Massacre in Kashmir: Militants Target Hindus After By-polls

Md. Sadiq

1 May 2006

The macabre killing of 35 Hindus in the mountainous districts of Doda and Udhampur on 1 May 2006 clearly indicates the frustration amongst militant outfits following the overwhelming participation of Kashmiris in the by-polls held to four assembly constituencies in April 2006. The massacre, which took place two days ahead of a meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the separatist Hurriyat Conference conglomerate, clearly reflects the desperation amongst militant outfits which are seeking to derail the ongoing efforts by the Indian government to restore peace in Kashmir.

Targeting the Minority Community
In the worst single act of violence since 2000, 35 Hindu villagers were killed in two separate communal terror attacks in districts of Doda and Udhampur, northeast of the city of Jammu. Twenty-two residents of the mountain hamlets of Kulhand and Tharva in Doda were shot dead on the night of 30 April 2006. Of the ten who survived in the terror attack, many were reported to be in critical condition. Doda is the home district of Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad who was one of the four successful candidates in the Assembly bypolls in the state. In the second terror attack, thirteen shepherds were shot dead in Lalon Galla, a high-altitude meadow above the town of Basantgarh in Udhampur district, 65 km east of Jammu. Media reports indicated that militants had surrounded the two hamlets around 11 p.m. The men in the village were ordered to assemble at the home of Gopi Chand, a revenue official as well as the village headman. The militants then lined up the victims and fired on them with assault rifles from point-blank range. The militants continued to fire until their ammunition was exhausted. Hours before this incident, another group of militants had seized a group of shepherds in Lalon Galla. Two of them, Siraj-ud-din and his son Rukun-ud-din, were released after their religious identity was established. The remaining thirteen Hindus were taken into the adjoining forest area and shot dead by the militants.

Officials suspect the involvement of Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant outfit, which has carried out several communal massacres in the Jammu region in the recent past. Authorities also suspect that the LeT orchestrated the communal attacks with assistance from the local operatives of the Hizbul Mujahideen militant outfit. Based on the testimony given by Siraj-ud-din, officials stated that two of the men who executed the Lalon Galla massacre spoke Kashmiri, while the rest spoke Punjabi, a language often used by the LeT's Pakistani cadre. Siraj- ud-Din and his son, Rukun-ud-Din, identified one of the terrorists as Aijaz Ahmad, a longstanding LeT operative, who hails from Raichak village, near Basantgarh. They recognised Ahmad when they were shown photographs of local terrorists known to be operating with the LeT's mainly Pakistani cadre. Indian agencies have established that the LeT has been sixteen similar massacres in J&K since 1993, in which at least 150 civilians have been killed.

After the unilateral ceasefire of July 2000 by Hizbul Mujahideen's slain operational commander Abdul Majid Dar, militant outfits had targeted the minority Hindu community in Kashmir. Seventy Hindus were killed in terror attacks by militant outfits: 23 Amarnath Yatris in Pahalgam, 20 brick kiln labourer in Kadan Qazigund, 7 in Sandoo Achhabal (all in Anantnag), 8 in Kiyar, Bhaderawah, 12 in Kunda, Banihal (both in Doda district). All these innocent Hindus were killed just to derail the peace talks, which was to take place following the unilateral ceasefire announced by Dar. Communal attacks in Kashmir began with the targeting of prominent members of the minority Pandit community during the first phase of jihadi terror in the Valley. Since August 1993, militant outfits began largescale execution of minority community members to divide the state along communal lines. In August 1993, thirteen Hindus were massacred at Sarthal, in Doda. In 1996, sixteen Hindus were executed in the Doda village of Barshalla. In 1998, 132 civilians died in six massacres conducted across the State and in adjoining Himachal Pradesh. In 2001, 108 people were killed in 11 major incidents, while 83 people were killed in five incidents in 2002. Most of those who have been killed in communal attacks belong to the poor communities residing in the State's remote mountain regions, which provide them with a livelihood. Though communal killings subsided after 2002, they continued to take place on a periodic basis. As recent as October 2005, a unit of the Hizbul Mujahideen's 'Pir Panjal Regiment' targeted two hamlets in Rajouri's Budhal area killing eleven Hindu men.

Militant Outfits Losing Ground
The twin communal attacks represented the desperation of militant outfits as the overwhelming participation of Kashmiris in the recently held by-polls was a clear mandate against violence as a means to resolve the Kashmir problem. The ongoing composite dialogue process between India and Pakistan and the Kashmir-specific confidence building measures taken by the two countries have significantly marginalised the militant outfits. Two days before the communal attack, the US State Department had added the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and its front organisation Idara Khidmat-e-Khaq (IKK), the renamed aliases of the banned LeT, to the specially designated list of terrorist organisations that pose a threat to the United States. The official State Department announcement said “LeT is one of the three largest and best trained groups fighting in Kashmir against India. After the Secretary of State’s designation of LeT as a terrorist organisation in 2001 and the Pakistani government's banning the group, LeT renamed itself JUD in order to evade sanctions. JuD established IKK as a public welfare organisation that it utilises to collect funds and undertake other activities. LeT has been sanctioned by the United Nations 1267 Committee for its association with Al Qaida.” After the devastating October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), the JuD and the IKK were seen collecting funds for relief and reconstruction purposes. Though part of the collected funds were used for the earthquake victims, international media reports observed that a sizeable amount was pumped into militancy in Kashmir. The outfit had also reportedly used the earthquake to launch a massive recruitment drive as it was short of cadres due to US pressure on Pakistan and the reported losses suffered in the earthquake, which reportedly killed hundreds of militants in PoK.

Attacks by militant outfits in Kashmir usually increase with the onset of summer as the mountain passes open up to allow movement of militants across the Line of Control (LoC). However, the communal attacks in Doda and Udhampur had a particular significance as it clearly showed that there has been no reduction in the capabilities of terrorist outfits to attack despite the reported crackdown launched by Pakistan. The attacks also raise questions about Pakistan's sincerity in ending cross border infiltration. The twin attacks have brought the spotlight back on infiltration and the reported presence of 1400-1600 militants in the Pir Panjal range. The attacks have also cast doubts on proposed Pakistan visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Though the Indian Prime Minister visit to Pakistan is being arranged to coincide with the 400th anniversary of fifth Sikh Guru Arjan Dev's martyrdom in Lahore, New Delhi will reportedly decide after it reviews the steps taken by Islamabad to check infiltration during this summer. Cross border infiltration attempts this year are reported to be around 60. However, security agencies say that the figures are likely to rise due to the reported build-up of militants between the Uri-Gurez sector in north Kashmir and Poonch-Mendhar region, south of Pir Panjal range.

Security Remains a Concern
The twin communal attacks took place days before Prime Minister Singh met with separatist Hurriyat Conference outfit led by its chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. During the meeting, the Centre and the Hurriyat leaders resolved to set up a mechanism to look into all aspects of the Kashmir problem and agreed to further carry forward the peace process. New Delhi agreed to discuss out-of-the-box solutions to the Kashmir problem and asked the Hurriyat Conference to come up with a mechanism to turn these talks into a structured dialogue. The Hurriyat Conference stated that it would come back with specific proposals for launching the discussion on the Kashmir issue in its entirety within the framework of a mechanism. While the Hurriyat did not participate in the first roundtable conference on Kashmir organised by the Indian government, Mirwaiz had indicated after his meeting with the prime minister that his outfit could participate in the second roundtable to be held in Srinagar in May 2006.

While India is keen on expanding the dialogue process to include all groups claiming to be representatives of the Kashmiri people, the Hurriyat Conference is yet to evolve a clear thinking on its role in the dialogue process. On the one hand it refuses to test its representative character by participating in the elections, on the other, the Hurriyat has also expressed reservations about a broad-based dialogue that would include several outfits. Recent by-polls in Kashmir have once again conveyed the message that over 70 per cent of Kashmiris have cast their support for the ballot. Ignoring the popular sentiment which is in favour of peace and political processes, militant outfits are likely to continue to target innocent civilians and minority communities in Kashmir in order to derail the ongoing peace process. In such circumstances, it is imperative that the Indian government ensures security in the state and enhances security presence especially in areas where minority communities are living. If attacks against innocent civilians and minority communities continue, there is a danger that the overwhelming goodwill for peace generated by the Kashmir-specific confidence building measures could turn against the peace process. While the Indian government has launched several steps to bring normalcy to Kashmir, including talks with separatist outfits and a composite dialogue with Pakistan, all these efforts would be rendered meaningless unless Pakistan dismantles the terror infrastructure in its territory.