December 2006 News

Death Of Face-to-face Attack

4 December 2006
The Hindustan Times

Kupwara: In the murky mathematics of Kashmir's insurgency, a lean, softspoken man from Pakistan is proof that some equations might be changing. Saqib Aziz Malik, a 25-year-old man from the Pakistani village of Kot Addu, studied to be a homoeopathic doctor on his father's instructions, but instead became a Lashkare-Tayyeba suicide attacker. He received weapons training and trudged across snow for five days with five other armed fighters this month, headed to a mountain hideout where they would await further instructions on their satellite phone. But local people reported their presence to security forces at two different places, and five of the six militants were killed. Malik, with two fingers broken from a fall into a gorge, finally took shelter in a Kashmiri house. His host gave him clothes and food and promised to take him to a doctor - but instead turned him over on November 7 to a plainclothes police officer in the busy market in Kupwara town. Malik, who said he was from the Lashkar-e- Tayyeba group, still likes to talk tough. 'The mujahideen are still in a contest with India. Allah willing, we will still prevail,' he told HT. But that optimism seems misplaced. After losing more than 19,000 fighters, Kashmir's armed militancy has run into a series of problems, forcing them to drastically change their strategy. Pakistan, from the accounts of officials and militants, has clamped down on armed training camps on its territory. Guides for militants, who lead them through mountains, are becoming hard to get. Infiltration is down and local recruitment is a trickle, bringing the number of militants in Kashmir down to between 600 and 700, the police say. If true, that would be their lowest number ever in the insurgency. Alongside, the spontaneous support for militants earlier witnessed in Kashmir's villages is waning. Many Kashmiris say this is partly because they do not see the insur gency bringing them any gains - and also because any form of association with the militants brings severe trouble from the security forces. 'Crackdowns' against militants - a dreaded spectacle for Kashmiri villagers - involves cordons and searches in which villagers sit outside their homes all day while their homes are searched. When militants hide in homes, gunbattles often mean the death of civilians in crossfiring. In many villages, people have rushed out of homes when militants walked in -a sure sign for security forces that militants are hiding there. 'We told them not to leave, but they started running out of their homes. They were probably scared of what the army would do to them,' the lean, mild-mannered and soft-spoken Malik said. He was referring to the second gunbattle at Kulgam, where two of his fellow militants were killed. HT was given access to interview him for almost two hours in Kupwara. He was in custody but spoke freely, slamming what he called the oppression of Kashmiris by India. At least 19,050 militants - more than 6,200 of them Pakistanis -have been killed by security forces in Kashmir since the insurgency began in 1989, according to army estimates. More than 24,300 have been arrested and some 3,650 have surrendered. Security forces have also seized about 26,500 assault rifles, 59,700 grenades and 6,700 land mines. Now, officers say, the militants are hard-pressed and changing their tactics. 'The focus has shifted from rural to urban areas. Infiltration came down in huge numbers. It was felt by them that terrorism is losing steam. To gain mileage and headlines, they began targeting Srinagar and other towns,' said Kuldip Khuda, the state's additional director general of police. To save their numbers, militants are now increasingly avoiding direct gunfights, using landmines or grenades in larger numbers than before, police and army officers say. 'Ambushes are a matter of history. There are barely any frontal attacks,' Khuda said. 'Their tactics are changing. The militant has become far more invisible. Earlier, they were trying to battle face-to-face,' said an army commander in Anantnag on condition of anonymity. The logistics crunch is also affecting morale among militants. Former members say Pakistani militants, like Malik, receive preferred treatment, and that many families of dead militants often do not get lifelong pensions promised by their groups. 'The camps of Kashmiri youth are usually located in the forest area, whereas the camps of foreigners are in posh areas with all modern facilities,' said former Hizbul Mujahideen militant Pervaiz Ahmed, from Budgam district in central Kashmir. Ahmed surrendered before the army on November 25 in Baramulla with 19 other former militants, who had a tearful reunion with their families. 'Kashmiri youth are given the worst form of treatment there,' he said.


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