August 2017 News

After The Killing Of Abu Dujana On August 1, Kashmir Has Seen A Fresh Gunfight Every Day

8 August 2017
Rayan Naqash

Srinagar: In the first week of August, the Kashmir Valley saw an encounter between militants and security forces every day. As of August 7, the toll from encounters within the Valley stood at 17, including 11 militants, three soldiers and three civilians. On Monday evening, the Army said it had also gunned down five infiltrators at the Line of Control. The spate of encounters began with the killing of former Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Abu Dujana and an aide, on August 1. Police officers in Kashmir, however, denied that it was part of a planned push in counterinsurgency operations. The rise in encounters as an inevitable part of the militancy cycle, they claimed. 'It was only a matter of when,' said a police officer based in Kashmir. 'There is a wave and the trough had to come. Action against militants started early this year but elections stalled it briefly.' Another officer saw it as a return to equilibrium. 'Militant numbers always hover around a stable figure,' he said. 'Now that the numbers are higher in South Kashmir, they are getting killed. The situation will not normalise but stabilise to an extent once the numbers of militants is down.' But officials agree that militant stronghold in South Kashmir have now been breached. 'The operations are happening in areas that were previously considered invincible,' said one officer. Early on August 1, Dujana and his aide, known as Arif Lelhari, were killed in a gunfight at Hakripora village in South Kashmir's Pulwama district. Both militants, once part of the Lashkar, were believed to have joined the Ansar Ghazwat-ul Hind, a new group affiliated with the al Qaeda and headed by Zakir Musa. In May this year, Musa had left the Hizbul Mujahideen, apparently over ideological differences. In a purported telephone conversation that circulated soon after Dujana's death, an army officer is heard asking him to surrender. Two civilians took bullets in clashes during and after the encounter and later succumbed. Before the furore around his death subsided, however, the next encounter had already begun, this time in neighbouring Kulgam district. Joint forces of the army, police and Central Reserve Police Force reportedly laid an ambush in Gopalpora village. In the gunfight that broke out, two local militants of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Suhail Arif and Aqib Itoo, were killed. According to reports, they were both minors, aged 16. On the night of August 3, Yawar Nisar, who had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen about two weeks ago, was killed in Anantnag district, as well as a civilian. Two other militants escaped. Then on the intervening night of August 3-4, three soldiers were killed after militants ambushed a patrol in Imam Sahib area in Shopian disitrct. The next day, August 5, saw a flurry of events across the Valley. In Shopian district, the police arrested three overground workers, or non-combatant members, of the Lashkar. Meanwhile, near the northern town of Sopore, three local militants of the Lashkar-e-Taiba were gunned down. On the same day, about 15 to 17 cordon and search operations were conducted in South Kashmir, a senior police officer said. These are usually operations where security forces surround an entire locality or village, or occasionally several villages, in order to search the area. Another encounter broke out in the Samboora area of Pulwama district, late on the night of August 6. The gunfight ended in the early hours of August 7, with one Lashkar militant killed and two others militants having escaped. The same evening, forces laid siege to another Pulwama village, giving rise to clashes with civilians. Soon after news of the army gunning down five infiltrators came in, it was reported that a soldier was critically injured in 'sniper fire' along the Line of Control. The officer further said that 'most operations today are swift, unlike previous ones'. On an average they took a total of three hours, from the laying of the cordon, to the gunfight to 'clearing' encounter sites of unexploded ammunition, according to officials. The number of encounters and militants killed this year, police officials said, 'had crossed the record of last four years'. At least 41 militants have been killed in South Kashmir in the last seven months. According to one officer, 'fatigue' had set in among the civilian population, leader to less stone pelting and fewer law and order problems during operations. In the last few years, civilians have rushed towards encounter sites, pelting stones and chanting slogans to help militants escape. Over the last few months, this has led to mounting civilian casualties. Another senior officer said that the larger number of militants had left them more vulnerable. 'Militants depend on the facilities - civilian support, food, and shelter - available in an area,' he said. When the number of militants increases beyond a point, he said, they search for new areas to set up base in. That's when chances of an encounter increase, he said.