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Srinagar arms haul exposes big plot to spread fear and bloodshed in the valley

The recovery of a massive cache of small arms and ammunition from a terror hideout in Srinagar on Monday has exposed a plot of the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LET) and its local front TRF to disturb peace and spread fear with target killings across the Kashmir valley. The small arms haul was seized hours after TRF threatened to carry out attacks on the annual Amarnath pilgrimage which is scheduled to commence on June 28.

Senior Police officials said that developing an operation on technical and human intelligence, the Special Operations Group (SOG) of Srinagar District Police swooped on a terrorist hideout at Chhanapora, on the outskirts of Srinagar late on Sunday night, and recovered a huge quantity of arms and ammunition. The house under the scanner belonged to Umar Mushtaq and Amir Mushtaq, sons of one Mushtaq Ahmad Khan.

The seizure included 15 pistols and 30 pistol magazines with 300 rounds of ammunition and one silencer. Preliminary reports said that Mushtaq Khan had been working as an agent at the Regional Transport Officer’s office. He had been arrested but released immediately in 2016. Both his sons have been taken into custody and subjected to sustained interrogation.

Pistols have recently been the weapon of choice to eliminate select soft targets including Kashmiri Pandits.

A haul of 10 pistols and a large number of grenades was seized at Hajam Mohalla, Tad, on the LoC in Karnah, by the Kupwara District Police and security forces while it was being smuggled into the valley on 18 April 2022. However, this is for the first time in the last many years that 15 pistols have been seized in a single operation in Jammu and Kashmir. A senior official said: “I’ll have to check the records but I think 15 pistols have never been recovered in one operation anywhere in J&K in the last 22-23 years”.

In the previous decade, a massive cache of arms and ammunition, including 18 AK-56 rifles and 5 pistols, was recovered from the LoC in Keren in November 2014.

The Police and security forces officials, associated with the operation and investigating the terror networking, maintained that the small arms had to be distributed among the ‘hybrid terrorists’ for carrying out targeted killings, particularly in the Union Territory’s summer capital and other parts of the Central Kashmir in Budgam and Ganderbal districts. They said that other characters of the network would be arrested or neutralised as they had been exposed.

Members of the minority Pandit and Sikh communities, BJP workers, lawyers and media persons besides the members of the Panchayati Raj Institutions, mainstream political workers, unarmed and retired Police officers, non-local workers and vendors have been the target of small arms attacks in the valley in the last few years.

The officials said that attacks on tourists and Amarnath pilgrims could not be ruled out as TRF had on Sunday, 22 May, issued a communication and indicated attacks on the yatra. The TRF threat came after the Union Home Minister Amit Shah and J&K’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, presided over two high level meetings in New Delhi and Srinagar respectively to ensure the best possible security to the pilgrimage.

The TRF claimed in the communication that the government had started appropriating the peace and size of the pilgrimage in an attempt to announce normalcy in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. “They are going to use Amarnath Yatra for their dirty politics. From mere 15,000 to 8 lakh pilgrims and from 15 days to 80 days is just to provoke the sensitivity of the Kashmir situation”, it said and claimed that the pilgrimage was being used for “political and demographic gains”.

It was explicitly mentioned in the threat that TRF would “openly target any stooge who becomes a pawn of this regime and the blood of such stooges and pawns will spill like anything everywhere from Jammu and Kashmir”.

In the last over one decade, militants have lost the capacity and manoeuvrability of big IED attacks and suicide strikes on the security forces and Police but they have sustained attacks on soft targets. The killing of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in a suicide car bomb attack near Awantipora, on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, in February 2019, was the only major terror operation which took the heaviest toll in a strike since 1989. However, no big attacks have occurred in the UT after 2019.

Among the soft targets, Kashmir’s resident and displaced Pandits have lost 5 lives after 2019. The broad daylight assassination of the revenue clerk Rahul Bhat inside the Tehsildar’s office at Chadoora, Budgam, on 12 May 2022, has triggered a wave of terror and chain of protests by the community members across the valley. Around 4,000 employees, recruited under Prime Minister’s special package of return and rehabilitation of the displaced population from 2008 to 2022, have been demanding en masse transfer to Jammu or any other secure place. They have stopped attending offices.

On 4 April 2022, resident Pandit chemist Bal Krishen aka Sonu survived a terror attack at his pharmacy at Chotigam Shopian. On 5 October 2021, another resident Pandit chemist Makhan Lal Bindroo was shot dead at his pharmacy in Srinagar. Chairman of Tral Municipal Committee Rakesh Pandita was gunned down in Tral on 2 June 2021. Sarpanch Ajay Pandita Bharti was shot dead at his home at Luka Bhawan, Anantnag, on 9 June 2020.

Pistols were used in all these attacks on the soft targets. Even in Srinagar, pistols were used in killing a Sikh teacher Supinder Kaur, her teacher colleague Deepak Chand, jeweller Satpal Nischal, dhaba owner Akash Mehra, lawyer Babar Qadri and around 10 Police officials and some non-local workers in the last 3 years. In another incident two Railway Police Force personnel were killed in a pistol attack at Kakapora Train Station in Pulwama on 18 April 2022.

Also Read: Why are terrorists targeting Kashmiri Pandits rehabilitated under PM’s special package?