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The new Kashmiri militant has a new target: Policemen on leave, at home

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Three police personnel were killed this Eid, one of them while out to offer prayers.

Srinagar: Inspector Mohd Ashraf Dar was at home in Larve, Pulwama, when militants barged in and shot him Wednesday, on Eid. Earlier that morning, constable Fayaz Ahmed Shah was shot dead while on his way for Eid prayers. The bullets found special police officer Mohammad Yaqoob Shah outside his home at Louswani, Pulwama.

The three policemen were not on duty. They were on leave, at home. The pattern was clear.

Police in Jammu & Kashmir say the current phase of militancy in the Valley is marked by a clear shift in how security personnel are targeted.

“Earlier, policemen were killed on duty, but now the militants mainly target them when they are off-duty, during their leave, at home,” former Shopian senior superintendent of police Shailendra Mishra told ThePrint.

“The new modus operandi is abduction, torture and execution,” he added.

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South Kashmir, the hotbed of homegrown militancy in the Valley, has been on the boil since July 2016 when Burhan Wani, the social media-savvy Hizbul Mujahideen commander, was killed in an encounter.

There is deep resentment among locals, it is said, about the wave of crackdowns that followed, and dozens of local youth have gone on to join the militancy, many believed to be inspired by Wani.

Policemen as well as local Army personnel have borne the brunt of the backlash, with several abductions and killings reported of late.

The policemen who have become easy targets are mainly those who live in the interiors of Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian.

On 6 July, Javed Ahmed Dar, a personal security officer posted with Mishra, was abducted from Shopian while home on leave.

“He told me… that he wanted to visit his parents who were going for Umrah, holy pilgrimage to Mecca and give clothes to them,” Mishra said.

Dar’s body was found by locals in a stream at Kulgam the next day.

‘Can’t keep a Kashmiri from his family’

In 2017, 33 policemen were killed, including in encounters, with 30 casualties so far this year. The attacks on policemen have intensified since Lashkar-e-Taiba militant Naveed Jatt escaped from police custody this February, after killing his two escorts in Srinagar.

Amid the attacks, police issued an advisory last year telling personnel not to visit their homes “for the next few months”. The instruction was mainly for those based in South Kashmir, with at least a dozen attacks on families of policemen reported from Kulgam and Shopian alone.

However, the advisory has not helped much, say police. “No matter the number of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and advisories, you cannot keep a Kashmiri away from his home,” said Mishra.

On 26 July, SPO Mudasir Lone was abducted from his home in Tral, a rare exception who survived.

After his family issued a video appeal asking for his release, the Hizbul Mujahideen released a video of Lone saying under coercion that his job was “of humiliation”.

Then the person holding the camera speaks out: “Listen, we abducted you only and only to kill you and it is going to be the fate of all other SPOs if they don’t resign from duty.

“We are forgiving you only because you have three sisters and parents who are dependent on you. Don’t feel that we are leaving you because of any pressure like the threat given by the DSP and the SHO to our families. They threatened to harm our families if you are not freed. It does not affect us.

“If our families are martyred for Islam, we would consider it as our goodness. You will see yourself what we will do with those SPOs who don’t resign till Friday.”

Then, last month, posters purportedly issued by the Hizbul Mujahideen, emerged in Tral, Pulwama, warning special police officers (SPO), the non-regular, volunteer force in Kashmir, to resign within 15 days.

While Lone was freed, another constable, Mohammad Saleem Shah, was killed after being abducted on 20 July. Saleem had earlier worked as an SPO and was recently promoted as constable. A video of his last minutes, writhing in pain and accepting his involvement in the killing of a top militant commander in 2015, was released on 21 July. The 28-year-old Saleem was on 10 days’ leave for his sister’s wedding.

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“The militants are clearly choosing their targets. They want to do tit-for-tat. They know SPOs are helping security forces track them through informers, and identify those involved in the killing of any militant,” said a source.

“It appears from the pattern that they (militants) are fishing for those linked to the operations against militants,” the source added.

The trend has reportedly gained favour among all militant organisations operating in the Valley.

“It’s not just one tanzeem (organisations). There are many militant organisations carrying out such acts,” said SSP Mishra.

“You cannot protect a person who has to protect others. It is a realisation that should be present in us that when we are visiting a certain area… We are exposing ourselves to a certain risk,” he added.

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