Pulwama attack: After recent success for government on ground and in curbing funds, latest strike a setback

Saturday’s 20-hour attack at the Pulwama police lines, in which eight police and paramilitary men were killed, has unsettled the impression that the forces had gained control over south Kashmir. As a militant operation, it was much more severe than the attack against Amarnath yatris in July.

It showed that militants remain poised to attack strategically vital targets, have excellent intelligence, and possibly some well-placed operatives — not to speak of boldness and stealth.

The attack could also put a question mark over just how successful the ongoing investigations into the funding of unrest and militancy have been. Over the past three months, the National Investigation Agency’s probe into funding has been viewed as a parallel success story, giving the Centre much confidence about controlling the situation on the ground. If any investigators were present at the Pulwama police lines last week, it would make the attack that much more disturbing.

Some NIA investigators are said to have questioned some of the young men and boys who were caught pelting stones last year. Their questions presumably focus on whether they were paid and, if so, by whom. Answers to those questions could add to charges against the 'leaders' under investigation.

The highlight of the probe was the arrest of seven prominent figures, including the son-in-law of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, on 25 July. Others have been arrested since, and lists of the properties of prominent Kashmiri figures have been doing the rounds.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Local resentment

The attackers are said to have entered the heavily fenced police lines from near the adjacent CRPF camp. In fact, the CRPF took the lead role to combat them. Four CRPF men and four policemen were killed, as were the three attackers. The two camps are right on the main highway from Srinagar to Shopian, next to the offices of the Pulwama district administrators.

As the funerals of the killed policemen were performed, some neighbours held angrily that not enough was done to save the lives of two policemen who were apparently trapped on the fourth floor of the building from which the militants fired.

The encounter took place on the same day as the mayhem in Haryana. The unstated resentment was that tactics extending to a helicopter were not put into operation for those policemen.

Most disturbed area

Pulwama has been the most disturbed district since Burhan Wani was killed on 8 July last year. It was where the college agitations began, spreading across Kashmir in mid-April this year. And militants killed the district president of the PDP in late April.

The NIA will likely be interested to discover money trails that might point to how the violence and unrest in Pulwama has been sustained.

Pulwama is one of the main centres of the Jamaat-e-Islami, of which Zakir Musa’s family has been an adherent. The Jamaat has been a bulwark of Pakistan’s efforts to promote and sustain militancy in Kashmir since 1990. Pakistan’s former military dictator Zia-ul Haq too was an adherent.

Successes reversed

The police and the army have notched up a string of successes against militants, killing a number of top commanders over the past three months. The DIG south Kashmir, SP Pani, and the GOC there, Major-General BS Raju, have earned much credit.

Raju had stated that the army wanted to unsettle the militants in the areas where they felt safe. That has been achieved to some extent, but Saturday’s attack was sobering.

It was in the heart of south Kashmir, which has already been the focus of militancy for the past few years. Caution is required. The situation could become even more dangerous in north Kashmir, where a large number of foreign militants have been ensconsed in places like Hajin and Sonawari.

Updated Date: Aug 28, 2017 09:47 AM

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