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Autumn of disquiet?

Cold comfort If recent gunfights and rising incidents of infiltration are anything to go by, the Kashmir Valley may be looking at a violent winter, writes Arun Joshi.

india Updated: Sep 27, 2009 23:56 IST
Arun Joshi

Shutters are all down. Roads are strewn with stones and shards of glass. Visibility is near zero because of tear gas shells. Young men armed with stones and empty bottles battling it out with khaki-clad men with batons, guns and tear gas shell launchers.

The reason could be from alleged rape by the government forces to death in police firing, but the street scenes always look the same in the Kashmir Valley.

And nobody realised that when these scenes were played out on the streets of Shopian, Baramulla, Srinagar and other parts of the Valley throughout 2009, militants were consolidating their positions — stockpiling arms and recruiting manpower.

Hizb’s top commanders Abu Pasha and Abu Musa, who were killed in Banyari in Bandipore district, 50 km north of Srinagar, on September 23, were engaged in consolidating their positions and so were the two Pakistani terrorists of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba — Ubaid and Mohsin — killed in Laoda in Rafiabad, 65 km northwest of Srinagar, on September 24.

With street fights fizzling out, the focus has returned to hunting down hardcore militants. Inspector General of Police, Kashmir zone, Farooq Ahmad said, “Now that we are free from dealing with the agitations, our focus is back to counter-insurgency.”

It seems to be the autumn of disquiet in the Valley, with three gun battles in as many days that ended on September 24, leaving six militants and four security personnel, including an army Major, dead. The army has lost the third major since March this year.

The sudden rise in encounters, mostly in the forested belts in the higher reaches, is a result of a combination of factors ranging from a more infiltration from across the border to an increased flow of intelligence on specific locations of militants.

Although Ahmad said, “It’s not a rise in militancy, it’s just that we are now seeking them”, intelligence agencies are of the opinion that incidents of infiltration from across the border — both the Line of Control (LoC) and the International border — were perceptibly higher this year.

There are about 700 militants operating in the Valley. Of them, 300 are Pakistanis, according to a police assessment. The arrival of fresh batches of militants — almost 260 infiltration bids made so far this year — started with 30-odd
militants arriving in March.

These, according to intelligence agencies, are graduates of the LeT training camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

In a recent communication, security agencies have informed the government that after the November 26, 2008 Mumbai attacks, the Pakistani militant organisations have become so emboldened that they set up 10 more training camps, taking the total number of killer schools to 62.

In March this year, it became apparent when well-trained militants battled with the army for five days in Hafruda in Kupwara district, about 100 km northwest of Sringar. While 17 infiltrators were killed, the army also lost eight people, including a Major.

In April, another big group intruded from Gurez sector, 142 km northeast of Srinagar, most of them making it to the higher reaches in Bandipore district.

The reason is simple: The Pakistani Army has reverted to the pre-November 2003 ceasefire position, offering cover-fire to infiltrators.

Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda said the increased infiltration, besides boosting the morale of the militants, also exhibited the constant pressure on the militant organisations to get results.

But Khoda said, “We are now engaging them in the higher reaches and neutralising them. Since human intelligence has improved, we have been able to track them down before they could come down to the Valley.”

“What needs to be appreciated is that in the encounters in north and south Kashmir, there has been no collateral damage, especially no civilian casualty.”

But an intelligence officer, who refused to be identified, warned, “Violent times are ahead,” as the three gun battles in three days — similar to six gun battles on August 5 in which nine militants were killed — may become a regular affair in near future.