There have been several instances when militants were able to escape after taking advantage of such situations.
Srinagar: Since this Sunday, seven Army jawans including an officer died and 17 security personnel were injured in the line of duty in Kashmir Valley. Though eight militants were also killed in three separate encounters during this period, the increase in the fatalities among their men while fighting militants has set alarming bells ringing in the Army hierarchy and the government is equally worried over the loss.
The Army commanders in Jammu and Kashmir and their seniors in Sena Bhavan in Delhi are reported to have taken a serious view of increasing number of fatalities among their men and have asked for revisiting the strategy followed in counterinsurgency operations routinely. Insurgency, militancy and terrorism experts and local watchers are, however, of the view that the security forces should no more take militants active in Jammu and Kashmir as “amateurish or green lot”. They are better trained and better equipped now and, more importantly, hardcore and extremely devoted to their “cause” compared to preceding generation of militants; hence must be recognised and treated as such.
However, some Army officials are of the view that it is the standing instructions that maximum restraint should be exercised and other steps taken to avoid collateral damage during encounters which is stopping the security forces from going in for “all-out offensive” against militants trapped in populated areas. “When information about the presence of militants in a populated area is received by us, the first thing that we do it to ensure there is no collateral damage and civilians do not suffer. Sometimes this comes in the way of keeping a firm grip on the situation,” said a police officer who has been part of counterinsurgency campaign in the state.
Also, the security forces’ authorities are distraught that despite their issuing repeated warnings the people in the Valley particularly youth risk their own lives by relocating to encounter sites to make conscious attempts to help militants to break the security dragnets.
In fact, there have been several instances when militants were able to escape after taking advantage of such situations, the latest being Hajin in northern Bandipore district where, at least, one militant ran away and the other killed and injured as many as 14 Army, J&K police and CRPF personnel before he could be shot dead.
The other trend seen as worrisome by the authorities is that people routinely turn up in huge numbers at pro-Pakistan shows including funerals of local or Pakistani militants slain in fire fights with security forces, Kulgam in the south and Hajin in north being the latest examples. The people of 45 surrounding villages relocated to Frisal on Sunday to have glimpse of four local slain militants and attend their funeral.
J&K’s Director General of Police, Shesh Paul Ved, said on Monday that people’s rushing towards encounter sites in their bid to help trapped militants has emerged as a major challenge for the security forces. “Assembling or marching of local people towards encounter sites and throwing stones at forces puts us in a difficult position. At times it hampers anti-militancy operations. Shouting slogans and throwing stones at police poses a great risk to locals who put their lives on the line,” he said in an interview to a local newspaper.
Another senior police official who spoke on condition of anonymity told this correspondent that crowds particularly youth have –as did happen also at Nagabal, Frisal (Kulgam) on Sunday and Hajin (Bandipore) on Tuesday- mobbed the encounter sites, broken barriers and fought police and other security forces by hurling stones at them despite the fact that a few people died and scores were injured either by stray bullets, after getting caught in crossfire or in retaliatory actions during such incidents in the past.
Official sources said that the top Army, the police, CRPF and other security forces on counterinsurgency assignment in Jammu and Kashmir are meeting here soon to discuss the issue. As measures taken earlier to break the trend have virtually failed, some drastic steps are likely to be initiated to plug it.