In Srinagar, Rising Attacks On Police Point to a Renewed Threat

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The mourners were seated along the edges of the tent, their heads hung solemnly as Mohammad Ashraf Mir mumbled about his son. “He dreamt of cracking civil services. He was ambitious. I am not able to come to terms with this loss,” he breaks down.

On the afternoon of September 12, militants in Srinagar shot dead 26-year-old Arshad Mir, a sub-inspector in Jammu & Kashmir Police, in what was the latest in the string of such killings in the Srinagar city this year.

Last month, a policeman and a civilian were injured after militants opened fire on a patrolling party near the Khanyar area of Srinagar city. The cop sustained a bullet wound in the stomach but survived.

Mir, however, succumbed to his injuries. A video of the incident, which went viral on social media, shows Mir walking past the small street near Khanyar as a masked gunman trailed him and fired two rounds of bullets, before taking off. Mir drops his phone and collapses.

‘He Was Bright and Studious’

Mir, an alumnus of the Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University, had passed a written test for the post of sub-inspector in 2019, much to the delight of his family who boasted of their son becoming an “officer”. He had an M.Sc. degree in Botany as well.

At Kulmuna, a languid village of walnut groves, pine trees and rice fields in Handwara, 100 km from Srinagar city, Mir’s family was distraught with grief. “He was preparing for regional civil services,” said Asif Mir, his brother. “He was very bright and studious. I was absolutely sure that he could have passed the IAS were he to appear for it.”

His family said it had been just 50 days since his transfer to the Khanyar Police Station. He was still serving his probationary period.

“These were his fledgling years. He was not even planning to get married. He just wanted to live his youthful days, as most youngsters do,” said Zubair Mir, his close friend and neighbour, sobbing.

Mir’s death counts among many similar hit-and-run assassinations that appear to have put Srinagar city under the spotlight of militants.

In June, militants killed Parvaiz Ahmed Dar, a Jammu & Kashmir police inspector, near the Nowgam area of Srinagar city. CCTVs showed identical footage of armed men pursuing an unsuspecting cop on his way to the mosque and pulling out a pistol before firing multiple rounds.

The same month, 28-year-old Umer Nazir Bhat, a mobile store proprietor at downtown Habba Kadal area, was shot dead by militants, blood pooling at the entrance of his shop.

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Javaid Ahmed Tambi, a cop with Jammu & Kashmir Police was killed under similar circumstances at Saidapora area near Eidgah, Srinagar, on 17 June.

Another audacious attack in April saw militants dressed in burkhas shooting dead a Jammu & Kashmir Police’s ‘duty sentry’, Rameez Raja, who was guarding the residence of a local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician near Aribagh area in Nowgam, Srinagar.

Is There a Pattern?

Three of the four militants — Shahid Khursheed, Ubaid Shafi, both from Srinagar city and Suhail Nisar Lone from Khrew, Pulwama and Junaid Ahmed from Prichoo, Pulwama — were killed during subsequent gunfights in Pulwama and Korernag areas of South Kashmir. Khursheed is still at large.

Three CRPF personnel were killed in a daring attack at Lawaypora at the outskirts of Srinagar city in March. Incidentally, it was the first such attack targeting government forces even as India and Pakistan announced that they had signed a ceasefire deal, signifying the thawing of frozen relations.

In February, another CCTV clip showed a militant following a cop before lifting the hem of his feran, a Kashmiri winter cloak, and opening fire on two Jammu & Kashmir Police SPOs, Suhail Ahmed and Muhammed Yousuf. Both cops succumbed to injuries. The attack took place at Baghat, an upscale locality in Srinagar.

In June, another youth succumbed to his injuries at the Barbarshah area of the old part of Srinagar city after militants hurled a grenade attack.

In August alone, there have been eight grenade attacks in the precincts of Srinagar, a majority of them in areas such as Khanyar, Nowhatta, Mehjoor Nagar, Saraf Kadal, Zaina Kadal, Eidgah, Safa Kadal and Sanatnagar.

The Army also claimed that it averted a major attack after it recovered 30 kilograms of explosives at the Tengpora area of the city.

These incidents show a pattern, if not the conclusive evidence, that sustained efforts are underway to push militancy into the Srinagar city. However, for most of these attacks, the police blamed The Resistance Front, an iteration of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The Killing of Sheikh Abbas & Saqib Manzoor

On 23 August, in a gunfight near the Alochi Bagh in Srinagar, police killed two militants — Sheikh Abbas of Kulgam and Saqib Manzoor of Srinagar — who were accused of masterminding and even taking part in all these attacks. This was the fifth gun battle in the Srinagar city this year. Last year, there were nine, the highest in many years.

In the subsequent press release, probably the longest-ever that the Jammu & Kashmir Police have issued, police put out the list of crimes the duo was accused of orchestrating. These included almost a majority of all the big attacks that took place in the Srinagar city and around.

Both Manzoor and Abbas have been named in close to 19 FIRs, including the killing of advocate Babar Qadri in Srinagar and of Satpal Nischal, the goldsmith, through whose death militants attempted to signal a threat to non-locals who would acquire domicile certificates.

Abbas’s killing has been described by the police as a major success and a big setback to militancy. A “recycled militant”, implying someone who abjured militancy before becoming active again, Abbas was instrumental in recruiting and motivating the youth. Among the oldest surviving militants until he was killed last month, Abbas, the police said, had skills to skirt past the counter-insurgency grid and survive.

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After the killing of Lashkar’s Ishfaq Rashid Khan last year, police had declared Srinagar city militancy-free. Yet, in less than a year’s time, they released a list of the eight most-wanted militants who were active in the city. The escalation in the recruitment was also attributed to Abbas. As per the latest inputs, the number has come down to four. “They will either be arrested or killed in encounters,” Vijay Kumar, Kashmir’s Inspector-General of Police (IGP), told the press recently.

The killing of sub-inspector Arshad Mir and several other attacks that involve the same techniques and modus operandi as observed in the case of attacks orchestrated by Abbas and Manzoor have taken some quarters by surprise. If the two “instrumental” people associated with this TRF module are already done with, who are the ones carrying out the attacks?

The Role of Azhar Malik

“I would not like to disclose about the outfit or module behind the attack but the perpetrators have been identified and will be brought to justice soon,” Kumar said recently.

There have been at least four grenade attacks in the city since Abbas and Manzoor’s killing. On 1 September, suspected militants torched a vehicle associated with a member of the Jammu & Kashmir Apni Party in Srinagar.

Last week, a paramilitary trooper of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and a pedestrian were injured after militants lobbed a grenade at security forces in the Chanapora area of Srinagar. A few days later, CRPF recovered at least six grenades in the vicinity of the Quick Action Team (QAT) bunker at Bemina area of the city, which is situated on the same stretch of national highway as Lawaypora, Nowgam and Chanapora, where other big attacks have taken place.

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“Quite often, things are not as clear as they seem,” suggests a senior J&K police officer, who spoke anonymously to The Quint. “When the forces killed Abdullah Uni in Sopore, we thought we ended the module that was involved in so many killings.”

The officer was referring to a slain Lashkar commander, Azhar Malik alias Abdullah Uni, who was shot dead by forces in 2011. Uni was involved in the killing of 15 persons, a majority of whom were members of security forces. He has escaped 12 cordon-and-search operations and resurrected militancy in the volatile belt of North Kashmir. “We thought that by killing Uni, we had ended the spate of killings in North. But it later emerged that many killings are being led by a totally separate band of terrorists led by Qayoom Najar, Javed Mattoo, Mehraj Halwai and Engineer Shafi. It appears as though there’s a repeat of this thing in Srinagar.”

Who are ‘Hybrid Militants’?

Another senior officer also drew attention to a novel trend concerning “hybrid militants”. “They are not listed as terrorists. They could be normal people who do the routine chores and run common errands but also moonlight as terrorists as and when the needs arise,” he said.

It’s also being speculated that the attacker of sub-inspector Arshad Mir could be a hybrid militant.

Back at Kulmuna, Ashraf is inconsolable. “I want the attackers to be brought to justice. I don’t want any young man to meet the same fate as my son,” he said. “We as parents invest so much in our children. We expect some kind of security for them. They do not deserve this fate.”

(Shakir Mir is a freelance journalist who has reported for the Times Of India and The Wire, among other publications. He tweets at @shakirmir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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