The dramatic 16-hour encounter in Tral on Saturday night, where two militants were killed by the Indian Army, came as the culmination of an increased focus on operations in South Kashmir, said senior army officials. They said the army had launched several operations against militants over the last couple of days in several areas of South Kashmir, which has emerged as a major hub of protests in the last three-four years.
The officials said the fact that large, stone-pelting crowds had converged in these areas, followed by militants firing at the armed forces. This made it very difficult for the army to defend itself without causing casualties among the crowds.
On Saturday afternoon as well, large crowds had gathered at the picturesque Shikargarh hills east of Tral, when the army tried to cordon off a house where the militants were believed to have been holed up. From around 4 pm onwards, the crowds began gathering here.
The congregation was blocked by effective deployment of police and paramilitary troops in the area. They fired in the air, forcing the people back. Curfew was then announced, and the CRPF set up roadblocks, while the army began to engage the militants.
If the crowds had succeeded in gathering, it could have posed a major problem for the army, since the militants kept firing for about 12 hours — right through the night — after they were surrounded and cornered.
Saturday's encounter came following a week where the army had suffered two terrible reverses. In one of them, eight soldiers, including two officers, were gunned down at close range by militants who slipped out of an adjacent lane just as the open jeep carrying the army men was about to pass.
In fact, the militants were so well positioned that they could have caused higher casualties. But apparently, they were convinced that they had killed six soldiers and so decided there was no point in risking casualties from among their number.
On another couple of occasions in the recent past, the army was forced to pull back from encounters or from cordons in the face of fierce stone-pelting by local people from neighbouring areas.
This has been a tough call on each occasion, as the army has to consider the consquences of mowing down unarmed civilians.
This could potentially have a three-fold effect. One, it would cause an international uproar and pose a huge diplomatic challenge. Two, it would anger more Kashmiris and spur more youth to take up arms. Three, it could lead to another ferocious uprising, like the one witnessed last year after Hizbul militant commander Burhan Wani was killed in July.
The police and CRPF did injure 21 and kill one person, when they fired at a crowd from neighbouring villages during an encounter in Parisal near Kulgam.
Updated Date: Mar 06, 2017 12:28 PM