A file image of Indian security personnel after an encounter with terrorists in Kashmir (Photo: Nisar Malik/IANS)
After weeks of a lull in the Kashmir valley, the Jammu and Kashmir Police and security forces have eliminated three terrorists including those who had killed a resident Kashmiri Pandit and a labourer from Nepal in an encounter in the Shopian district early in the morning on Tuesday.
Kashmir Zonal Police headquarters confirmed in a tweet that all the three terrorists who had got trapped in a cordon-and-search operation at Manj Marg in Shopian, in the foothills of the Pir Panjal Mountain range in the wee hours on Tuesday, had been neutralised.
“Among 03 neutralised local #terrorists, 02 identified as Lateef Lone of #Shopian, involved in #killing of a Kashmiri Pandit Shri Purana Krishna Bhat & Umer Nazir of Anantnag, involved in killing of Till Bahadur Thapa of Nepal. 01 AK 47 rifle & 2 pistols recovered”, said the Police, quoting Additional Director General, Kashmir.
On way to his apple orchard, 42-year-old Puran Kishen Bhat, whose family had stayed back and never migrated to Jammu or any other place after the outbreak of militancy in 1990, was shot dead close to his home at Chowdhary Gund, Shopian, on 15 October this year. Kashmir Freedom Fighters, which according to the Jammu and Kashmir Police is a front for the Pakistan-based terror organisation Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, claimed responsibility of Bhat’s assassination through social media.
Bhat’s killing sent shock waves across the Union Territory and sparked protests among the community members in Jammu, particularly those who have been employed under a special recruitment and rehabilitation scheme of the Prime Minister and posted in Kashmir. A large number of these Pandit employees have shifted to Jammu in the wake of a series of terror attacks on the minority community members early this year and they have been demanding posting in ‘safer areas’.
Even after certain internal adjustments, terror outfit The Resistance Fighters (TRF) published names of 56 Pandit employees on a blog ‘KashmirFight’, attaching political motives to their transfers and threatening to attack them. Officials claimed that it was a mere tactics to harass the employees as the terror groups capacity to launch such attacks had been drastically reduced.
After these threats and the official claims, no incident of a minority community member has been reported from anywhere in the valley.
Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai said in reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on 14 October 2022 that 9 Kashmiri Pandits had been killed in different terror attacks in the Kashmir valley this year. According to him, four each, including a resident Dogra Rajput, had been killed in 2021 and 2022 and one in 2020.
ADG Police Kashmir, however, said that the total number of the Kashmiri Pandits killed in terror attacks in the valley since 2020 was six. According to him, one Kashmiri Pandit was killed in 2020, two were killed in 2021 and three more in 2022.
Rai told the Parliament that the government had a policy of “zero tolerance against terrorism and the security situation has improved significantly in Jammu and Kashmir”. He said that due to the sustained counterterror operations by the Police and security forces and other interventions, there had been a “substantial decline” in the terror attacks from 417 in 2018 to 229 in 2021.
Even as two poor labourers, Ram Sagar and Manish Kumar, were killed at their rented accommodation in Shopian on 18 October 2022, no Kashmiri Pandit, employees or otherwise, was targeted in the valley after Bhat’s assassination on 15 October. This has obviously reduced the level of fear among the community which had been harassed with a chain of attacks, first in October 2021 and later from spring to autumn in the current year.
In all 20 members of the minority communities became victims of these terror attacks in Kashmir since June 2020.
The list includes Akash Mehra, the young son of the famous Krishna Dhaba owner at Durga Nag, Srinagar, who was shot dead in the high security Sonwar area on 1 January 2021. Rakesh Pandita, a BJP leader, an elected councillor and Chairman of Municipal Committee Tral, was shot dead by unidentified terrorists on 2 June 2021 while he was staying at a friend’s home in Tral, Pulwama.
Famous chemist Makhan Lal Bindroo was shot dead at his pharmacy beside Iqbal Park in Srinagar on 5 October 2021. His assassination triggered massive protests among both, Hindus as well Muslims, in the valley as Bindroo was known for his services all through 1980s to 2021. He too did not migrate to Jammu or any other safer place in 1990.
On 12 May 2022, unidentified terrorists appeared at Tehsil Office Chadoora, in Budgam district, and they shot dead a Revenue clerk Rahul Bhat. Bhat was among the first beneficiaries of the PM’s recruitment and rehabilitation package who had returned to Kashmir and had been staying at a secure accommodation for the Pandits at Sheikhpora Budgam since 2010.
The Jammu and Kashmir Police and security forces have claimed to have eliminated most of the terrorists involved in such attacks in different encounters across the valley. The fact that no member of a minority community has been targeted or killed in the last over two months has been reassuring for the people who were perceived to be the potential soft targets for terror attacks. The killing of two of such alleged assassins in the encounter in Shopian on Tuesday is likely to boost the morale and confidence of the minority communities in Kashmir.
Also Read: Lashkar terrorists involved in killing of Kashmiri Pandit and Nepali national neutralised by security forces in Kashmir