J&K Grenade Blast: Why Is Srinagar at the Centre of 'Hybrid' Militant Activity?
Even the number of gunfights seen in Srinagar in 2021 was the highest in many years.
Heavy rain pattered against corrugated tin sheets surrounding the compound. Inside, scores of women assembled in a circle, their heads wrapped in colourful scarves as they shouted dirges for 19-year-old Rafia Nazir, who sustained splinter injuries on Sunday following a deadly grenade blast at Hari Singh High Street, a busy commercial junction in Srinagar city.
On Monday, the hospital administration informed her relatives that Rafia had succumbed to the injury. The previous day, 55-year-old Mohammad Aslam Makhdoomi, a Srinagar resident, also died as a result of injuries he suffered in the same attack. Around 30 more were reported injured.
Video clips on social media showed older men and women being wheeled to the hospital as blood seeped through the gauges that covered their wounds. Another footage of the incident shows people walking across a busy street as an explosion goes off behind a police vehicle, and a plume of smoke rising.
Rising Public Anger
As the graph of militancy plummets in Kashmir, breakthrough attacks waged by sneaky perpetrators, who security agencies call ‘hybrid militants’, are becoming frequent across the region. At the centre of this fresh militant activity is Srinagar, which saw a spike in the number of attacks last year. Even the number of gunfights seen in the city in 2021 was the highest in many years.
The civilian casualties from the attacks have deepened public anger and elicited a strong reaction from politicians. “People of J&K have been paying with their lives and sadly, neither India nor Pakistan is doing anything to end the conflict and stop this bloodshed,” said Mehbooba Mufti, the People’s Democratic Party president, on Twitter.
“I condemn this deplorable attack in the strongest possible terms,” said Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister and National Conference vice-president.
Police Say They Have 'Vital Clues'
In an official statement, the J&K Police said it has obtained some vital clues regarding the perpetrators of the attack. “Today [Sunday] at about 1620 hrs, terrorists hurled a grenade at a civilian hotspot in Amira Kadal area of Srinagar,” a police release said. “In this terror incident, 23 civilians and one police personnel identified as John Mohammad received splinter injuries.”
At the Kalashpora area of Srinagar, hundreds of mourners gathered on Sunday evening to offer funeral prayers for Makhdoomi amid religious sloganeering. As per his relatives, Makhdoomi lived with his two elder brothers. “He was not married and did not work,” said a relative. “But he was educated. He had a postgraduate degree in political science.”
At Nigeen, near the famous Dal Lake, emotions ran high as relatives and neighbours of Rafia converged at her one-storey house amid heavy rains. Rafia’s brother threw himself on the coffin, exhausted from the grief.
“She was the only member of her family who was deeply invested in studying and aspired to become a doctor,” said Afzal Akhoon, her grand-uncle. “She scored 467 marks out of 500 in her recent 12th-grade examination and was preparing for the National Entrance cum Eligibility Test (NEET).”
On Sunday afternoon, Rafia, along with her mother Hameeda, her sister and their cousin were en route to their relative’s place in the Bemina area. They disembarked from the public bus at Amira Kadal, a busy commercial stop in the middle of Srinagar city where the attack took place. “When they alighted from the vehicle, they proceeded to buy something from the market and then the blast took place,” another relative said. “Then they were shifted to SMHS hospital.”
The relative added:
“They are a total of four siblings, two brothers and two sisters. Their father used to weave carpets but as his health began to worsen, he abandoned the work. The brothers are labourers. Rafia hoped to study further and become a doctor. She was the only member of the family who had the right aptitude and persisted with her studies despite financial constraints.”
The other three ladies accompanying Rafia, including her mother, have also suffered injuries and are recuperating.
The deputy medical superintendent of Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) said he was unfamiliar with the nature of Rafia’s injuries but admitted that she had been mounted on a ventilator bed before breathing her last.
This reporter also rang Vijay Kumar, Kashmir range’s Inspector General of Police. But he did not receive the call.
A Perception Battle for Political Leaders
In Kashmir’s charged political climate, the latest killings have also transformed into an intense perception-building skirmish on social media, as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Centre hoped to draw attention towards atrocities instigated by Pakistan amid renewed foreign criticism of its decisions in Kashmir, where the administration is accused of narrowing the space for press freedom and civil society, and steamrolling policy actions in the absence of an elected government.
Last week, Donald Lu, the new US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, broached the issue of Kashmir while testifying before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on the India-US relationship.
“We have not seen the holding of Legislative Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir,” the top American diplomat told the Committee. “We have not seen the free movement of journalists. We’ve seen the detention of some prominent journalists in the Kashmir valley.”
On 3 March, Freedom House, a US-based non-profit organisation that tracks the ebbs and flows of democracy around the globe, rated Kashmir as “not free” and ascribed its dire assessment to “Indian government’s abrupt revocation of the territory’s autonomy, the dissolution of its local elected institutions, and a security crackdown that sharply curtailed civil liberties and included mass arrests of local politicians and activists”.
Growing Desperation of Militant Groups
The issue of a wave of attacks and assassinations in Srinagar took the centre stage last year as security groups battled new militant formations that sent pistol-wielding perpetrators in pursuit of civilian or police targets. In the majority of cases, the victims died on the spot.
But increasing recourse to digital communication has also meant that the militants leave enough electronic footprints for police to track them out and neuter them.
A large number of such cases last year was resolved within hours. Last month, forces gunned down Umer Ishfaq Malik, a militant affiliated with Hizbul Mujahideen, just hours after the killing of Assistant Sub-Inspector Shabir Ahmad in Amshipora in Shopian.
Malik was accused of being involved in the assassination. The increasing pace at which the police is cracking down on new formations also reflects the growing desperation and intent on part of militant groups to reassert themselves.
Another 'Grenade-Throwing' Module Busted: Police
On Sunday, the police apprehended a militant component associated with the Jaish-e-Muhammad group in South Kashmir’s Awantipora town.
On Monday, police said they seized another “grenade-throwing module” linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba group in the same town and recovered munitions from their possession.
Interestingly, the police said that the militant associates from this particular module were plotting to carry out grenade attacks at the behest of Irshad Bhat and Mustakeem Ahangar, who are currently lodged at the Srinagar Central Jail.
Similarly, on 1 March, police apprehended a militant linked to the LeT group and recovered a large cache of weapons in Srinagar’s Sanat Nagar area. Last month, police arrested a militant affiliated with the TRF group in the Eidgah area of Srinagar. He was said to have come from the South Kashmir district of Kulgam and planned to carry out target killings.
(Shakir Mir is a freelance journalist who has reported for the Times Of India and The Wire, among other publications. He tweets at @shakirmir.
Faizan Mir is an independent multimedia journalist. He tweets at @faizanmirtweets and his work has been featured on The Wire, Youth Ki Awaaz and The Kashmir Walla, among other publications.)
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