Exactly a week ago on May 4 2017, our security forces launched what is being called the biggest combing operation in 15 years, in Kashmir. This massive exercise could have been in direct response to two immediate provocations from Pakistan:
- The brutal beheading of 2 Indian security personnel in Krishna Ghati Jammu & Kashmir
- The string of bank-heists and killing of local policemen by terrorists of Lashkar-ei-Tayiba, Jaish-ei-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen seen to be active in South Kashmir.
Rumors of terrorists from these organizations being seen moving around openly in the districts of South Kashmir had been doing the rounds for a couple of years. Then videos showing them marching through the apple orchards of Shopian surfaced on Social media recently. There are reports that a plan to declare Shopian district as ‘Azad Kashmir’ had been afoot for some time.
The Pak terrorists and some of their local supporters are said to have even prepared banners declaring this ‘Azadi’, the declaration was supposed to be supported by several local leaders and government servants putting in their resignation. Shopian was to be the starting point, followed by other districts in this Pak plan to gradually wrest areas from Indian control.
There is a direct connection between the bank robberies and the now aborted plan to declare the ‘independence’ of Shopian.
The money stolen from the banks was supposed to finance the ‘freedom operations’. Ironical that terrorist from Pakistan were planning to use Indian money to finance the splintering of an integral part of the nation!
In the brutal attack in Kulgam, Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists killed 5 policemen belonging to J&K Police and 2 private guards of J&K Bank after dragging them out of a cash van. Rattled by the tremendous Kashmiri response to local recruitment drives by the army and police, the terrorists deliberately indulged in cold-blooded murder to demoralize the local police and discourage Kashmiris from joining JK Police.
Such tactics have been frequently used in recent times to create a sense of fear. Although these brutal killings of local men created widespread anger amongst the Kashmiris, even the grieved families of those slain were scared to talk about the killers.
The tipping point came when terrorists, invariably referred to as ‘suspected militants’ by local media, barged into a Police Post in Southern Shopian on May 2 and decamped with 5 service rifles, including an AK-47. This was followed by the looting of two banks in separate incidents in Pulwama, also a district in South Kashmir.
In the backdrop of these incidents, an alert was triggered and action became necessary. The massive operation launched on May 4, involved more than 4000 security personnel, comprising 5 platoons of Jammu & Kashmir Police including 30 women constables, the Indian Reserve Police, 8 Companies of CRPF and 4 Battalions of the Rashtriya Rifles.
‘Operation Shopian’ began in the wee hours of Wednesday (May 3) with house to house searches conducted in almost 2 dozen villages in Zainapora area of Shopian. The meticulous searches were conducted after clearing all civilian residents “to make sure that no innocent civilians are hurt” said a senior officer. According to him, the cordon and search operation was conducted following intelligence that militants from Hizbul Mujaheedin were present in large numbers in the area. The security personnel first formed a cordon to prevent stone-pelting. Helicopters and drones are said to have been deployed in this operation.
Predictably, in what has now become a familiar ploy, locals especially women did come out to ‘protest’ the operations. These protestors indulged in the usual stone-pelting and in the resultant clashes, many terrorists apparently managed to escape despite the blockade and search operations.
That very evening, a vehicle carrying soldiers of Rashtriya Rifles, who had been part of the massive search operation, was ambushed by a group of obviously infuriated and recently flushed out terrorists. This attack, responsibility for which was later claimed by Hizbul Mujaheedin, resulted in the unfortunate death of the civilian driver and injuries to 4 soldiers traveling in the vehicle.
According to the army, “the purpose of the operation is to exert pressure on militants and force them to move out of their comfort zone. The ravines and orchards around Rambi Zara river (Shopian) provide ideal hideouts for militants… they will not be able to congregate and move around in large groups now.”
Army Chief Bipin Rawat told reporters that the combing operation was necessitated because some banks were looted and policemen were killed in the area. He said, the operation “has been launched to ensure that the situation is brought under control” and added that such operations would now be conducted regularly.
This search operation was significant in that it enabled the army to assert physical control over South Kashmir which was fast getting out of hand.
Media reports claimed Jehangir Ganaie, an LeT militant was arrested with the AK-47 stolen from the Police Post and 5 terrorists from JeM were said to have been gunned down. Defense Experts like Major Gaurav Arya say that such crackdowns will probably be the norm now in a shift from rhetoric to action, he says, “… it won’t stop now. This will not be like a surgical strike; it will be a sustained effort by the security forces for a long time to come.”
Meanwhile the cornered terrorists are hitting out in blind fury.
Today, on May 10, the bullet-ridden body of Lieutenant Umar Fayaz Parray of Kulgam was found in Shopian. The 23 year old doctor, who joined the Indian Army in 2016, was posted at Akhnoor near Jammu and had come home to attend a family wedding. His only fault was that he sought to rise above his humble beginnings by joining the army.
This dastardly killing seems to be part of the Pak terrorists’ strategy to drive home the ominous message that they will not allow Kashmiris to move towards normalcy by choosing respectable professions. Their agenda is obviously to deprive Kashmiris of education by burning down educational institutions so that the youth remain fit only for stone-pelting!
Significantly, for those who always scoff whenever the Pak-hand is mentioned in connection with keeping the Kashmir turmoil going, in a recent development, a book entitled ‘ Khalid Khwaja; Shaheed-ei-Aman’ has created a furor in Pakistan. Written by Shamama Khalid, the wife of a former ISI spy Khalid Khwaja, the book and interviews in it claim that the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took around $1.5 million from Osama bin Laden to promote jihad in Kashmir.