Cordon-and-search operations are back in Kashmir after 15 years, the state police chief said on Wednesday, as a sharp rise in the number of local youth joining militant ranks forced security forces to change their anti-insurgency strategy in the valley.
Officials said the cordon-and-search operations -- which involve security personnel going door to door -- was launched overnight at Heff and Shirmal villages in Shopian district, where an Indian Army officer was abducted and killed by suspected Hizbul Mujahideen militants last week. The operations concluded on Wednesday morning.
Though a similar cordon-and-search operation – known as CASO among security forces – was carried out last week in Shopian, the official confirmation was made on Wednesday by Jammu and Kashmir director general police SP Vaid.
CASO was abandoned in 2002 after widespread public resentment over entire villages being cleared out and the people paraded in front of “informers” to pick out militants or their sympathisers.
Kashmir Valley is on the boil since last year when the killing of HM commander Burhan Wani sparked violent street protests, that saw security forces retaliate in equal measure. Nearly 100 people were killed during the months-long protests and many more blinded by pellets fired by security forces.
With anti-India sentiments rising, the Valley has also been witnessing sporadic student protests in capital Srinagar over alleged rights abuses by security forces.
Vaid said the operations are “part of a larger strategy to flush out of militants in south Kashmir”, identified as the epicentre of anti-India protests and militant activities. He said they will continue.
Search operations will be carried out in militancy-hit areas such as Kulgam, Pulwama, Tral, Shopian and Budgam, sources said.
Last week, nearly 4000 police and army personnel took part in CASO across two dozen villages in Shopian. Unmanned drones and army helicopters were part of the operations.
Former Kashmir police chief Javeed Gillani said recently that around 200 militants are active in Kashmir, of which 110 are local youth, most of them drawn to militancy over the past few months. Nearly 90 of the local youth are from south Kashmir.
Analysts say the growing anti-India sentiments in south Kashmir – the native place of chief minister Mehbooba Mufti – was due to her aligning with the right-wing BJP. The BJP is part of the ruling alliance led by Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
“Most of the militants operate from their own villages or neighbouring villages where an effort to catch them generally meets serious resistance,” said a police official who did not want to be named.
Locals also gather in large number to attend funeral of Kashmiri militants. “The militants are generally someone’s relatives, friends. If the local factor is taken out, people’s participation will be reduced.”
In July last year, lakhs of Kashmiris had attended the funeral of Burhan Wani, a poster-boy of homegrown militants.
In order to avoid such situations, the effort will be to capture the militants rather then kill them, security sources said.
The decision to make CASO a permanent feature of its anti-terror operations in Kashmir also came after the killing of Lt Ummer Fayaz. The officer’s killing followed a series of attacks on civilians. Lately, militants were also making attempts to loot banks and cash vans.