By Ajit Kumar Singh
Security Forces (SFs) on September 13, 2011, killed the ‘chief operational commander’ of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Abdullah Uni, in an encounter at Batpora in the Sopore area of Baramulla District. Uni, a resident of Multan in Pakistan, was nominated as ‘chief operational commander’ after SFs killed his predecessor, Hafiz Nasir, on March 16, 2008.
Earlier, on August 4, 2011, the SFs had killed LeT ‘chief’ for the Kishtwar Sub-division, Habib Gujjar alias Salman, and his associate, Irshad Ahmed Koli, in a gun battle at village Nagaran in the Nagni area of Kishtwar District. On the same day, LeT’s Pulwama ‘district commander’, Shakoor Ahmad Teli alias Saif alias Abu Bakar, was killed in an encounter with the SFs at Khar Mohalla village in the Putchal area of Pulwama District.
On April 23, 2011, SFs shot dead Mohammad Aiyaz Malik alias Abu Moosa, a ‘divisional commander’ of the LeT. Moosa had been operating in Banihal, Gool and other parts of Ramban District for over 15 years.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, a total of 26 top militants (‘district commanders’. ‘divisional commanders’, ‘battalion commanders’, etc.) of different outfits operating in the State have been killed in 2011. Prominent among these were:
August 7: An LeT ‘divisional commander’, identified as Fadullah, was killed by SFs in Rajwar forests of Handwara in Kupwara District.
July 15: SF personnel killed four LeT militants in Kupwara District, including the North Kashmir ‘divisional commander’, Saqib alias Sohail, belonging to Kasur in Pakistan, who had been operational in North Kashmir since 2009; Kupwara ‘divisional commander’, Hamad alias Haneef alias Alfa Islam of Abbottabad in Pakistan; Central Kashmir ‘divisional commander’, Qari Saifullah and ‘battalion commander’ Chotta Saad. Umair alias Hafiz, the ‘battalion commander’ of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), was also killed in the operation.. One Army trooper was also, killed while five Army personnel, including a Captain, were injured in the encounter.
July 9: JeM’s South Kashmir ‘divisional commander’, identified as Ahsan Bhai, and his associate, Javed Ahmad Nengroo, were killed in a gun battle with the SFs in Hanjan Payeen village in Pulwama District. Ahsan Bhai had been active in the Kashmir Valley for the past 11 years.
June 28: Two Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) militants, identified as ‘divisional commander’ Muzaffar Ahmad Malla alias Chota Moulvi and his associate Suhail Khan alias Shahid, were killed in a 12-hour long gun-battle with the SFs in Pulwama District.
May 26: SFs killed two JeM militants, including ‘divisional commander’ Qari Zubair, in an encounter in the Keller area of Shopian in Baramulla District.
April 5: A ‘divisional commander’ of HM, Sajad Ahmad Dar alias Bale Bale, was killed by SFs during an encounter at Dadsar-Tral in Pulwama District. A Sub-Inspector of Police, Stazin Norboo and an Army trooper were also killed in the encounter.
March 13: A ‘divisional commander’ of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), Chota Kalimullah alias Shamsher alias Talwar Bhai, was killed in an encounter with SFs at Kralteng-Muslim Peer area of Sopore in Baramulla District.
March 10: Police killed Sajjad Afghani alias Qari Hamaad, the ‘commander-in-chief’ of JeM, along with his bodyguard Umar Bilal, in an encounter at the outskirts of Srinagar. Sajjad Afghani hailed from the Balochistan Province of Pakistan.
The SFs have also arrested 164 militants, including six ‘commanders’ in 2011. In one such incident on August 24, SFs at village Daroo in Pulwama District arrested two HM ‘commanders’ and recovered a huge cache of arms and ammunition from their possession.
In addition to targeting the top terrorist leadership, the SFs also launched intensified operations to neutralize terrorist hideouts and seize their weaponries. At least 131 incidents of recovery have been recorded thus far in 2011. In one such incident on August 21, the SFs seized more than 5,100 rounds of ammunition from a LeT hideout in the Sarnihal forest area of Banihal in Ramban District. Earlier, till August 20, the Army had recovered 4,500 rounds of different types of weapons in 2011.
Mounting of SF pressure has also forced militants to surrender. In one such incident on August 18, four HM militants, operating in Reasi District, reportedly surrendered before the SFs at village Hakawas on the border of Reasi-Kulgam Districts, falling under the jurisdiction of Damhal Police Station of Kulgam District. The Police also claimed that they had ” achieved a major success by forcing the surrender of longest surviving and only active militant group of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen Pir Panchal Regiment (HMPPR) in the State at Kulgam.”
As a result of sustained operational successes, many areas of J&K are now free of terrorism. On January 3, 2011, Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda had claimed that five out of 10 Districts of the Jammu region – Jammu, Kathua, Samba, Reasi and Udhampur – were completely free of militancy. Doda District had been cleared of all foreign mercenaries. Again, on August 19, 2011, Inspector General of Police (IGP, Jammu) Dilbagh Singh had declared that militancy in the Reasi District had been completely wiped out. Out of a total 153 terrorism-related fatalities in the State in 2011, 112 – including 69 militants, 27 SF personnel and 16 civilians – occurred in the Valley, while the remaining 41 – including 29 militants, seven SF personnel and five civilians – were located in the Jammu Division.
The dramatic decline of militancy is visible in available statistics. The Ministry of Home Affairs notes that the number of violent incidents in the first five months in 2011 stood at 84, against 200 in 2010 for the same period. A total of 69 SF personnel were killed through 2010, while the number stood at 22 for 2011 (till September 24). The number of civilians killed is more or less the same, 36 through 2010 and 32 in 2011 (till September 24). Chief Minister Omar Abdullah thus noted, “Barring the killing of civilians by militants, all the parameters related with militancy are well within control.” Indeed, even the index of civilian fatalities has declined drastically since the peak of militancy, in 2001, when 1,067civilians lost their lives.
More significantly, the ‘summer unrest’, massive street mobilization and stone pelting by separatist formations, which had become a ‘routine affair’ in the state since 2008, also failed in 2011, despite several attempts. Potential flashpoints, such as the alleged Kulgam Rape [charges by a woman, Rukaya Bano, that she was abducted and raped by Army personnel on July 19 were found to be false]; the arrest of Qurat-ul-Ain [on July 10, after an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on Sopore Police Station in Baramulla District on July 6, she was released on bail on July 23]; the custodial killing of Nazim Rashid [arrested by Army and sent to Police custody on July 30, where he died the same night]; the ‘fake encounter’ on August 7, when SFs wrongly shot dead an insane man claiming he was an LeT ‘divisional commander’ Abu Usmaan in an exchange of fire in the Mehrota area of Poonch District; and the August 21, State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) statement that there were 2,156 unmarked graves in 38 places of the Valley, in which persons whose identity had not so far been established had been buried; were handled effectively by the administration. Even when the separatists brought protestors on the road and stones were pelted, the better prepared SFs were successful in containing the situation. Significant efforts had been made in the beginning of the year to retrain and equip the SFs with non-lethal weapons. The arrest of more than 5,255 stone pelters, between January 1, 2010 and February 28, 2011 [246 are still in jail, while rest have been released] also worked as a deterrent. Clearly, the unrest in the past years had more to do with the Government’s ‘mishandling of situation’, than with any wave of ‘spontaneous protests’ that some analysts claimed.
In a surprising move on August 28, 2011, Chief Minister Abdullah announced an amnesty package for nearly 1,200 youth arrested during the 2010 summer agitation in the Kashmir Valley. The announcement was made hours after a Police spokesman said that around 300 miscreants riding motorcycles threw stones at the Nowhatta (Srinagar) Police Station and also hurled two petrol bombs at the Police. Six police men were injured in these incidents, two of them seriously. The Police arrested 73 agitators and seized 10 motorcycles during the clashes, which lasted for about five hours.
While SF and administrative successes on the ground have provided significant relief to the State, they have provoked an escalation in terrorist infiltration bids across the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) with Pakistan.
According to Government estimates, a total of 93 militants attempted to infiltrate this year, up to July 31, 2011. On May 26, 2011, Chief Minister Abdullah confirmed that 30 to 40 militants had succeeded in entering the State in recent infiltration attempts. An overwhelming proportion of infiltration attempts has, however, been detected and foiled. In one such incident on August 20, at least 12 militants and a 26-year-old Army officer were killed in a fierce gunfight on the LoC in Bandipora District. The terrorists, carrying an inflatable five-man dinghy, were trying to cross the Kishanganga in a pneumatic boat.
Most of infiltration bids have been backed by Pakistani Rangers. On September 20, 2011, for instance, terrorists, backed by Pakistani Rangers, resorted to firing on a patrol party of the Border Security Force (BSF) in the forward area of Benglard in the Samba Sector of the Samba District, killing a Sub-Inspector of the BSF and injuring a civilian. On September 1, 2011, similarly, a Junior Commissioned Officer of the Army was killed when Pakistani troops violated the cease-fire for the second consecutive day in the Keran Sector of Kupwara District, to provide cover to infiltrators. The cease-fire came into effect in November 2003 and held for just over a year, but has been repeatedly violated since January 18, 2005. 23 cease-fire violations have been reported till August this year. These violations are intended to facilitate the infiltration of an estimated 2,500 militants, trained at 42 terror camps in Pakistan, waiting at launching pads across the LoC. On September 16, 2011, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned, “there is no room for complacency on the security front in the State”, as reports confirmed “cross-border camps for terrorists being reactivated to induct fresh batches of militants into the country”.
Meanwhile, according to a J&K Police census, 325 militants were currently present in J&K. Of these, 119 were still active — the lowest number since militancy erupted in the State in 1989. While 168 were local militants, 134 were foreign nationals. A majority of the foreign terrorists were associated with LeT. Most of the terrorists currently operate in North Kashmir. Despite setbacks, HM remained the numerically largest militant outfit operating in Kashmir, with 143 active cadres, including 15 foreign militants. To enhance their cadre strength, the LeT and HM, have reportedly revised compensation for ‘local guides’, who are now offered nearly INR 150,000 for each successful infiltration, as compared to INR 50,000 given earlier.
The terrorist infrastructure in the State continues to retain some residual capacities to strike. On April 25, 2011, for instance, two Policemen were shot dead and another was injured by militants near a Police Station in the Nowgam area in Srinagar. On May 2, 2011, LeT militants triggered a car bomb explosion at Birma Pul (bridge), about one kilometer short of Udhampur town, on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, targeting an Army vehicle carrying Major General D.S. Pathania, Commandant, Northern Command Hospital. While one civilian was killed and another seven were injured in the attack, the targeted officer escaped unhurt.
SFs have successfully thwarted a number of attacks as well. For instance, an IED was defused by a Bomb Disposal Squad of the Police along a canal on the Satwari-Belicharana road in Jammu District on September 23, 2011.
The militants have also sought to create social unrest by killing separatist leaders. Ghulam Rasool Malik, president of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadith, citing an LeT report submitted to his organistaion, stated, on August 25, that Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief Yasin Malik was the next target for assassination, after the killing of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadith leader Moulvi Showkat Ahmad Shah, in a bomb attack in Srinagar on April 8, 2011. The report also claimed that Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen (TuM) was involved in Shah’s killing. The LeT and TuM were purportedly involved in the ‘investigation’ process to unravel the conspiracy behind Malik’s killing.
The Baramullah District, and Sopore at its core, has emerged as the ideological heartland of the surviving militancy. An unidentified intelligence officer thus stated, “The day support for militancy ends here, it`s finished. Sopore is the key.”
Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorism and extremism in J&K have declined radically over the past years, substantially as a result of the growing domestic and international pressures on Pakistan, and that country’s strategic priorities in Afghanistan. Operational successes within the State have substantially consolidated these gains, establishing an opportunity for creating a permanent peace in J&K.
Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management