Series of attacks take security forces by surprise
Three years of quiet was broken when militants struck the summer capital. Six strikes in past three weeks are a warning of militancy rearing its ugly head once again.
It was in early March that militants shot dead two policemen, constables Santosh Kumar and Azad Chand of Indian Reserve Police (IRP), at point blank range in Handwara town of North Kashmir’s Kupwara district. Soon after, they abducted and later killed Bashir Ahmad Gania, a former militant turned counter-insurgent in Tangmarg area of North Kashmir’s Baramulla district. The major strike, however, was on Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on March 13 in Bemina area of Srinagar. The last time militants struck in Srinagar was three years ago when they targeted city centre Lal Chowk.
This time, five CRPF men were killed and 10 others including four civilians were injured in the attack. However, both the militants were shot dead by security forces before they could flee. Militants disguised as cricketers and mingled with the local boys who were playing cricket in a school playground and later shot at the men.
Even before this incident could be forgotten, on March 19, militants shot dead 22-year-old Suhail Ahmad Sofi in Sopore area of North Kashmir for his alleged links with security agencies. This was followed by an attack on a Border Security Force (BSF) convoy in Chanpora area of Srinagar Bypass, in which a BSF jawan was killed and two others injured. In another incident on March 24, a civilian was killed and a constable of IRP, Kishore Kumar, was injured in an attack in Sopore town.
So far, the police has solved only the Bemina incident. They got leads from a SIM card that they recovered from the dead militants. Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kashmir range, A. G. Mir said, “Investigations have revealed that the attack was carried out by two Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) cadres Saif, a resident of Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan, and Haider, resident of Multan Pakistan, at the behest of their commander Ahmad Bhai and logistics chief Anas Bilal who are based across the Line of Control (LC).”
The duo were facilitated, controlled and handled by a Pakistani commander Muhammad Zubair alias Talha Zaraar, resident of Multan and local co-commander Bashir Ahmad Mir alias Haroon, resident of Uri in Baramulla district of North Kashmir. “During investigations, both Bashir Ahmad Mir and Muhammad Zubair were arrested by the police,” said IGP Mir.
Muhammad Zubair, informed the IGP, had come to the Valley in the first week of January while the other two militants, Saif and Haider, had entered the Valley from across the LC in the middle of February this year.
Basheer is a released militant who was working for security agencies. Another person Pradeep Singh, a contractual sanitary inspector with the state government, and a released militant Mukhtar Ahmad Shah were arrested for providing logistic support to the militants who targeted the CRPF. The police recovered two AK-47 rifles with five magazines, two pistols, one under-barrel grenade launcher (UBGL) and four rifle grenades, one grenade, one SIM card and a transparent poly-pack containing Made in Pakistan medicines and ointment. Later, on a tip off provided by Basheer, a huge cache of arms and ammunition was recovered. These include two AK-47s with eight magazines, 240 AK rounds, one UBGL, 40 rifle grenades, 40 hand grenades, two pouches, two anti-tank mines, 12 RCs, one map, two light bags, three GPS devices, two compasses, two wireless sets and two time bombs.
Two members of the militant module that targeted CRPF at Bemina were killed while the rest four were arrested. The other militant modules, however, are still at large. Sources say that a group of 12 especially trained militants infiltrated into Kashmir along with the two militants who were killed. It is said that they formed small modules comprising two Pakistanis each and were handled by a local Kashmiri. But according to IGP Mir only a two-member militant group had infiltrated in February this year.
However, the army contests the claims made by the police. “There is lot of snow and infiltration in winter is almost impossible. It is most probably the handiwork of resident militants who had infiltrated during summer last year,” said General Officer Commanding (GOC) 15 Corps, Lt Gen. Om Prakash. The GOC said that army is alert along the Line of Control. “We are ready to deal with any kind of situation. We have foiled large number of attempts last year and killed militants on the LoC,” he added.
Sources say that two LeT militants – Chota Hurriara and Abu Saad – are responsible for attacks on the BSF and they are planning more attacks. It is believed that they are handled by Hilal Molvi, a local militant of Baramulla district. Security forces have already launched a massive manhunt against them soon after the Bemina attack.
The series of attacks at a time when infiltration routes are still snow-bound took security agencies by surprise. The Director General of Police (DGP), Jammu and Kashmir, Ashok Prasad, reasons that pre-occupation of security forces with law and order duty was responsible for the series of attacks. “We have had series of incidents but because of our pre-occupation with other things we have been unable to come to grips with the situation,” he said.
Inspector General of CRPF, V. S. Yadav also subscribes to DGP’s view. “As security forces were engaged in law and order duty, militants got a chance to re-group because countering militancy took a backseat since February 9,” he said. “Under normal circumstances, a bulk of CRPF will be on naka duty which restricts militant movement,” he added. He also attributed the past month-long emotionally surcharged atmosphere as helping the militants. “They needed support, over ground workers, harbourers and the law and order problem must have helped them.”
DGP Prasad acknowledges that it is a threat but is confident of tackling it. “I don’t think it is an alarming situation but it definitely is a threat and we will tackle it according to the information and intelligence inputs we get,” he said. The security forces, he believes, shouldn’t overreact to these attacks. “Overreacting to a situation is not a very productive thing. We will go on the basis of specific intelligence, information and will take counteraction,” he added. “We should not go all out against militancy. We have to ensure that there is no collateral damage while dealing with militancy. We are not going to pick up people here and there. We want zero damage and act on exact information.”
A fact, however, remains — militancy is not yet over. “We are nowhere close to zero militancy incident situations. However, if you compare last year with this year, the number of incidents is less,” said the DGP.
In an interesting twist, IG CRPF, V.S. Yadav has denied that his force was the specific target in the Bemina attack. Instead, he said, it was the security forces that were the original target. He explained, “Since the number of locations held by the CRPF is more, the force is susceptible to more attacks. We have 180 companies deployed across Kashmir for law and order and on normal days half of it is deployed. Besides, CRPF guards offices, residences and important installations across Kashmir Valley.”
Nevertheless, the attack was a wakeup call for the CRPF. “After the Bemina attack, we have reviewed security of our locations, camping sites, and movement of convoys and troops across Kashmir,” said IG CRPF.
With these recent militant attacks in the aftermath of the execution of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, security forces have a new challenge to to tackle the rise of militancy. For the new IGP of Kashmir range, A.G. Mir, this is a familiar territory. An expert on surgical operations, he has had major successes against Maoist extremists in Bihar and Jharkhand during his career. He believes that security forces are capable of tackling it. “We are working on the intelligence inputs and will bust these modules soon. We will go for surgical operations against them,” he added.
New Boss in Town
Abdul Gani Mir takes charge as IG Kashmir zone
Abdul Gani Mir, a Bihar cadre officer from frontier district of Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir took over as Inspector General of Jammu and Kashmir police Kashmir range in a surcharged atmosphere in the middle of March. The IGP Kashmir is thought to be a sensitive and most coveted positing for a police officer in Jammu and Kashmir.
An MBA from Aligarh Muslim University (1992), Mir is considered an expert in conducting intelligence-based surgical and targeted operations against the militants. He was given preference over two other IGPs of Jammu and Kashmir Police, who were also in the race. His vast experience in working in the Naxal-infested areas of Bihar and Jharkhand gave him an edge. He worked for a decade there and is remembered for breaking the back of the Naxals. He conducted major encounters against Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). In one of the operations, nearly 11 MCC men were killed. In fact, the Mahadev Bigha and Chatra-Samriya encounters are his major achievements in the fight against Naxals in the two states. He even took on the powerful coal mafia there.
An IPS officer of 1994 batch, originally from Bihar cadre and later Jharkhand, was posted as Superintendent of Police (SP) in seven worst hit Naxal districts of Bihar and Jharkhand such as Jehanabad, Jamshedpur, Dhanbad, Chatra and Lohar Daga. Later, he was posted in Jammu and Kashmir as Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Anantnag in 2005 and was later became the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police Armed and went on to become DIG Baramulla, DIG Criminal Investigation Department (CID), DIG Central Kashmir Range and IGP Crime Branch in Jammu and Kashmir Police.
Mir is one of the most decorated IPS officers in the country. He is a recipient of Chief Minister’s (Bihar) Revolver for bravery award in 2000, recipient of President’s Police medal for bravery in 2001, President’s Ist Bar Police Medal for gallantry in 2008, Sher-e-Kashmir Police Medal for gallantry in 2009 and Police medal for meritorious services in 2011.
A socially sensitive person, Mir is also doing his bit for the society. To spread awareness about the Civil Services, Mir launched an initiative for its promotion in Jammu and Kashmir whereby coaching for Civil Services aspirants is conducted in Jammu and Kashmir. In Jharkhand, he formed a trust named after an IPS officer, Ajay Kumar, who was killed by Naxals. Founded in 2003, the trust provides educational facilities to students and also develops parks for the people in the state.