‘Pak-based handlers have told their proxies in Kashmir to ensure civilian deaths when security forces undertake operations’.

 

New Delhi: The 14 November Hyderpora encounter in Srinagar, in which four people, including one alleged foreign terrorist, were killed by a joint team of Rashtriya Rifles (RR) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), has come as a blip in what has been years of successful “non-controversial” counter-terror operations in recent years by security forces with a focus on achieving zero collateral losses.

The relatives of the three locals, who were killed in the “gun-fight” in Hyderpora, around 6 km from the iconic Lal Chowk, have claimed that none of them had any links to any terror groups, a claim that has been denied by the security forces who have alleged that they have credible proof, including electronic, conversation and CCTV footage,  to prove that the people who died in the shootout were assisting the Pakistani terrorist and that they were not killed in “cold-blood” as was being claimed.

The four people who died in the encounter have been identified as alleged Pakistani terrorist Bilal Bhai alias Haidar, and three locals of Srinagar, Amir Magray, Altaf Ahmad Bhat and Mudassir Gul. While Altaf Ahmed was the owner of the building where the encounter took place, Mudasir Gul was staying there as a tenant and Amir Magray was working as a helper with Ahmad.

Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, later on 16 November announced the setting up of a time-bound magisterial inquiry by officers of ADM rank to probe the allegations. The bodies of all the four were buried in a graveyard in Handwara, in north Kashmir. However, after public outcry and protests by the families of Mudasir Gul and Altaf Bhat, the authorities handed over their bodies to them.

Security sources said that numbers and information available in the public domain prove that there has been a drastic reduction in collateral damages in the valley and that is one of the primary reasons behind the Kashmiri diaspora and social media accounts being operated from outside the border trying to use the Hyderpora encounter as a fodder to put in a false narrative and incite the local Kashmiri youths.

“The Hyderpora incident is being put out in the public domain to fuel a narrative that security forces don’t care about the life of an ordinary Kashmiri, something which is totally false. There have been instances where we have allowed terrorists to escape so as to prevent collateral damage, including loss of civilian life. Such instances, you will observe, don’t get any attention. We are executing our counter-terror operations while ensuring that the loss of life and property is minimal. Any loss of life is regrettable for the security agencies and our heart goes out to the families who suffer in such operations,” an official with a security agency said.

As per the observations, Hyderpora is being used by people and groups to occupy the space of protests against counter-terror operations, that was lost in the recent times due to policies, which came in effect since 2018 end, that called for enforcing minimum collateral damages. Numbers shared by people in the security establishments with The Sunday Guardian clearly show the policy is showing results on the ground.

In 2018, 24 civilians were killed and 49 injured in various Counter Terror (CT) Operations. Over the past three years, security forces have undertaken a series of measures to ensure minimum collateral damages and harm to civilians. In 2021, only two civilians were killed and two received minor injuries.

“Relentless efforts are made to achieve zero loss of innocent lives. As per intelligence inputs, Pak-based terror handlers have instructed their proxies operating in Kashmir, to ensure at least 10 civilian deaths whenever security forces undertake counter terror operations,” the official who shared these details told The Sunday Guardian.

Watchers of the region said that the fact that the state was showing signs of returning to normalcy was also pushing enemy entities to “do something”. Compared to 318 terror-related incidents in 2018, only 121 incidents were reported in 2021. Similarly, while 202 stone pelting incidents were reported in 2019, only 39 have been reported in 2021.

More importantly, as per numbers shared by government agencies, there has been a substantial increase in civilian protests, which is a sign of the locals trusting the civic administration. Forty such protests took place in 2018, the number of such protests as of today in 2021 was 86.

“We are taking specific measures to reduce collateral damage. The focus is now on intelligence-based surgical operations involving smaller teams so that the operations don’t draw unwanted public attention and end swiftly. In fact, many of the recent CT operations have been based on intelligence provided by the locals which shows that people are now rejecting the false propaganda that had been unleashed by Pakistan for years now. Similarly, now parents, unlike previously, are not glorifying the deaths of their sons in such operations, but are claiming their innocence and approaching government offices and other institutions for ‘justice’. These are changes that were not visible earlier,” the official said.

Government, sources believe that they were on the verge of permanently ending the cycle of violence in the valley. “We are doing whatever we can to stop the inflow and elimination of foreign terrorists who enter India with one agenda. But we need the support of the local population so that they can help us in ensuring their youth are protected from the clutches and ill designs of what is called white collar terrorists, who make terrorists out of decent youth,” he added.