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Burying 158 militants in far off places stopped glamourisation this year, forces have upper hand: Kashmir IGP Vijay Kumar

IGP Kashmir Zone Vijay Kumar addresses a press conference in Srinagar on December 29, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

This year has been the most challenging to the security forces in Kashmir, following the decision to end J&K's special status in August last year. It saw widespread anti-militancy operations to have a tight control on the ground situation, with many key 'commanders' killed in its wake. Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, who has already earned President’s Police Medal for Gallantry, looks back and dissects the troubled times and provides a peep into the future challenges.

The beginning of year 2020 saw very few operations and then there was a major push to go after the militants across the Kashmir valley?

Yes, it was zero in December, 2019. However, we managed to turn it into 14 kills in January this year. The killing of top operational chief of Jaish-e-Muhammad Qari Yasir, Hizbul Mujahideen commander Hamad Khan and arrest of Hizb's Naveed Babu along with Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Devender Singh was a result of a new strategy we adopted. Gathering human intelligence at district level was reoriented, and from March onwards, technical intelligence was given a major push. Two, intra-police and inter-security forces healthy competition was also employed. Then we strategically focused on killings of top commanders, like Reyaz Naikoo, Qari Yasir, Haider and Burhan Koka within four months. I appreciate the role of the Army’s for conducting cordon and search operations on each intelligence input, sometimes twice a day. Moreover, terrorists were not allowed to regroup and camp in Srinagar, summer capital of J&K, which saw the killing of 20 terrorists in nine encounters. More than two hundred terrorists, including foreign terrorists, have been killed this year.

Were most militants killed in Kashmir self trained or crossed over to PoK or Pakistan for arms training?

Only foreign terrorists are considered as Pakistan trained. More than eight five percent local terrorists were trained locally. Most of them aren’t battle hardened rather high on motivation but their hiding capabilities amongst the population is high. Though there were cases where youths went to Pakistan on a visa in 2017 and 2018. Of such 50 became terrorists, who got trained there, 25 were killed in encounters, nine arrested and the rest are still on the run. In fact, the killing of Hizb chief Naikoo reduced new recruitment locally. However, the availability of arms and instigation and radicalisation by several Pakistan-based portals are factors to be monitored.

Scores of civilian houses where militants take shelter are blown by explosives during encounters?

Terrorists have advantage if they hide in residential areas compared to orchards and jungles. Room intervention is exercised at times but there were instances where the houses were closely knit. The ingoing troops are mostly not aware of the houses they are supposed to enter because terrorists can hide in any random house. This puts the life of our troops at extreme risk. Improvised explosive devices are used to soften the target houses and expose vulnerable areas to target terrorists through windows etc. The target is not to damage the houses. In most cases, houses caught fire due to explosives carried by terrorists.

Several measures have been put in place during anti-terrorist operations now to win the hearts and minds of the general public, like zero or minimal collateral damage to civilian life, maintaining sanctity of religious places and use of less-lethal weapons during law and order situations. For example, in south Kashmir's Meej area in Pampore on June 18, three terrorists of the LeT were killed without entering a mosque. We also allowed more than one dozen local terrorists to surrender during live encounters this year. It has been a unique game changer. Since the police have prior details of terrorists trapped in encounters, we call the families and make them appeal. Parents have shown great trust in the police.

But recruitment of militants continues?

It remains a serious concern. Compared to 152 terrorists killed in 2019, 206 were killed in 2020, as 140 and 167 youths were recruited by the militants. Of 167 new recruits, 73 were killed in encounters, 46 arrested and 48 are active. So the situation isn’t alarming. These youth were radicalised by Pakistani agencies through social media and blogs. Besides, parental control over children has diminished in Kashmir and the peer pressure has increased. Due to the COVID lockdown, drug menace and lack of sports activities also became contributing factors. The police have been identifying potential and radicalised youths and brought them back with the active support of the families. More than three dozen youths returned to normal life. Recruitment can’t be stopped just through the law enforcement agencies. Other stakeholders like education, welfare, sports and information departments have to work in this direction. Besides, a comprehensive surrender policy is also needed.

Militants are also changing their tack.

Terrorists have changed their modus operandi this year and adopted Guerrilla warfare, which is hit-and-run tactics. They targeted our checkpoints and road opening parties. It’s very difficult for a jawan to remain alert the whole day. Over a dozen such attacks happened this year and we lost two dozen of our brave colleagues. However, several tactical changes have been made and some of the attacks converted into encounters. Frequent grenade throwing also remains a reality in Kashmir. It's a new trend though. Compared to 132 persons injured in such attacks in 2018, 118 in 2019, we just saw 69 such injuries in 2020.

This year, for the first time, the families were not allowed to hold burial of slain militants in their ancestral graveyards or villages. Why?

A: After the spread of COVID-19 in March, hundreds of people participated in funerals in Kulgam and Sopores. There were two options, either to stop anti-terrorists operation temporarily or not to hand over bodies of terrorists to the families. We adopted the second option in the larger interest of the general public. Initially, miscreants and anti-social elements tried to spread false propaganda and terrorists abducted some policemen and even killed one policeman but we didn’t lose our patience. Later, people realised our intention and supported us. So far, 158 terrorists have been buried at isolated locations in Baramulla, Ganderbal and Handwara areas in the presence of magistrates and families. We have not only stopped the spread of COVID infection but also stopped glamourising terrorists and avoided potential law and order problems. This action is historical one.

Many policemen were also recruited by militants. Is that a challenge too?

The J&K police personnel hailing from Kashmir work under tremendous local stress. In a force of more than one lakh personnel, there have been six to seven instances where policemen joined terrorist ranks. It is negligible. This year, only one policeman deserted, who has already been arrested. The Kashmir policemen are the most loyal of men in uniform in this country. Even if someone has any connections, the supervisory officer keeps him on surveillance and doesn’t post him at sensitive assignment. Many times, such connections converted into anti-terrorist operations in our favour.

Is the tough phase of militancy over?

The tough phase of militancy in Kashmir is not over till terrorists are there on the ground. As far as domination and the upper hand of security forces is concerned, yes we have been successful. As of now, several terrorist outfits are headless. The security forces are more capable of handling the challenges at hand.

This year saw restrictions on certain kinds of reportage, especially of banned organisations like Jamaat-e-Islami and JKLF?

Since these associations have been declared banned, any coverage of their statements would attract penal action under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. However, the Press can report any news relating to the banned associations in case the reporting is confined to carrying news only and not to instigate the public and create law and order situations. The thin difference between crossing of line will depend on the circumstances of each case.

How big was the challenge to conduct the District Development Council polls?

It was really a very tough task in view of the online false propaganda and instigation by terrorists outfits, especially Pakistan-based portals. We put in place all our resources for getting preventive intelligence and kept taking precautionary measures accordingly. There was extensive use of bullet proof vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles or drones. Internet shutdowns in highly sensitive districts were some of tactical measures. The Army also kept dominating difficult areas continuously. It was a joint mission with optimum level of functional synergy on the ground.

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Printable version | May 16, 2021 4:12:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/burying-158-militants-in-far-off-places-stopped-glamourisation-this-year-forces-have-upper-hand-igp-vijay-kumar/article33447151.ece

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