Operating in the Kashmir Valley since the past three decades, two biggest militant outfits—Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba—are at their lowest ebb since the killing of Hizb’s poster-boy, Burhan Wani pushed the region into a new cycle of violence and gave a new lease of life to the insurgency.
The outfits have lost almost 90 percent of their leadership as the killing of militants by security forces has become almost a daily affair. Kashmir has become so used to the killing of militants on an everyday basis that over 9,000 people watched a football match in Srinagar, when six militants, a civilian, and an Indian Army soldier were killed on Sunday in south Kashmir’s Shopian district.
The strategy to neutralise the top leadership of the biggest outfits operating in the Valley, partially in south Kashmir, was adopted by Jammu and Kashmir Police earlier this year.
Sources said a group of Kashmir police officers worked day and night, generated intelligence, reworked coordination and focused their energy on targeting the topmost leadership to dissuade cadre and avoid further recruitment. The results have started showing: At least 225 militants, a majority of them locals, have been killed this year, including many district commanders.
“The recruitment has come down significantly,” a senior police officer said. “Just this month, at least 31 militants have been killed in Kashmir, most of them in Shopian district.”
Six militants were killed, four of them belonging to Hizbul Mujahideen and two to Lashkar-e-Taiba, in a pre-dawn encounter in Shopian on Sunday. “Both the district commanders of Hizb and Lashkar were killed in the encounter,” Senior Superintendent of Police Shopian, Sandeep Chaudhary, said.
Umar Majeed Ganaie, one of the gunned down militants who was operating as district commander of Hizb for Kulgam, was recently seen in the heart of Srinagar city, Lal Chowk, in a picture that went viral on social media. He was active since 2016.
“He was involved in the Pombai Bank guard attack case in which four policemen and two bank guards had lost their lives in 2017,” a police statement said.
Two more militant commanders killed in Sunday shootout were Mushtaq Ahmad Mir, LeT’s district commander for Shopian, and Mohammad Abass, district commander of Hizb for Shopian.
On Saturday, in another encounter in Bijbehara, three commanders of Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen were among six militants killed in a gunfight with forces. Police say Pakistan-based militants outfit, Lashkar, headed by fiery cleric Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, has lost almost all of its commanders in south Kashmir, for the first time since a renewed face of insurgency the Kashmir Valley, after the killing of Burhan Wani in June 2016.
After Wani’s killing, the militant outfit, which had earlier banked upon the Pakistani nationals, most of them drawn from Punjab, had slowly handed the baton of managing the insurgency to local Kashmiris.
Azad Ahmad Malik, who was killed in Saturday’s encounter, had joined militancy in 2016 and become a top commander of Lashkar and a close aide of another top commander of the outfit, Naveed Jutt. Malik, 30, was listed as category A++ militant and carrying a bounty of Rs 12 lakh on his head.
Firdous Ahmad Mir, another militant killed in Bijbehara shootout and a resident of Machpona village of south Kashmir, was the Pulwama district commander of LeT, while Unais Shafi was the district commander of Hizb for Anantnag.
In August, LeT commander Abu Dujana, a Pakistani national, was killed by forces in Hakripora area of Pulwama district. He was a category ‘ ‘A++’ militant and carried a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head.
Another top LeT commander, Bashir Lashkari, was killed in Anantnag’s Brenti village of Dialgam on 1 July. Lashkari, according to police, was involved in the killing of six policemen in the district.
On 28 May, Hizb militant Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, who was a close associate of slain Hizb commander Burhan Wani, was among the two militants killed in an encounter in Tral. On 12 July, Sajad Gilkar was killed by security forces in Budgam district of central Kashmir.
The militants have lost some of the most known faces in Kashmir since the past two years including the 22-year-old Majid Zargar, a resident of Qaimoh, Kulgam, who survived for four years. Another top commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Muhammad Ayub Lone alias Ayub Lelhari was killed in an ambush laid on the Pulwama-Srinagar stretch.
Another top Lashkar-e-Taiba Junaid Mattoo was killed in a gun battle that took place in Anantnag. So was Shakoor Ahmed Dar of LeT, who joined the group in October 2016, and was killed in June this year. Abu Ismail, a Pakistani national and top LeT commander in Kashmir under whose guidance the organisation swelled in the Valley, was killed in September last year.
Police say these self-styled district commanders played a key role in the recruitment when the Valley was witnessing turmoil after the killing of Burhan Wani, particularly in the southern region of Kashmir.
“It is not that militants openly roam on the streets of south Kashmir. Most of them remain far from the eyes of forces, but these district commanders were always considered as the focal point for fresh recruitment of militants,” a senior police officer told Firstpost.
In recent months, the recruitment level has come down “significantly.” But the concern for the security grid is the huge participation of locals in the funerals of slain militants.
“In absence of any political outreach, the crackdown on militancy may help bring a semblance of normalcy. But it will not end the militancy,” Noor A Baba, dean of social sciences at the Central University of Kashmir, said.