Srinagar: In a serious challenge to the security forces involved in counter insurgency operations a new trend is catching up among the people of Kashmir who come to the rescue of militants by attacking forces with stones.
Despite an advisory by the police, asking people to stay indoors at the time of an encounter between militants and security forces, people in south Kashmir have come out on to the streets and attacked forces which is seen as a diversionary tactic to help the besieged militants.
More than a dozen of army soldiers, including an officer, were injured when a mob of around one thousand people threw stones at them in Ashmuqam village in Anantnag district, 69 kilometers south of Srinagar, on Tuesday, when army and police had launched a joint operation, following a tip-off about the presence of militants in the village.
“The cordon was well established, few guys got into operation area and then started pelting stones at soldiers. They tried to break the cordon, and we had to fire in air when our troops got injured,” Col NN Joshi, defence ministry’s spokesperson in Srinagar, told Firstpost.
This forced army to come out publicly and declare that those who would violate the law would be dealt with “appropriate action.” Army says that people try to break the security cordon to help holed up militants to escape during encounters.
“This has happened from last three months, whenever there is cordon and search operation, people in villages try to come out and start stone pelting, although, we along with local police and CRPF, try to push them back. When a soldier is concentrated on encounter site and someone throws a stone from behind, how do you expect him to react?” Joshi adds.
On 9 March, after a heavy exchange of fire between militants and forces, police recovered bodies of two militants from an agriculture farm in Padgampora area in Pulwama district. Protests broke out minutes after the encounter and police had to use tear-smoke shells to disperse the protesters.
Police sources said that a group of militants who were holding a meeting in Wandakhpora fields in Pulwama attacked forces who in a bid to encircle the militants had arrived in the area in private vehicles. After a brief exchange of fire, the militants managed to escape in a nearby Agriculture Farm at Padgampora. People tried to proceed towards the encounter site, however, police halted their movement and used tear-smoke shells to disperse them.
It is nightmare for security forces who have been trying to minimize the collateral damage in valley recent years.
“If it is a threat to a soldier's life, we are left with no other option, but to fire,” Joshi says.
In February, an engineering student and young women were killed during protests after a Lashkar-e-Toiba militant was killed in a gunfight in Kakapora village of Pulwama, the protests paved the way for the escape of the slain militant’s two other associates.
Police had to issue an advisory asking people to stay indoors and imposed Section 144 of CrPC around the areas, where encounters take place.
“In case any encounter starts anywhere, the people particularly the parents of young adults of nearby areas are requested not to allow their wards to move towards the encounter site. In case they are outside home they be recalled to home,” the police advisory reads.
The advisory was issued following the frequent incidents of violence during encounters as people attack security forces in a bid to give safe passage to trapped militants.
“The residents of nearby area within the radius of two kilometers should stay inside their homes and need not venture out as any stray bullet can hit and cause damage,” the advisory reads. “The residents are also requested not to come out of their houses or peep out of the window panes,” it adds.
Director General of Police (DGP), K Rajendra Kumar told Firstpost that since these encounter with militants happen in congested localities there is a possibility of people coming together and trying to disturb the operation.
“We are advising civilians to keep away, it may harm them. It is dangerous for them to go to the encounter sites. A stray bullet can hit any one and kill a civilian. We don’t want that to happen,” the Jammu and Kashpir Police chief said.
“Let us hope in future the advisory works,” Kumar said.