Is the wave of public sympathy to salvage besieged militants, leading to counter-insurgency operations being carried out hurriedly, something which is proving costly for government forces? This question strikes your mind after looking at the recent causalities suffered by the forces during gunfights in the dead of the dark.
Within three days, at least six Army men including a Major have been killed and over a dozen security personnel have been wounded in separate encounters in Kashmir. On February 12, two Army jawans were killed during gunfight, which left four militants and a civilian dead in Kulgam district. In a similar encounter in Hajin area of north Kashmir’s Bandipora, three Army jawans lost lives while killing a militant on February 14. On the same evening, a gunfight erupted in frontier Handwara where apart from three militants an Army Major leading the operation was killed. All the encounters erupted after sunset and were finished before sunrise.
This raises a question of whether government forces are acting hurriedly to kill militants during nocturnal hours because during daytime they confront another challenge of people marching towards the encounter sites to break the cordon.
In the past month, at least six deadly encounters took place in night hours in the Valley. Otherwise, as a standard operation procedure, night operations to fight militants are generally avoided. The encounter at EDI building Pampore in October 2016 stretched to over 50 hours only because forces would halt the strike during night. Initially, EDI counter had claimed lives of two young Para Commandoes, who stormed the building in night hours.
But then, over the months, the daytime encounters witnessed an unusual public trend, which was never seen before in the past over two decades of armed insurgency in Kashmir.
Earlier, when siege would be laid, people generally ran away from encounter sites, lest they are hit. But now youth march to the spot, where guns and grenades actually reverberate amid frightening cries. Government confronted the same challenge to quell protests in Pampore during the EDI encounter last year.
As of now, police admits that people rushing towards encounter sites is emerging as a major challenge for the forces. “Assembling or marching of local people towards encounter sites and throwing stones at forces puts us in a difficult position. At times it hampers anti-militancy operations. Shouting slogans and throwing stones at police poses a great risk to locals who put their lives on the line,” Director General of Police Dr SP Vaid told a newspaper.
In February 2016, police had issued a public advisory asking people not to venture near encounter sites after three civilians were killed during protests near an encounter site in Pulwama. The police says that Section 144 immediately comes into force at an encounter site and around it.
But the advisory seems to have failed to leave its impact in the restive region. Till until a year ago, people would only march on foot towards the encounter sites, now they even rush in convoy of vehicles ranging from bikes and cars to tractors.
Given the changing dynamics of public reaction, a change in strategy of counter-insurgency operations cannot be ruled out. But police is unwilling to buy the argument.
A top police official who has been at the forefront of counter-insurgency operations says there was no relativity between public protests and timing of encounters. “Some time back, two militants were killed during daytime encounter in Sopore, so there’s no hurry on our part. Cordon is mainly done by first light and we prefer operations in the wee hours,” the police official told InUth.