Kashmir has been rocked by a string of armed bank robberies in the last few months, which the J&K police say is a sign of cash-starved militants trying to keep the funds flowing.
Militants, however, are vehement in their denial. They have enough cash, they are freedom fighters and wouldn’t stoop to robbing, they say.
Nine robberies after November 8
The fact, however, is that Kashmir Valley has reported at least nine bank robberies and several such bids after the Centre announced scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 bank notes on November 8. On Wednesday, gunmen targeted two banks in Pulwama.
They took away Rs 5 lakh from a branch of Ellaquai Dehati Bank (EDB). The men who robbed J&K Bank in Nehama of Rs 1.3 lakh also smashed the CCTV to avoid being identified. In nearby Kulgam district, some gunmen had barged into a bank a day earlier and walked away with Rs 65,000.
- November 21, 2016: A bank in Chrar-e-Sharief in Budgam district robbed of ₹14 lakh. Four alleged Lashkar workers held
- December 8: Four suspected militants open fire, take away ₹14 lakh from Jammu and Kashmir Bank’s Arihal branch
- December 15: Around ₹10 lakh, ₹16,000 of which were in demonetised notes, taken away from Ratnipora in Pulwama. Police identify the robbers as Lashkarmilitants and a local
- February 16, 2017: Four armed men enter a J&K Bank at Turqawangan in Shopian and loot ₹3 lakh
- April 19: J&K Bank is the target again. A sum of ₹5 lakh looted from Harmain branch
- April 21: Unidentified persons take away a State Bank of India ATM in Anantnag district
- May 1: Five policemen and two security guards of a bank are killed after militants attack a J&K Bank cash van.
- May 2: Gunmen barge into a bank in Kulgam and loot ₹65,000
- May 3: Three suspected militants barge into an EDB branch in Waibug and walk away with ₹5 lakh. Same day, ₹1.33 lakh is looted from the J&K Bank branch.
The robbery came a day after militants attacked a J&K Bank cash van and killed five policemen and two bank guards.
Lashkar, Hizbul short of funds?
Snatching of weapons is not new to the Valley but bank robberies are. Since demonetisation, more than Rs 50 lakh has been looted.
“For any militant organisation to thrive, you need funds and weapons,” said deputy inspector general of police (south Kashmir) SP Pani. “And when there is a scarcity of these, it turns to robberies and weapon snatching.”
Police blame the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen for the robberies.
Barely two weeks after Modi’s announcement, gunmen took away Rs 14 lakh from a bank in Chrar-e-Sharief in central Kashmir. Next month, Rs 24 lakh was taken away from two branches of J&K Bank in Pulwama district.
It is difficult to independently get a response from the two outfits, but they have been issuing statements denying their role.
Smartphone craze among militants
Not just demonetisation, but militants’ spending habits too could be responsible for the cash hunt.
They have moved from low-cost basic phones to high-end smart phones, Pulwama SP Bhat said. Militants also need cash to pay overground workers, or sympathisers, and to get vehicles and army uniforms. They could still be getting money through hawala channels, but the amount would be smaller compared to RS 50 lakh they stole.
“Besides that, through robberies you are making news and creating chaos,” he said.