Srinagar hospital attack: LeT terrorist escape shows police, policymakers, and politicos have learned little from past militancy

The apparent ease with which militants were able to free a Pakistani terrorist from custody at Srinagar’s main hospital is a sobering wake up call. It shows that the police — and perhaps other forces too — have not learnt lessons from the early stages of the previous militancy.

 Srinagar hospital attack: LeT terrorist escape shows police, policymakers, and politicos have learned little from past militancy

Representational image. Reuters

Almost exactly 28 years ago, a prominent militant of that time, Yasin Malik, disappeared from the hospital: Although without a dramatic rescue operation.

On 30 March that year, Malik was designated chief commander of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front. Also, during that phase, the militant who became chief commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen disappeared from Srinagar's Central Jail. And almost 50 years ago, Maqbool Butt, who was condemned to hang in 1968, also disappeared from the same jail.

Urgent challenge

All those events took place before the system strengthened its procedures, checks, intelligence, and learning curves. There can be little excuse for not having learnt lessons after a massive counter-insurgency apparatus has been established, extended, and expanded over 28 years. All the tens of thousands of crores spent to train the Jammu and Kashmir Police and upgrade their equipment comes to naught if history can be so easily repeated.

Which can also mean that the forces’ brass, policymakers, and their political bosses, do not yet realise how close we are to a repeat of 1989-90. It is time they got their heads out of the sand and realised that the new militancy which has emerged over the past eight or nine years is now as sharply lethal as any in the past. They need not wait for statistics to catch up, but the tragic fact remains that it is not only the casualty statistics, but the intelligence, the boldness, and effectiveness of militant attacks which are are deadly and sophisticated as the 'the suicide attack phase’ which lasted from December 1999 to December 2001.

Procedures must urgently be revised. To take a Pakistani militant of that sort to the hospital for a 'routine check-up' was fraught with danger. Alternative procedures could be put in place, and security at such potential targets must be strengthened. Policymakers must realise that planners and coordinators of the new militancy are shrewd. They would like forces to open fire in places such as Srinagar’s main hospital to generate negative publicity.

Repeating past mistakes

It might be useful for policymakers to remember what happened when Yasin Malik disappeared from the hospital. Ironically, he was taken there by a Border Security Force (BSF) party which found him lying on the road, severely injured. He apparently leaped from an upper storey window of a house while the BSF men were searching a lower floor.

The BSF men were looking for Hilal Beg, the chief of a rival militant outfit, the Students’ Liberation Front, which had abducted, among others, the vice-chancellor of Kashmir University. But, presuming that he was the object of their search, Malik jumped out. Some electric wires apparently broke his fall, but also affected his health.

By the time Ashok Patel, who was the BSF Inspector-General, realised from a debriefing who his men had left at the hospital, Malik had disappeared. His comrades nursed him back to health at Braen, a village across the Dal Lake, for several weeks. Malik was eventually captured by the BSF on 6 August, 1990, — along with a half dozen senior comrades — months after he did the vanishing act at the hospital.

Over the next few years, the militancy saw a dip. The baton was gradually handed off to Pakistani militants between December 1992 and 1995. For several years thereafter, Kashmiri boys played, at best, a supportive role. The new militancy, which began with a trickle of Kashmiri boys going underground from late 2009, gathered steam over the past three years. Pakistani and Kashmiri boys seem to be working in tandem far more smoothly. Command and control also seems to have been refined.

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Updated Date: Feb 07, 2018 20:52:23 IST