Army encounters escalate amid popular support to the militants

Srinagar: Eight militants, six Army personnel and two civilians were killed in three separate encounters in north and south Kashmir, early this week. Four militants, two Army personnel and two civilians were killed in a gunfight in Frisal village in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district on February 12. Two days later, three militants and an Army Major were killed in an encounter in north Kashmir’s Handwara in the border district of Kupwara and three Army men and a militant were killed in another encounter in Hajin-Bandipora in north Kashmir, the same day (February 14).

A view of deserted streets in commercial hub, Lal Chowk on February 13. Joint separatist leadership including Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik had called for a complete shutdown on February 13 and a march to Kulgam on February 15.
A view of deserted streets in commercial hub, Lal Chowk on February 13. Joint separatist leadership including Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik had called for a complete shutdown on February 13 and a march to Kulgam on February 15.

Acting on a specific tip-off about the presence of militants, a joint team of Army (1 Rashtriya Rifles), Central Reserve Police Force (18th BN) and Special Operations Group (SOG) of Jammu and Kashmir police cordoned off Nagbal-Frisal in Kulgam district in the late hours on February 11 and started a search operation. The three militants, according to a statement issued by the police here on February 12, managed to escape during the cordon whereas the hiding militants opened fire on a joint search party. Two Army soldiers identified as Raguveer Singh and Bandoriya Gopal Singh and a civilian, Ishfaq Reshi son of the house owner, Abdul Majid Reshi, were killed. The house where the militants had taken shelter was blown up by the army. Besides, four local militants identified as Farooq Ahmad Bhat from Checki Dessand, Mohammad Younis Lone from Hawoora (both from Hizbul Mujahideen militant outfit) and Mudisir Ahmad Tantary alias Assim from Redwani Kulgam and Wakeel Ahmad Thoker from Hadigam (both from Lashkar-e-Toiba militant outfit) were also killed in the operation.

As soon as the news about the encounter spread,people from different villages of the adjoining areas rushed to the spot in a bid to help the militants escape.The security forces lobbed teargas shells and fired pepper-gas to disperse the protesters. As the news about the killing of militants spread, people held protest demonstrations and clashed with security forces, thus sustaining injuries to several people. Mushtaq Ibrahim, a resident of Hatigam-Srigufwara, who was critically injured, later succumbed to his injuries. The police statement added that in the aftermath of encounter, a law and order situation occurred in which some people sustained injuries and one person later succumbed to his injuries (February 12).

Meanwhile, thousands of people attended the funeral prayers of militants and the civilians. Media reports here said that several gun-wielding masked militants made appearance at Redwani and Hawoora in Kulgam district to offer gun-salute to them.

Joint separatist leadership, which  includes Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik, called for a complete shutdown on February 13 and a march to Kulgam on February 15.Amid shutdown no restrictions were imposed by the authorities though several security measures were put in place (February 13) to maintain law and order across the Valley. While Hurriyat (G) chairman continued to remain under house arrest,Hurriyat (M) chairman was placed under house arrest and JKLF chairman was arrested on February 15 to prevent them from marching towards Kulgam. The trio was supposed to lead a protest march to Kulgam.

Geelani, in a statement here(February 12) said that people of the state were not war-mongers, but through peaceful means urge India and world community to fulfill their pledge and resolve the political issue. Mirwaiz told local news gathering agency, KNS, on February 12 that “oppression and refusal to acknowledge and engage with the basic political right and aspiration of the people is pushing our young towards armed resistance and we are losing our most vital resource, our future. Firing bullets and pellets at civilians to kill, blind and injure them has become routine and standard response of the anti-Kashmir state to every protest in a bid to crush them.”

The High Court Bar Association in a statement here (February 12) asserted that killing and injuring of unarmed civilians by use of bullets and pellets, is “an inhuman and barbaric act”. The Association reiterated that New Delhi would achieve nothing by killing, injuring and maiming the people.

National Conference here on February 12 demanded an impartial and time-bound probe into the killings.The party’s Kulgam district president and MLA Homshalibugh advocate Abdul Majeed Bhat Larmi in a statement here accused the security forces of resorting to indiscriminate force resulting in the death of two civilians and injuries to several people. He asked why the security forces were not following the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). The State Pradesh Congress Committee president G.A. Mir, in a statement (February 12) termed the killing of people “unfortunate and unacceptable” and asked the government to conduct probe into the killings and bring those responsible to book. The government spokesperson Naeem Akhtar in a statement to KNS expressed grief over the loss of human lives in an encounterand said that the government would try to find out all the circumstances that led to the loss of civilians at the encounter site.

Three Army personnel and a militant were killed while several sustained injuriesin north Kashmir’s Hajin in Bandipora (February 14) in another encounter. A joint team of Army, CRPF and police launched an operation in Parray mohallah of Hajin after receiving inputs about the presence of militants in a residential house. As the cordon was being laid, several people reportedly started marching towards the encounter site to help the militants flee.The locals reportedly came near the cordoned area, pelted stones and even tried to snatch weapons from the security forces creating chaos and confusion.“At around 5:30 a.m. militants opened fire which was retaliated, triggering an encounter. Taking advantage of the chaos, militantscame out of the houseand started indiscriminate firing and lobbed a grenade towards security forces killing two army men on the spot.Another Army personnel, identified as Sepoy Ravi Kumar of 31 RR, later succumbed to his injuries.” The other two Army personnel were identified as Dharmendra Kumar of 31 RR and Ashutosh Kumar of 13 RR.In the retaliatory firing one militant was killed while another, taking advantage of the chaos, managed to escape from the encounter site, the police statement added (February 14).As the encounter was going on people from several adjoining areas clashed with the police and CRPF, who in turn retaliated triggering clashes and sustaining injuries to several people.

In yet another encounter that broke out between militants and security forces at Kralgund Handwara in north Kashmir on February 14, three militants and an Army Major lost their lives. Following inputs about presence of militants, a joint operation was carried out by police, CRPF and 30 RR in Hajan locality of Kralgund. Police said three militants belonging to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) were killed and an army officer identified as Major Satish Dhaiya of 30 RR succumbed to his injuries at the military hospital in Srinagar.

Meanwhile, the Army on February 15 paid tributes to its soldiers who were killed in two separate gunfights in north Kashmir on February 14. Army chief Bipin Rawat in New Delhi on February 15 warned protesters against obstructing the Army’s operations in Kashmir and said that people creating hurdles during anti-militancy operations would be dealt as “anti-nationals and will face harsh actions.” General Rawat was quoted as saying that security forces in the state were facing higher casualties due to the manner in which the local population was preventing them from conducting the operations and “at times even supporting the terrorists to escape.” A day after (February 16), CRPF Inspector General (Operations) Zulfiquar Hasan asserted that the security forces have been acting with restraint in crowded areas to check any collateral damage and the residents should not succumb to the threats of the militants. He was further quoted as saying that locals were under pressure from militants to help them flee in certain areas in Kashmir which was harming the anti-terror operations.

In response to the Army chief’s statement, Geelani here on February 16 termedit an apparent threat to carry the killing spree of civilians. “People exhibit their extreme valour and without any fear even face tough and dangerous situations.” Mirwaiz in a statement here (February 16) said the threat issued by General Rawat to the people of Kashmir is unfortunate and reflects a tyrannical mindset towards the people of Kashmir while the JKLF chairman (February 16) termed the statement ‘a case of political immaturity’. Even National Conference senior leader Dr Sheikh Mustafa Kamal (February 16) said that the statement amply proves that India has no sympathies with the common people of Kashmir.“There is not an iota of doubt in the fact that people in Kashmir have faith and love for militants,” the senior National Conference leader was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, the state government here on February 16 issued a public advisory asking people to stay away (almost three kilometres) from counter-insurgency operation sites to avoid loss and injuries to precious human lives.

[ENDS / 17 Februiary, 2017]

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