(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)

Forces step up crackdown on terror in J&K ahead of Lok Sabha polls

  • Focus is now on an elimination policy to counter rising recruitment, infiltration attempts by militants
  • Security forces have intensified cordon and search operations and gunned down 44 terrorists so far this year, including 34 since the Pulwama attack

NEW DELHI: Security forces and intelligence agencies have stepped up their crackdown on Pakistan-sponsored terror in the Kashmir valley ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in April-May. This comes against the backdrop of the suicide attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama on 14 February that killed 40 paramilitary personnel.

Security forces have intensified cordon and search operations and gunned down 44 terrorists so far this year, including 34 since the Pulwama attack. The forces are now focusing on a policy of elimination of operatives of Pakistan-based terror groups, not just active ones such as those of Jaish-e-Mohammed, which claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack, but also those of the dormant Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM). The Hizbul and the Lashkar have taken a back seat over the last year, with the Jaish dominating the terror landscape in the valley.

Security officials said the crackdown will now be more intense given that “recruitment and infiltration attempts have once again begun with gusto by the Pakistan-based terror groups. They will be stopped by all means in Kashmir".

On Monday, the CRPF confirmed that four terrorists belonging to the LeT had been gunned down by security forces in Pulwama district in an encounter that began late on Sunday night. Three security personnel sustained injuries.

(Photograph by Bloomberg; Graphic by Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint)

Security forces also arrested Owais Amin, a Hizbul operative and the driver of a Hyundai Santro that exploded in Banihal on Saturday. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is probing the incident, in which a low-intensity blast occurred along the Jammu-Srinagar highway when Amin tried to overtake a CRPF convoy. Security forces, however, said that Amin lost his nerve at the last minute, with the car just scraping one of the vehicles in the 10-truck convoy. Agencies are trying to establish whether or not the pattern of the blast was akin to that of the Pulwama attack.

Intelligence officials said that though Amin could not carry out the attack, people like him who were now joining the ranks of the militants were proving to be a security challenge.

“It is yet to be concluded whether or not Saturday’s blast bears any resemblance to a repeat of the Pulwama attack. However, boys like Amin, and even Adil Ahmad Dar (the suicide bomber in Pulwama) who are fresh recruits are joining forces with militants in large numbers. The state police is attempting to bring these boys back to the mainstream without punitive action, but in pockets such as Shopian and Pulwama especially, it is proving to be a challenge," said a senior intelligence official, requesting anonymity.

Already this year 55 security forces personnel have lost their lives, compared to the 257 terrorists and 91 security force personnel who were killed in 2018.

Defence experts noted that the rising number of militants being gunned down was a worrying trend.

“What is to be noted is that 34 terrorists have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir since the Pulwama attack on 14 February. This figure tells you just how fast they (terrorists) are increasing in number, despite all the crackdowns and counter-infiltration measures. Another attack like Pulwama almost got replicated in Banihal and we really need to develop a holistic policy or this will keep repeating," said Lt. Gen (retd) H.S Panag, a former Indian Army officer and a defence expert.

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