Change of Address? Post Article 370 Rejig, Militancy May Head North in Kashmir

Baramulla: In January, police declared Baramulla as Kashmir’s first “militancy-free” area, saying that no local militants were active in the district anymore. However, within months, violent insurgency became visible again.

While many parts of Kashmir remain under lockdown since August 5 when the Centre stripped it of its special status granted under the Constitution, authorities this week carried out their first anti-militancy operation after more than 20 days. A Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) gunman was killed after a joint party of forces—the Jammu and Kashmir Police, Central Reserve Police Force and Army—carried out a late-night operation in old town area of Baramulla, in north Kashmir.

The militant, identified as a local resident — 20-year-old Momin Rasool Gojri — had picked up arms less than a month ago. “It was the first successful operation since 1997 in old town Baramulla,” a police officer, who was part of the exercise, told News18.

Over the years, most militants have been active in south Kashmir, but this operation, after a lull of about three weeks, took place in north Kashmir.

The militancy in the southern areas has been surging since 2010. Local militants had overtaken Pakistani jihadis in number. Over 500 of them have been killed in the last three years.

But after the modification of Article 370 of the Constitution and reorganisation of the state of J&K into two union territories, police officers say they expect the militancy to shift towards north Kashmir.

“Maybe the trend will reverse,” said a senior police officer, who has been part of counterinsurgency operations for over a decade. When the militancy started in the 1990s, it was more dominant in north Kashmir areas.

“We have to always look at the carrying capacity,” the officer told News18. “The area where militants are active and is under continuous counter-militancy operations reaches fatigue, the economy suffers, crime rate increases.”

The officer believes a look at various militancy trends in different regions shows that it tends to shift after a certain period of time.

As the situation in Kashmir was tense following the Centre’s decision, no counterinsurgency operation was taking place.

“We received input about the presence of the militant and launched the operation at around 7.50pm (on Tuesday),” said a senior police officer, who was part of the exercise.

Challenges for the forces were manifold: the situation in the Valley has been edgy and sources say not a single operation had been successful in this area since 1997.

The old town area of Baramulla has been a tough spot for the forces. “Whenever we launch an operation, we face intense stone-pelting from the local youth which makes it difficult for us to carry out the manoeuvre,” the officer said. “There is always the risk of civilian casualty and a number of operations have been cancelled in the past few years.”

The old town is a congested locality situated on the banks of the Jhelum, with decrepit dwellings and narrow alleys.

As the militant was trapped in a house by the forces, he lobbed two grenades, police said. Two security personnel, including an officer, were injured. One among them, SPO Bilal Ahmad, succumbed to his injuries, and sub-inspector Amardeep Parihar is battling for his life in hospital.

Because of the lull it was widely believed that anti-militancy operations had been suspended in the Valley. But police officers denied this.

“Operations are not suspended. Actually the forces are busy in maintaining law and order, and that is why no operations had been carried out,” an officer said.

Three houses were damaged during the gunfight, and the forces did face resistance from local stone-pelting youth. But because of the communication blockade in place since August 5, police said, word about the encounter did not spread and they managed to carry out the operation without too much counteraction.

With the current situation, police officers also believe that infiltration of jihadis will increase.

“South Kashmir is already in fatigue and when more militants will pour into the Valley they will try to stay around north Kashmir,” the officer said.

However, security officials say they will not allow the militancy—if it starts developing roots in north Kashmir— to grow as it did in the south.

This time, the laws too are more stringent.

“With the amendments in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, we can also go hard at the over-ground workers of militants,” said the officer.