patna, was a directly appointed officer (in January 1998) of the force. He was promoted to the rank of commandant a few weeks back, on July 12, and was awaiting a new posting after promotion. He also served in the Special Protection Group, which guards the Prime Minister and ex-PMs, between 2011 and 2013.
He is survived by his wife, Neha, seven-year-old daughter Aarna and 63-year-old father. His body is being flown to Jamtara in Bihar in a special aircraft for last rites.
Kashmir watchers said it was after more than a decade that militants had attacked security forces in the old city. “An encounter took place in old city recently but it was based on a specific information that cordon was laid and two militants were killed,” said a police official.
In the recent attack, militants struck even as chief minister Mehbooba Mufti in her first Independence Day speech said guns would not solve any problem.
In an emotional appeal to youth, Mufti cautioned them against being led by “vested interests” and prevent Kashmir from turning into another Syria or Afghanistan.
In a separate incident, five militants were gunned down while trying to sneak into India from Pakistan, the army said. The infiltration bid was made along the line of control (LoC) in the Uri sector in northern Kashmir.
A large weapons cache was recovered from the infiltrators.
Security has been a worry in Nowhatta, which has been the centre of protests that have rocked the Valley for more than a month. Most incidents of stone-pelting in Srinagar have been reported from this old city area lined with several mosques and shrines.
Kashmir is under curfew after the encounter death of a militant on July 8 triggered a wave of protests. Fifty-eight people have died and thousands injured in clashes with troops.
Source said forces were on an alert about possible militant attacks in the Valley, where security was stepped to ensure a peaceful Independence Day.