Kashmir unrest: Security forces bring back cordon-and-search operations after 15 years

Ghulam Mohammad Mir, a resident of Heff area in South Kashmir's Shopian district, was woken up by the sound of jackboots on Wednesday morning, when soldiers cordoned off the entire area and positioned themselves in every nook and cranny of his village.

Mir, 56, an orchard owner, woke his three children sleeping in the next room and ordered them to wear proper clothing, as the forces might soon order them to get out of their house.

"But, until morning, nothing happened," Mir said, "Then they searched every house... it was as if we had gone back to the early nineties, when crackdowns and door-to-door searches were common."

 Kashmir unrest: Security forces bring back cordon-and-search operations after 15 years

Representational image. AFP

"As the search operations continued, the villagers gathered on the edge of the cordoned-off areas and started protesting... clashes erupted (soon after). Now, this did not look like the nineties... when people were ordered to come out of their houses and told to gather at a particular spot, where they would be paraded in front of an informer," he said.

The clashes that ensued between civilian protesters and the security forces left close to two dozen civilians injured at multiple locations across Heff and Shirmal – a cluster of villages in the Shopian district.

Shopian is one of the four volatile districts of South Kashmir, where militants enjoy considerable support among the masses.

The security forces in the Valley are increasing the frequency of cordon-and-search operations (CASO), a clear throwback to the nineties. And, if official sources are to be believed, they are likely to launch a major combing operation in coming days to flush out militants from three of the most volatile districts of South Kashmir – Pulwama, Kulgam and Shopian.

The increased frequency of CASOs in South Kashmir – as they are commonly referred to in counterinsurgency grids in the Valley – comes after militancy witnessed an uptick recently.

Former IGP Javeed Gillani said that at least 90 of the local youth, who have joined the militancy wave since June last year, belong to South Kashmir. Out of a total of around 200 militants active in Kashmir, 110 are local youth.

On multiple occasions in recent weeks, gun-wielding militants have been seen roaming freely in groups on the streets in at least three districts of South Kashmir. These districts are the ones where the state had struggled to impose its writ during the five months of unrest last summer, following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

The unrest that followed Wani's killing left close to a hundred people dead and thousands injured, and Jammu & Kashmir saw one of the biggest crackdowns on protesters in the last 27 years of insurgency.

On Wednesday, when the forces conducted door-to-door search operation at Heff and Shirmal villages – where Ummer Fayaz Parry, an Indian Army officer was abducted and killed by militants recently – massive clashes erupted soon after, forcing the operation to be called off.

"When they found a militant's house, they ransacked it and started beating the family members," Imtiaz Ahmad Haji, a resident of Shirmal told Firstpost. The police, however, denied the claim and said that no such action (beating) took place. It said that the operation was a joint exercise between the Kashmir police and the army.

It is not clear if the army had any prior input about the presence of the militants in the area but it is clear that CASOs, a major feature of the counter-militancy operations, are back in the Valley after more than 15 years.

The practice was abandoned in 2002 following widespread public resentment over an incident in which people were gathered in a ground and paraded in front of "informers", to pick out militants or their sympathisers. The improving militancy graph and security situation in the Valley during the late nineties also contributed to the reduction in the number of CASOs.

Jammu & Kashmir director general of police, SP Vaid, said that the security forces are carrying out these operations mainly to flush out militants from places identified by intelligence reports. "Till the time we don't get them all, we won't stop these search and cordon operations," Vaid said.

Last week, nearly 4,000 police and army personnel took part in CASOs across two dozen villages in Shopian. Unmanned drones and army helicopters were also a part of the operations, as thousands of policemen combed through villages and orchards.

Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, currently holding additional charge of the ministry of defence, met with the army chief to review the security situation in the Valley. He is currently in Srinagar to attend a GST Council meet.

Jaitley and the army chief would sit in for a review meeting later to get a feel of the situation on the ground. They will also meet field commanders to better analyse the state of affairs in the Valley.

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Updated Date: May 18, 2017 09:09:30 IST