Altaf Kachroo’s Death: A Setback for Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir
With Altaf out of picture, the question of depleting ground leadership will return to haunt the Hizbul.
The Hizbul Mujahideen has suffered a major setback in the killing of Altaf Dar alias Altaf Kachroo, the Pakistan-based proscribed outfit’s deputy field operations commander, who was gunned down in an encounter on Wednesday, 29 August, in Muniward area of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district.
Residents of Muniward said the area plunged into eerie silence on Tuesday night when security forces laid siege to the neighbourhood where Altaf, a resident of Hawoora Mishipora in Kulgam district who dropped out of college to join militancy, was trapped along with his associate, Umar Wani, another Hizb militant who became active last year.
“We were awake through the night. Not a single shot was heard till the dawn of Wednesday when intermittent firing started. It was difficult to know what was happening. Then we heard sloganeering followed by loud bangs and explosions,” a resident, who complained of teargas irritation, said, requesting anonymity.
In a meticulously planned operation by the J&K Police, an undeclared curfew was enforced through area domination and barricades were set up along the roads and pathways leading to Muniward in order to prevent local youth from pelting stones and helping the militant duo escape by breaking the cordon. The operation ended without any civilian casualties.
A Long-Drawn Career
An A++ category militant with a reward of Rs 12.5 lakh on his head, Altaf Kachroo, the senior-most commander of Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir, was ‘recycled’ into militancy in 2011 after multiple trysts with security agencies.
In an interview with The Quint earlier this year, his mother blamed the security agencies for pushing him towards the path of violence.
“Like all boys around him, he wanted to lead a normal life. But security forces harassed him on one pretext or the other. He was jailed on a number of occasions under concocted charges. He once told me that instead of dying from humiliation everyday, it is better to die once with dignity and honour intact. He could not bear repeated harassment, because of which he joined militancy,” Saleema, Altaf’s mother, said.
According to family sources, Altaf, 36, was first held in a militancy related case in 2006. A senior police officer said he was working as ‘overground worker’ for the Hizb, which landed him in jail on many occasions.
When Altaf was just six, his father, also a Hizb militant, died at the Line of Control upon his return home after receiving arms training in Pakistan when the armed insurgency broke out in Kashmir in early nineties.
A police officer said one of the major reasons for his unusual longevity as compared to the usually short-lived life of a militant in Kashmir is that he used to stay in one place for longer durations, ‘sometimes weeks’, to avoid detection. “He would not come out of his hideout and intelligence on him dried out very soon, which is why he survived for such a long time,” the officer said.
When security forces laid siege to Frisal village of Kulgam district in February last year, they knew they had their man. Altaf was trapped with four associates in a house and the initial exchange of fire had led to the killing of two Army soldiers, infuriating the security forces fighting a two-fronted battle with militants on one hand, and protesters who thronged the encounter site to help the militants escape on the other.
When the dust settled after 18 long hours of gunfight, four militants were killed but Altaf had managed to escape yet again, causing major embarrassment to the security forces.
Sources said his evasive tactics earned him the respect and a sobriquet of ‘cordon breaker’ among the militants.
“Sometimes he escaped cordon by wearing a burqa or female dresses and pretending to be a woman. During a number of search operations, particularly in Kulgam, he would shave off his head and beard and give the forces the slip by dressing like a civilian,” the police officer said.
In a statement, J&K Police blamed Altaf, the “most important terrorist commander”, for carrying out a string of attacks on “security forces and killings of civilians and policemen in the area.
“He had a long criminal record, since 2007. He was involved in series of terror-related crimes in the area. Several cases were registered against him in different police stations across valley for his terror activities,” the statement added.
We had lost count of the number of times he (Altaf) managed to escape from the cordon of our forces. It is a huge success for security forces in the fight against militancy in KashmirAltaf Khan, senior superintendent of Anantnag police, who led the operation in Muniward
The Leadership Void in Hizb
At the peak of the 2016 unrest, sources said, Altaf actively worked under the command of the Hizb’s former field operations chief, Yasin Itoo, to motivate youth to join militancy. Itoo, alias Ghaznavi, was killed on 14 August last year. With Altaf out of picture too, the question of depleting ground leadership will return to haunt the Hizb, yet again.
Such was the popularity and importance of Altaf that a group of nearly two dozen militants belong to Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Toiba and his parent group surfaced during his funeral on Tuesday evening, an unprecedented scene, and offered him gun salutes, a throwback to the early nineties when such tributes by militants to their fallen comrades were a common occurrence.
Hours after Altaf was gunned down, in a bloody strike, a group of militants belonging to different outfits, according to sources, targeted a J&K Police vehicle, killing four cops who were escorting a top DySP ranked officer in Shopian district. Police neither confirmed nor denied that Altaf’s killing was linked with the attack on policemen.
“He (Altaf) was the most influential militant not only among Hizbul Mujahideen but also other militant outfits, partly because he was senior than even Riyaz Naikoo (incumbent field operations commander of the Hizb). His end has certainly dealt a big blow to the ongoing revival efforts and created a leadership void in Hizb,” the police officer quoted above said.
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