Epicentre of anti-insurgency force turns to militant stronghold in 20 years
In the mid 90s, Hajin was the base for anti-insurgency force Ikhwan led by Kuka Parray. For a decade or more, Parray made the town his base for counter-insurgency operations. He later became a legislator.
In over 20 years, the town of Hajin and its adjoining areas in north Kashmir have gone from being an epicentre of an anti-insurgency force to a militant stronghold.
In the mid 90s, the town, known for its willow nurseries, was the base for anti-insurgency force Ikhwan led by Kuka Parray. For a decade or more, Parray made the town his base for counter-insurgency operations. Parray later became a legislator after contesting the 1996 state polls.
Two decades later, militancy has returned to the town.
A team of heavily armed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants attacked one of the biggest army camps in Hajin earlier in the week. The militants escaped into the woods after the assault.
The town has witnessed over half a dozen such attacks in the last few months, some of which, have also resulted in civilian casualties. Six civilians have been killed in last two months alone in the region. The police blame LeT militants for most of the killings.
The, LeT however, released an audio clip after the killing of Mohammad Yaqoob, a 37-year-old butcher who was bludgeoned in front of his family, denying their involvement in at least two civilian killings and shifted the blame on security agencies.
“Our day starts with fear and nights are more fearful. Once it is dark, we confine ourselves indoors. In past two weeks three four attempts to kill civilians were foiled after villagers raised an alarm,” said a neighbour of Yaqoob.
A police officer sitting inside a heavily fortified police station located close to the 13 Rashtriya Rifles camp says everybody in the town knows who is killing civilians.
“Fearing for their own lives, people prefer to remain silent,’’ he said, adding that the LeT has invested heavily in recruiting locals from the town and its adjoining areas over the past 2-3 years. “This place is now directly monitored by Lashkar commanders from across the LoC,” he added.
Top militants such as Abu Musaib, the nephew of LeT ideologue Zakir-ur-Rehamn Lakhwi, who was killed last year, stayed in the town for some time. In November 2017, six top LeT commanders were killed in an operation in Hajin including Owaid, whom police claimed to be another of Lakhwi’s nephews.
At the time, police had claimed to have wiped out militancy from the area but it proved short-lived. Police say only four local youngsters in Hajin area have taken up arms in the last three years and of them, two have been killed in encounters with security forces. The presence of foreign militants is high in the region, they said.
In early 2015 -16, foreign militants started making inroads in the town as they developed a network of overground workers, they added. “The location of this town is strategically important for militants as after crossing the LoC , they stay here for some time before moving out either to south Kashmir, Ganderbal or Srinagar,” said another officer.
Bandipora SP Shiekh Zulfkar said the LeT started working in Hajin and adjoining areas in 2012-13. “Currently nine Lashkar militants (seven foreigners and two locals) are active in the area,” he said.
Some locals, however, are glad that the village is slowly losing its tag of ‘Ikhwan stronghold’. “Hajin and its adjoining villages are now turning into well wishers of separatists. Now people no more call us as Ikhwanis or nabdis (supporters of counter-insurgency),” says a college student who lives in Parray Mollah.