On 28 August afternoon, suspected armed rebels shot at Jammu and Kashmir Police’s Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Abdul Rashid Pir near Lal Chowk in volatile south Kashmir’s Anantnag district. Pir, who received bullet injury in his abdomen, was first moved to district hospital Anantnag for treatment from where he was immediately referred to Indian Army’s 92 base hospital in Srinagar.
ASI Pir could not survive. The slain policeman hailed from Panzath, Qazigund in south Kashmir.
Pir was not the first policeman to be killed in a suspected militant attack in the restive Himalayan Valley. And he won’t be the last one.
Kashmir is witnessing a new-age of armed militancy, especially in four volatile districts of south Kashmir where militants are routinely killed in encounters with government forces. But they also keep finding new recruits.
Highly placed sources in the J&K Police department insist that the new wave of armed rebellion is “unpredictable in many ways” because “the new-age of militancy is not entirely controlled by Pakistan”.
In a daring attack on 16 June this year, a group of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants ambushed a police party in the same district in which six policemen, including a station house officer (SHO) Firoz Dar of Achabal police station, were killed.
At the time of the ambush, SHO Dar was travelling in a jeep at Thujwara in Achabal area of district Anantnag, some 65 km from capital Srinagar.
Some media outlets reported that militants had shot the policemen directly in their faces from a very close range.
Director General of J&K Police SP Vaid had confirmed to reporters that – “They (militants) fired at the policemen from very close range and later escaped with five AK-47 assault rifles.’’ Vaid added that the attackers belonged to a Lashkar module.
On its part, Lashkar too claimed the responsibility for the attack through its spokesman Abdullah Ghaznavi, who told a local news agency that his group’s militants attacked the police party in Achabal in which six policemen were killed.
It was widely believed that Bashir Lashkari, the then wanted district commander of LeT in south Kashmir, was the brain behind the Achabal attack.
In a possible reprisal, government forces killed Lashkari in an encounter on 1 July, within a fortnight’s time after the deadly attack on J&K Police in mid-June.
Prior to the killing of six policemen in June, suspected militants on 28 May, in a comparable attack on the cash van of Jammu and Kashmir Bank, killed five policemen and two private guards in neighbouring Kulgam’s Pumai village in south Kashmir.
Besides audacious attack by militants on policemen in various parts of Kashmir in recent times, there have been numerous cases related to weapon snatching, too. Such incidents gathered pace after the killing of a popular tech-savvy Hizb commander Burhan Wani in July last year.
Why do the local armed militants target the local Kashmiri policemen? Have such attacks intensified in the post-Burhan era? Is there a new pattern in attacks against Jammu and Kashmir police personnel? Or, the attacks against policemen are a business as usual?
One For The Other
“Generally, Jammu and Kashmir Police is considered to be at the forefront in a fight against militancy. It is believed that J&K Police’s human intelligence grid is robust and its expertise in cyber technology comes in handy during counterinsurgency operations,” a top police officer told Kashmir Post while requesting anonymity.
Another top source in police’s counter insurgency cell said that “J&K police have lost more than 3,000 personnel fighting militancy”.
Will there be a respite? “No, not in the near future,” the officer said.
He argued that by rejecting the joint resolution agreed upon by participants in the just-concluded conference on Kashmir in Dubai, the United Jihad Council (UJC), an umbrella of militant groups based across the Line of Control (LoC), has “disagreed with the demand for cessation of violence and hostilities” made by the participants there.
In a three-day long conference on Kashmir in Dubai, organised by a British NGO Conciliation Resources (CR) in collaboration with the Kashmir Initiative Group (KIG) last month, participants from both sides of the LoC and Pakistan had demanded “cessation of hostilities be ensured on all sides” while recommending that the neighbours return to the 2003 LoC ceasefire agreement.
“They (the participants) recommended that a cessation of hostilities be ensured on all sides and the ceasefire established in 2003 be respected. They urged for confidence-building measures to be strengthened and new routes to be opened for trade and travel across the Line of Control,” said a statement issued by CR on its website.
On the ground though, encounters between government forces and militants continue while the militants also seemed to have upped the ante in retaliation. More than 130 militants, including top eight commanders of Hizb and Lashkar, have been killed since January this year.
In a surprise attack on 26 August, at least eight personnel of government forces were killed as three militants of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) fidayeen squad stormed into District Police Lines (DPL) Pulwama complex in south Kashmir.
All three militants were killed in retaliatory action by government forces. Among those killed were four personnel of J&K Police and four personnel of paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
“They (militants) are there. They will continue to show their presence and existence by seeing and hitting the target,” a very senior intelligence officer told Kashmir Post. He described militancy in south Kashmir as “residual militancy”.
“Security forces kill militants in encounters. Militancy finds new recruits. It is a cat-and-mouse game, which continues,” he said.
According to reliable sources, there are still over 100 local militants operating in four districts of south Kashmir.
On 16 April, DGP Vaid had to issue an advisory to all policemen directing them not to visit their homes for a few months in the wake of the attacks on their families then.
“There have been few recent incidents in Valley where (militants), anti-national and anti-social elements have tried to cause damage to life and property of police personnel, particularly from south Kashmir. In view of the unfortunate incidents, police personnel, particularly from south Kashmir, are advised to exercise extreme caution while visiting their homes for next few months as their personal security is of paramount importance,” Vaid had said in his advisory sent to all police officers.
Burhan Wani, the then poster boy of Kashmir’s militancy, in a video message in June 2016 had warned J&K police personnel not to participate in anti-militancy operations. Wani had also asked police personnel not to harass family members of the armed rebels.
“Participation of J&K police personnel belonging to Special Operations Group (SOG) in anti-militancy operations is one of the biggest reasons that our boys are being targeted,” said an officer.
Though attacks on local police personnel are nothing new in Kashmir’s 27-year old militancy, something appears to have gone awfully wrong in recent times!