Escape of militant from hospital and Guru-Bhatt anniversaries increase pressure on J&K Govt

Srinagar: In view of the shutdown and protest programme called by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) comprising of chairmen of both factions of Hurriyat, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and JKLF chief Mohammad Yasin Malik on February 9 and February 11 commemorating the hanging anniversaries of Mohammad Afzal Guru and Mohammad Maqbool Bhat, authorities here have decided to impose restrictions in apple town, Sopore in north Kashmir, on February 9 in view of Guru’s death anniversary. Guru was a resident of Doibgah-Sopore in Baramulla district.

Separatists have reiterated their demand for the return of the mortal remains of Guru and Bhat who were buried inside the premises of Tihar jail after being secretly hanged on February 9, 2013 and February 11, 1984 respectively. Separatists in a statement here on February 6 asked people to hold special prayers on February 9 and 11 as a tribute to the duo and a memorandum will be read and passed by people in every masjid across Kashmir on February 9 which, they said, will be followed by protests to demand the mortal remains of Bhat and Guru. They also called for amarch to the United Nations observers’ office at Sonwar-Srinagar and present a memorandum addressed to the UN Secretary General demanding for the return of the mortal remains of the duo.

In the meantime, an alert was sounded by police across the Valley, February 7, after receiving inputs suggesting that Jaish-e-Mohammad may carry out attacks on security forces in the Valley on or before Guru’s hanging anniversary. Flight of Laskhar-e-Toiba (LeT) commander Naveed Jatt, alias Abu Hanzallah of Paksitan, from Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital in the heart of Srinagar city on February 6 had further raised an alarm. He managed to escape from the hospital after he was brought there for a medical check-up and two cops were killed in the shootout.

A couple of days after theshootout, Jatt together with Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Saddam Padder from Shopian, was seen together in a photo carrying AK-47 rifles that surfaced on the social media. In a nearly eight-minute audio releasedon February 7,Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo claimed that Jatt and the militant who “rescued him had reached a safe destination”.Even LeT in a statement issued here on February 8 said the attack on police at SMHS hospital to free a militant was a result of close coordination between various militant organizations. The state governmentsuspended Superintendent of Central Jail Srinagar on February 8. Jatt was arrested in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district in June 2014.

Cracking the case, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Muneer Khan said here while addressing media on February 8 said that the conspiracy to free LeT militant was hatched four months back in Pulwama in south Kashmir. Divulging the details, ADGP said, Hilal (a militant) handed pistol to Naveed inside the casualty ward of SMHS and they managed to escape on a motorcycle after leaving hospital premises.” He added that police could have fired inside hospital to stop him from fleeing, but “we don’t believe in killings.” Khan added that three militants and an OGW involved in the act (Shakil Ahmed, Tika Khan and Syed Tajamul alias Rahil Kachroo) have been arrested. The OGW, he said, has been identified as Mohammad Shafi, who provided vehicle and a bike to ensure Jatt’s escape.

Director General of Police, S P Vaid, had earlier been quoted as saying that the militant attack and subsequent escape of LeT commander was not possible without connivance at the Central jail in Srinagar. Director General of Prisons, S K Mishra had on February 7 claimed that “all prisons are laced with latest equipment and there is no question of any lapse.” He, however, urged police to provide extra security cover to the inmates once they are out of Central Jail for medical check-up or trial. Mishra added that the jail doctor had examined Jatt and found that he was suffering from severe abdominal pain and required a medical examination in the hospital. 

Terming the shootout a “serious security lapse,” opposition parties here on February 7 demanded a thorough probe into the matter while the government stated that the FIR in connection with the shootout had been registered and investigations taken up.

Meanwhile, the state government on February 3 approved withdrawal of cases registered against 9,730 people involved in stone-pelting incidents including first-time offenders between 2008 and 2017. The Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who also holds the Home Department, said in a written reply in the Legislative Assembly at winter capital, Jammu, that the government action to withdraw 1,745 cases was subject to “certain conditions and was based on recommendations of a committee constituted to look into the matter.” She, however, did not disclose the particulars of first-time offenders while stating that 56 government employees and 16 Hurriyat Conference activists were among 4,949 people found involved in stone-pelting incidents, while 4,074 were not affiliated with any separatist or militant group.

Furthermore the government in another written response (February 3) disclosed that the Union Home Ministry has returned 391 cases of youth to state government (for re-examination), who wanted to return from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) under the policy for the return of ex-militants to the state. The state government in 2010 came up with a policy for the return of youth who had crossed over toPoK between 1990-2009 for arms training but had given up militancy and were willing to return.