With militancy in Kashmir below huge strain, it’s regularly getting revived in Pir Panchal Valley. There have been a sequence of deadly assaults on the safety grid within the final three years. Nonetheless, after the latest ambush during which 4 troopers fell of their line of responsibility, three civilians misplaced their lives allegedly to torture that led the Defence Minister to go to the realm, stories Raashid Andrabi
Alongside the historic 83.9 km Mughal Road, the as soon as silent and serene village of Baffliaz has now garnered consideration for causes past its Mughal legacy. Identified for hundreds of years as a pivotal halt on the medieval monitor, this village was virtually a gateway to Kashmir as not many habitations have been round until the travellers crossed into Kashmir. Its strategic location is important. Not far-off from the Kashmiri-speaking Surankot city, the Buffliaz connects Kashmir, Poonch and Rajouri.
Final week, Baffliaz was within the limelight and dominated the information for a lot of days, for all of the flawed causes. It was the epicentre of a state of affairs that led to the internet shutdown, restricted entry, cordons, intensive search operations and a sequence of high-profile visits together with that of the Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh. These visits got here within the final week of 2023, a 12 months that witnessed the area rising because the hotbed of militancy. The Pir Panchal Valley comprising Poonch and Rajouri districts recorded greater than 50 killings. The area, as soon as a hotbed of insurgency within the late Nineties skilled a interval of relative peace within the 2000s and now’s once more hogging the headlines for frequent gun battles between the military and the militants.
The brand new graves of three civilians that emerged in Baffliaz cemetery have been the important thing motive for the dramatic flip of occasions.
All of it started when two military automobiles, a mini-truck and a gypsy, en path to Thanamandi, Rajouri, apparently for a search operation, have been attacked by militants. It was later learnt that closely armed militants, reportedly utilizing US-made M4 carbine assault rifles, surrounded the military automobiles at a blind curve at Dhatyar Morh between Dhera Ki Gali and Baffliaz and opened fireplace. The assault was sudden and, at a spot, the place the drivers normally decelerate to barter the blind curve.
4 troopers have been killed and three have been injured. Attackers used “metal core ammo”, took away the weapons post-attack, and likewise appeared to have been carrying headgear fitted with body-cam to shoot pictures and movies of the assault.
“5 personnel of the Rashtriya Rifles Unit deployed for Counter Terrorist operations on this space have sadly misplaced their lives within the incident,” the military’s northern command stated within the assertion on the assault at 3.45 pm on December 21, 2023, including an operation was in progress because the evening of December 20. One other soldier was critically wounded and brought to a navy hospital for remedy, the assertion added. The slain troopers have been recognized as Naiks, Birendder Singh, Karan Kumar, Riflemen Gautam Kumar and Chandan Kumar. Two of them belonged to Uttarakhand and one every to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The ambush got here inside a fortnight after House Minister Amit Shah introduced plans for a ‘terror-free’ Jammu and Kashmir by 2026.
The assault was reported from a spot known as Topa Pir, the identical spot the place the final assault befell on December 1, 2001, during which Rajouri District and Periods Choose V Ok Phool alongside along with his buddy and two cops misplaced their lives. Within the December 21, ambush a civilian truck was additionally caught within the firing at a spot the place there’s virtually no civilian inhabitants round, however none was reported to have been injured within the automobile.
As is regular in such assaults, the counter-security grid shortly will get into motion. A significant operation to apprehend the attackers was launched. The safety grid believed the assailants could be hiding within the dense forest space. Cordons have been positioned round close by areas, and plans for reinforcements have been made. Entry to the realm was regulated. “Operations are in progress to find the perpetrators,” the military stated.
Minutes after the assault, all surrounding villages within the belt have been completely searched. Many locals have been quickly taken in for questioning. Preliminary stories recommend the military has detained two civilians for questioning. There have been stories of drones being flown round and sniffer canine put to service within the belt.
The Collateral Harm
An evening after the occasion on December 22, when the realm was in tight cordon, federal investigator, NIA despatched a specialised team led by a Deputy Inspector Common to get fundamental particulars.
Later that day, the lifeless our bodies of three locals have been discovered close to the assault website. The incident quickly triggered protests. The political class throughout the nation shortly united in demanding answers. The incident was additionally adopted by an unverified video depicting locals being brutally thrashed by some males in uniform which fuelled the general public anger.
The preliminary stories stated the “three civilians have been discovered lifeless below mysterious circumstances”. It was adopted up by the Jammu and Kashmir administration saying that “authorized motion” was taken.
By late within the night on December 22, a quick video clip stormed the social media. It added to the tensions within the area and Kashmir too.
Prime civilian and cops rushed to the spot and have been actually within the garrison with prime officers of the area until late within the evening.
The locals who have been, as per households, picked up for questioning by the Military on the evening of the assault exist now as mere echoes of the battle.
Shabir Ahmed, 30, as soon as a porter for Rashtriya Rifles, ran a confectionery store in Topa Pir Mohalla. Married to Rakia Begum and awaiting their second baby, Shabir was discovered lifeless with bruises on his physique. Shabir’s mom died 5 months again.
Safeer Ahmed, 45, one other native contractor from the realm and a social activist, met his finish amid his MGNREGA tasks. Safeer leaves behind his spouse Zareena and 4 younger youngsters.
Mohammad Showkat, 22, a village shepherd, just lately wedded to Fatima Begum. Anticipating their first baby, Showkat shouldered the care of his dad and mom as his elder brothers toiled as porters in Kashmir.
Members of the family and neighbours of the deceased trio revealed that their relations featured within the video clip that had gone viral. “Mehmood Ahmed, the village’s sarpanch, recognized Shabir and Showkat from the viral video, during which troopers will be seen brutally beating the captive males,” a report in The Wire stated. “Mohammad Siddique, uncle of Mohammad Showkat, one of many three civilians allegedly killed in Military custody, said that it was his nephew seen within the video, pleading with a lathi-wielding soldier with folded fingers to let him go.”
From Jammu, The Indian Express reported the graphic particulars of the taking place. Family of the 5 civilians advised the newspaper in GMC Rajouri that the injured (5) have been introduced in a jonga and left on the roadside at Dehra Ki Gali by the safety forces within the evening. “They have been about to take the jonga again to Buffliaz’s facet, however we stopped them. They have been in a really dangerous situation, unable to name for assist, and even make a name to their relations from the cell phone mendacity close to them,” one relative was quoted as having stated. “One of many injured, Farooq, was taken house by his relations on a cot, and the opposite 4 have been dropped at Thanamandi CHC and from there to GMC, Rajouri, the villagers stated.”
The households agreed to take the mortal stays of the slain trio solely on December 23, night after plenty of assurances by the federal government.
The state of affairs was tense and will spill over. The video clip, which Mehbooba Mufti claims was “intentionally leaked and disseminated with the diabolical intention of conveying a chilling message”, did an enormous injury forcing the federal government to behave and act quick. Rapidly the political class strongly reacted so did the residents within the area as properly. Some political events in Kashmir claimed they have been restricted from visiting the realm.
“Terrorists attacked Surankote and our troopers misplaced their lives. Our police personnel detained some locals. Are we combating terrorists or our individuals? If we’re combating with our individuals then we are able to by no means win this,” Dr Abdullah stated on December 23. “I wish to request House Minister Amit Shah that he ought to come to Surankote to deal with individuals’s sentiments. It is crucial that he tells people who they might examine the problem and put it in entrance of individuals. It’s a severe state of affairs and violation of human rights.”
A day later, the Military initiated an inquiry into the killings and three high-ranking officers, together with Brigadier Padam Acharya stationed in Rajouri have been shifted. The opposite two officers, holding the ranks of Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel, additionally underwent relocation.
Pertinent to say, the primary info report (FIR) within the case of civilian deaths has invoked Part 302 of the Indian Penal Code, addressing homicide.
As per a report in The Hindu, the FIR was filed on the Surankote police station in opposition to people categorised as ‘unknown’ accused. The report asserts it as a cognizable offence below Part 302 of the IPC.
“As the moment case is of particular nature, the third of its type from the stated village and third of its type throughout the present 12 months, whereas the forty first case of particular nature of the present 12 months, Particular report-A will likely be submitted individually, and investigation was taken up,” it famous.
Interplay with troops in Rajouri. https://t.co/26ogZUsizE
— Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) December 27, 2023
The administration took to erstwhile Twitter, now X to convey its selections. “The loss of life of three civilians was reported yesterday within the Bufliaz space of the Poonch district. The medico-legal formalities have been performed and authorized motion on this matter has been initiated by the suitable authority,” it stated. “Authorities has introduced compensation for every of the deceased. Additional Authorities has additionally introduced compassionate appointments to the subsequent of kin of every deceased.” Officers stated the households would get a compensation of Rs 10 lakh every. The short official response was seen as a vindication of the claims made by the households that the three civilians have been killed within the custody of the armed forces.
An Official Speaks
“The lack of civilian lives is deeply regrettable. The military has promptly initiated an inquiry into the killings, and the shifting of high-ranking officers displays our dedication to accountability. We acknowledge the severity of the state of affairs and are decided to rectify any lapses in our procedures,” a extremely positioned official advised Kashmir Life.
On the complicated challenges within the Poonch-Rajouri sector, he stated, “Our focus stays on adapting our methods to counter the enduring presence of battle-hardened militant cadres. Regardless of going through increased casualties in latest clashes, the Indian Military is resolute in its mission. We worth the assist of the area people and are open to collaborative efforts, together with leveraging native knowledge to reinforce our intelligence capabilities.”
Defence Minister’s Go to
5 days into the assault, Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh additionally reached the Rajouri to evaluate the on-ground state of affairs. Chatting with troops in Rajouri, he harassed the significance of profitable hearts whereas tackling militants and vowed justice in latest alleged cases of civilian mistreatment by safety forces.
Labelling latest occasions as unlucky, Singh directed all ranks to conduct operations primarily based on credible intelligence and established procedures supported by area of interest know-how. “Zero tolerance for SOP violations,” he stated.
Throughout his Rajouri go to, Singh, accompanied by Chief of Military Workers Common Manoj Pande and Common Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi, delved into the heightened safety state of affairs put up a surge in militancy. Detailed briefings on safety, counter-infiltration grid, and operational preparedness have been introduced. Singh mentioned operational challenges with floor commanders, urging skilled conduct and diligence.
Singh had an interplay with the households of the slain trio during which he assured justice. He later drove to the GMC the place he enquired in regards to the welfare of civilians injured within the custody of the armed forces.
A Cry for Justice
The households of one of many three people reportedly killed within the military’s custody, a day after the ambush on military automobiles in Poonch final week, declare to have obtained Rs 10 lakh compensation from the military, a person near Showkat Ali stated.
A relative of the late Showkat stated, “Officers promised cash and jobs throughout their go to on Tuesday. However, we marvel, is that sufficient? Shouldn’t those that killed my harmless cousin face the loss of life penalty?”
Like Showkat, many others who knew the killed three are in anger and ache on the similar time and demand solutions.
Advocate Guftar Choudhary, Spokesperson for Gujjar Bakarwal Youth Welfare Convention Jammu and Kashmir supplied insights into the present state of affairs, stating, “Every little thing is closed, together with the web. Moreover, outsiders usually are not allowed, particularly those that specific their opinions. Family go to for respect, however there’s an environment of concern in all places.”
As per Guftar, comparable circumstances prevail in different villages. Worry permeates the whole thing of Rajouri-Poonch for over two years, making a vastly completely different state of affairs.
The New Battle Feild
The Baffliaz assault provides to the tally of eight main militant incidents that unfolded within the Poonch-Rajouri belt inside a span of 26 months, from October 11, 2021, to December 21, 2023. In these eight assaults, 35 troopers died. Notably, 19 of those casualties occurred this 12 months – on April 20 at Bhatta Durian Poonch; Might 5, at Kandi Rajouri; November 22 at Bajimaal Dharamshala, Kalakote Rajouri, and December 21 close to Dera Ki Gali (DKG), Poonch.
The newest ambush underscores the enduring presence and adaptableness of battle-hardened militant cadres on this geopolitically delicate area, officers stated. Regardless of being numerically fewer, these militants have entrenched themselves alongside the border and exhibit familiarity with the native terrain.
Regardless of rigorous surveillance, militants have been traversing by way of the Mughal Street and hilly forest terrain surrounding Pir Ki Gali. Sure militant teams have traditionally used these routes to enter Kashmir from Pakistan, bringing arms and ammunition.
The dense vegetation atop hills creates a perfect setting for militants to hide themselves and transfer discreetly for prolonged intervals. Regardless of logistical benefits, safety forces and the Jammu and Kashmir Police have neutralised numerous Pakistani and Kashmiri militant teams over the tumultuous 34-year interval.
The Pakistani militants have maintained a presence, albeit seemingly small but typically misleading, within the native ethnic pockets of the Poonch-Rajouri inhabitants. The latest killing of Mohammad Riyaz, aka Abu Qasim, in Rawlakot, throughout the Poonch LoC, on September 10, 2023, displays the complicated dynamics. Only some days later a militant group at Kokernag in Kashmir’s Anantnag district killed 4 troopers together with a DySP of the JK Police.
Inside days after the Topi Pir ambush, Jammu and Kashmir Police former Chief, SP Vaid, hit up social media to level fingers at ‘poor intelligence’ for the fixed militant hits in Rajouri-Poonch. He pitched a inventive repair: convey within the locals. Vaid reckons their yard knowledge might assist kick out the troublemakers, making the area a tad much less militant and a bit extra peaceable.
The Poonch Jageer
Underneath intense strain in Kashmir, militancy seemingly has chosen to outlive and revive within the Rajouri in Poonch. The world has difficult topography and virtually homogenous demography straddling the Line of Management. Your complete area together with the dual districts on the opposite facet of the divide have been the identical agro-economic and socio-political tradition until the partition. Either side know one another higher.
So many individuals inside the safety grid assume the realm might have tunnels and an operation continues to be on to scan the difficult belt’s dense forests. A lot of the assaults that befell in recent times usually are not far-off from the LoC. These incidents are happening at a time when society is in a state of flux. The area was aligned with South Kashmir as a Lok Sabha constituency despite the fact that the area lacks highway entry to Anantnag. In the previous few years, the realm has witnessed an intense narrative battle for reservations.
The Defence Minister’s go to to the realm signifies that the political management in Delhi is conscious of the significance of the area and is eager that the tensions are managed shortly. “All of us – I, LG Sahib and Prime Minister Ji – are pained,” Singh told the kins of the slain trio. “Please place confidence in us. No person can convey again the lives of those that have died. However there will likely be justice.”