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Surgical strike wipes out duo that revived militancy in Kashmir

A file image of Indian security personnel after an encounter with terrorists in Kashmir (Photo: Nisar Malik/IANS)

The killing of Abbas Sheikh of Kulgam, the founder chief of ‘The Resistance Front’ (TRF), along with Central Kashmir’s dreaded terrorist Saquib Manzoor Dar, in a surgical strike in the interior of Srinagar on Monday, is rated as the most spectacular achievement of the Jammu and Kashmir Police in recent years for a host of reasons. 

For the Police, TRF is not an independent dreaded terrorist organisation with capacity for proactive attacks on the ‘hard targets’. 

“It is nothing but the name given tactically to a group of the local LeT (Lashkar-e-Tayyiba) cadres after Pakistan began to feel the heat of the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) action. The masters of the militancy in Pakistan want to project Kashmir’s insurgency as an indigenous movement seeking implementation of the UN resolutions on Plebiscite. But the whole world knows who are this group’s cadres and who is sponsoring them”, said a senior officer in the J&K Police. 

TRF’s statements, unusually written in flawless English, have invariably maintained that it was an indigenous militant organisation. Nevertheless, the organisation has no hesitation in claiming responsibility for the attacks on the soft targets—the civilians, unarmed Policemen, non-local businessmen and the pro-Indian political activists. 

Unlike the fidayeen attacks and other armed strikes on the security forces by the traditional guerrilla groups like LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen, TRF has concentrated pre-eminently on the ‘soft targets’ apparently to generate and maintain a wave of fear post-August 2019. While the mass support to militancy has considerably diminished in the last over two years, three formidable organisations—LeT, JeM and HM—have suffered significant reverses. 

Contrarily, TRF has emerged as a dreaded banner, due to its audacious, high profile assassinations and the number of its ‘sleeper cells’ and over-ground workers (OGWs). 

On 2 August 2021, IGP Kashmir’s office tweeted the list of 10 militants who, according to the Police, were the valley’s most wanted terrorists. It included the names of Abbas Sheikh, Saquib Manzoor and Wakeel Shah, who was among the three militants killed in an encounter last week at Nagberan, Tral. “Three of the ten are down and out. Rest seven will also meet the same fate soon”, said an officer at J&K Police headquarters. 

Saleem Parray, who spread a wave of terror with beheading of some civilians in Hajin Bandipora in 2017-18, figured at serial number one of the list, even as his activities and whereabouts are not known any more. Yousuf Kantroo of Chak Kawoosa Budgam, who is known to have escaped from cordoned areas over a dozen times in the last 5 years, was number two, followed by Abbas Sheikh at number three. 

“Saleem Parray was on top of the list but our prime target was none other than Abbas Sheikh since August 2020”, said an officer. “He was active since 2006 and was the longest surviving terrorist. He was arrested twice and released. Lastly, he joined back in 2014 and worked with HM and LeT. Finally, he was made TRF’s first chief”, said the officer about the 45-year-old militant. 

As many as 25 members of Sheikh’s extended family acted as militants—16 from his immediate family. His sister Naseema was arrested under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in June 2020. Sheikh’s militant nephews, killed in different encounters, included Naseema’s son Toufeeq. Saquib stood at number eight. 

Through all counterinsurgency campaigns after 2014, the south Kashmir districts of Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag—traditional strongholds of Jamaat-e-Islami and Peoples Democratic Party—survived as a hub of terrorism after Burhan Wani’s killing in an encounter in July 2016. In northern Kashmir, few incidents occurred in Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora. 

However, the Central Kashmir districts of Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal, witnessed minimal incidents and encounters. This area emerged as the face of the Government of India’s transformation operations after the PDP-BJP coalition’s breakdown in June 2018. Months after withdrawal of J&K’s Statehood and special status, TRF surfaced with some spectacular killings. 

In the summer capital of Srinagar, which remained terror-free for a long time, as many as 15 major militant strikes and encounters have taken place in the last 20 months. Those killed in the militant attacks include at least seven Police and CRPF personnel. Of the 102 militants killed since January 2021, over a dozen were neutralised in Srinagar alone.

Officials insist that militancy in Srinagar and its contiguous districts was revived with an extensive network by none other than Abbas Sheikh and Saquib Manzoor. On account of this profile, both figured in the superlative A++ category. “It was an unprecedented, meticulously planned operation that 10 personnel of SOG (Special Operations Group) Srinagar in civvies reached the duo in a densely populated neighbourhood of Allochi Bagh and eliminated them with flawless precision”, said a senior officer in Srinagar District Police.

In a lengthy press release, the J&K Police attributed most of the terror strikes, particularly those executed in Srinagar and its peripheries, in the last 20 months to Abbas Sheikh and Saquib Manzoor.

“No doubt martyrdom of Abbas Sheikh is a loss but sacrifices are part of our freedom struggle. The entire family of Abbas have given immense sacrifices. More than 15 family members have joined the resistance camp since 1990 and these sacrifices won’t go in vain”, TRF’s statement said. “TRF is firm and strong to take revenge on Commander Abbas and his associate Saqib. The message is clear and loud to J&K Police and its mercenaries who disguised in civvies and carried out encounter in Srinagar. We will reciprocate with intensity soon”.

According to the Police FIRs, those killed by Abbas Sheikh, Saquib and their associates included BJP leader Abdul Hamid Najjar near Ompora Budgam railway station on 9 August 2020, advocate Babar Qadri at Hawal on 24 September 2020, goldsmith Satpal Nischal at Saraibala on 31 December 2020, two Police constables at Shiv Shakti Sweet Shop, Baghat Barzulla, on 19 February 2021, three CRPF jawans at Lawaypora on 25 March 2021, Constable Rameez Raja at the BJP activist Anwar Khan’s residence at Nowgam Srinagar on 1 April 2021, Constable Javed Ahmad Kambay at Saidpora Eidgah on 17 June 2021, Inspector Pervez Ahmad Dar at Nowgam Srinagar on 22 June 2021 and mobile phone shop owner Umer Nazir Bhat at Habbakadal on 23 June 2021.

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