With Abduction of Kin on Both Sides, Kashmir Fight Turns Personal

The abduction spree has made the three-decade-old conflict in Kashmir extremely intimate and personal.

4 min read
The abduction spree has made the three-decade old conflict in Kashmir extremely intimate and personal.

In an eerie repeat of what security forces have been doing to their families, militants abducted at least 11 people from different parts of south Kashmir on the night of 30 August, Thursday. All eleven have sons, brothers or fathers working in police.

The abduction spree has sparked tensions across Kashmir and especially among the families of those locals who work with the Indian Army, the CRPF or Jammu and Kashmir Police.

However, many observers feel that it is unlikely that the kidnapped persons will be put in harm’s way.

“It (abduction spree) is a message that they (militants) too can strike at will and harass the families of security forces. But it is very unlikely that the abducted persons will be harmed since such a scenario will dent the image of militants in the eyes of people,” a journalist based in south Kashmir said.

The abduction spree has made the three-decade old conflict in Kashmir extremely intimate and personal.

“Families shouldn’t become casualties,” wrote Mehbooba Mufti on Twitter.

A Vicious Cycle of Violence

The abduction of Asif Rather – a student of agriculture university in Srinagar and son of a police officer on Tuesday, 28 August, from Tral in south Kashmir – set off a vicious cycle of violence. As darkness enveloped the Valley on Wednesday night, police and army appeared in at least dozen villages of the restive south Kashmir.

At the house of Shahjahan, a Hizb militant, in Amshipora village of Shopian, occupants were asked to come out for searches.

When everyone was out, they (forces) sprinkled some powdery material on the walls and set the house on fire. Somehow we managed to control the flames with the help of neighbours.
Abid Nabi, cousin of Shahjahan

In the adjoining Nazneenpora village, the house of another Hizb militant Syed Naveed was also set ablaze. Sweeping raids were carried out across south Kashmir, leading to the ‘arbitrary detention’ of nearly two dozen persons, including Asadullah Naikoo, father of Hizb’s Kashmir chief Riyaz Naikoo.

The nocturnal raid and detention came a day after a 12-minute audio message in which Naikoo denounced the “continuous harassment of militant families” by security forces. He said it was a sign of their “frustration but it is not going to deter us from carrying on our mission”.

Changing Ground in Tral

The town of Tral, in Pulwama district, is not new to such exigencies. It is the native place of former Hizb chief Burhan Wani whose killing in 2016 catalysed mass protests across Kashmir that refuse to die till this day.

The town was also home to the barely three-feet tall divisional commander of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Noor Mohammad Tantray, who is believed to be the brain behind the outfit’s revival in Kashmir. He was killed on 26 December last year.

The Pakistan-based group suffered a lethal blow on 24 April this year when its field operations commander, Mufti Yasir, was killed along with three other militants in Laam forests of Tral. Yasir was at one time the personal security officer of JeM chief Masood Azhar.

“Due to its peculiar topography of dense apple orchards, mountains and thick forests, Tral and its adjoining villages become a safe haven for militants. Many foreigners find refuge in the area with the help of local militants. Since the mountain range in Tral connects with Srinagar, any militant activity raises security concerns,” police sources said.

The killing of its two top commanders in the last two years applied brakes on the Jaish’s efforts of revival in Kashmir. With less than three dozen cadre, according to official records, the Jaish, with the help of local Hizb cadre from Tral, are lately training their guns on the security personnel, especially J&K police officers.

Tral has become a laboratory for such attacks.

Making the Violence Personal

On 7 August, Special Police Officer (SPO) Ashiq Lone, a lowly and underpaid police official, was shot at by suspected militants who barged into his home in Pastuna village of Tral. A day earlier, militants barged into the home of another SPO, Ishaq Ahmad Bhat, in Lurow village of Tral and fired upon him but he escaped unhurt.

A string of attacks on policemen in Tral, especially in the months of July and August this year, resulted in nearly two dozen SPOs tendering their resignations from the police force, a worrying development for the state’s information gathering machinery and the battle against militancy.

The resignations were preceded by militants warning them to do so or face the consequences.

“I had joined the police force due to lack of better opportunity but after militant attacks, I went to the local mosque where I announced my resignation. Although my life has turned upside down and I am yet to find respectable work, it is still better than an ugly death,” Farooq Ganai, one of nearly two dozen SPOs from Tral who resigned en masse earlier this month, said.

In raids carried out by security forces on 9 August after the attacks on SPOs, at least a dozen family members, mostly fathers, brothers and cousins of active Hizb militants from Tral were whisked away during the night, prompting an angry statement from the United Jihad Council.

“Instead of facing militants, the forces are targeting their families. The raids on militant families in Tral indicates that forces are helpless before the militants. The forces are violating rights by arresting the brothers and fathers of militants,” the statement noted.

'You’re Also My Own Children’

After the exit of NN Vohra, new Governor of J&K, SP Malik, described by the state BJP president Ravinder Raina as “our man”, is likely to give a free hand to the security forces. It will make the situation all the more perilous for the families of the two warring sides.

“If my son is on the wrong path, show him the right path but kindly release him,” Hameeda Begin, mother of Asif, the agriculture university student who is in the captivity of militants.

She said in an emotional appeal with folded hands, “Have mercy and set Asif free for Allah’s sake. You are also my own children. I request you to kindly set him free.”

(This article has been updated to reflect the increase in the number of people abducted from five to 11.)

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