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‘Brought His A-Game’: J&K Police Losing Gritty Cop Busts End of Militancy Myth

It's the second time since 2019 that a DSP-level officer of J&K Police was killed during anti-militancy operations.

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A Colonel and a Major of the Indian Army, and a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) of J&K Police died in Kashmir’s Anantnag district on 14 September, Wednesday during a major gunfight in the heavily forested area of Gadool Ahlan village in South Kashmir, turning a spotlight on one the deadliest encounters in J&K where militancy in the year 2023 had shown tell-tale signs of declining. 

A manhunt to nab or kill the two militants who are responsible for the deaths is underway in the dense forests of Gadool Ahlan. Additional forces have been rushed in to help the search party locate the militants. Official sources who spoke to The Quint said one of the militants has been identified as Uzair Khan of Nagam village of Kokernag area of South Kashmir. "The other guy is an FT (foreign terrorist) from Pakistan named Usman Ghazi. There were reports that Uzair was with him for quite some time,” sources said.

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Cops Killed In Encounter

The deceased officers are Colonel Manpreet Singh and Major Ashish Dhonchak of 19 Rashtriya Rifles (RR), and DSP Humayun Bhat of J&K Police. Singh, a 2021 Sena Medal awardee, hails from Punjab’s Mohali district while Dhonchak is from Panipat district in Haryana.

33-year-old DSP Humayun Bhat lived in Srinagar and is originally from Midoora village in the Tral area of South Kashmir. Bhat was the first to be airlifted and brought to Srinagar.

"He died due to blood loss,” a senior source in the security establishment said." After the injury, he even video-called his friends and relatives. Unfortunately, due to relentless firing by the terrorists, help could not reach him on time.”

"Couldn’t Remove Bodies"

The Anantnag gun battle is the second time when a deadly face-off has taken place between the security forces and the militants in Kashmir. Last month, a big operation that stretched on for days took place near Halan forest area in the Kulgam district of South Kashmir. Three Army soldiers were killed at that time as forces tried to close in on hiding militants. 

Sources said that the recent killings took place as the party approached a ridge area in the forest and came under heavy rounds of indiscriminate gunfire from the militants. The firing had continued even after the officers were hit to the extent that it was difficult to remove three bodies from the spot. 

They added that Singh’s body was retrieved amid heavy gunfire on Thursday morning, nearly a day after he had sustained fatal injuries. 

Official sources said it was the second time since 2019 that a DSP-level officer of the J&K Police was killed during anti-militancy operations. "In similar circumstances in February 2019, DSP Aman Thakur lost his life in Kulgam district,” sources added. 

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A Distinguished Operation Officer

The wreath-laying ceremony for the slain cop took place at J&K Police headquarters in Srinagar. Bhat’s father Ghulam Hassan is also a decorated cop of the 1984 J&K Police Services (JKPS) batch. He retired as an Inspector General of Police.

Bhat is a pass out from the prestigious Burn Hall School in Srinagar. He also has an engineering degree from SSM College in North Kashmir’s Pattan area and cleared his competitive JKPS exams in 2018. "He went for his training in the year 2019,” official sources told The Quint.

“In 2020, he was serving his probationary period. The following year, he was posted as DYSP (Operations) in the Pattan area. Last year, he was transferred and posted as DySP (Operations) at CARGO, a counter-terrorism unit of J&K police in Srinagar. It was only recently that he was posted as Sub Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) Kokernag and held additional charge with an SOG (Special Operations Group) component there."

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Comparatively Stable Than Before

Before the spate of killings off late, on 27 June, forces had killed Adil Majeed Lone, a militant affiliated with the Al-Badr outfit in the same district. 

On 16 June, five militants, all of whom were Pakistanis, were killed during a gunfight in Kupwara district, just three days after forces had successfully concluded an operation in the same district gunning down two militants. On 2 March, two militants and one soldier from 55 RR died during an operation at Padgampora village in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district. On 17 January, two Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants were gunned down during a gunfight near District Court Complex in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district.

Except these handful of operations, no big militant-related activity was witnessed in Kashmir Valley this year, signalling a declining trend of militancy. By contrast, around 93 gunfights were carried out by the security forces in J&K in 2022. 
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Concomitantly, however, there has been an escalation of big attacks in the Jammu region. On Wednesday, two militants and a soldier Ravi Kumar died during an operation in the Rajouri area in the Pir Panjal region.

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Some Regions Remain Volatile

Underscoring the intensification of militancy in Jammu’s hilly regions, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC) Northern Command Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi recently said of the 46 militants fatalities in J&K this year, 29 alone were killed in the south of Pir Panjal.

“Over the past two years, we have lost around 20 to 30 of our men to gun battles fought in the forested areas,” a senior source in the security establishment said. "Many took place in Rajouri, Kulgam, and other regions. Of course, they serve as lessons.”

The sources said that the Anantnag gunfight showed the limitations of conducting operations in areas with such heavy green cover. “Ideally when the operations start on the ridge, instead of clambering uphill, forces are supposed to plug the access from the descending side and then approach the terrorist party from the rear end of the hill,” they said.

"This way the terrorists end up cornered on one side while forces get the height advantage while approaching from the other. Was that procedure followed in this case? Clearly, only a probe will ascertain whether this has happened or not.”

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The Purported PoK Angle

The Anantnag killings have been claimed by The Resistance Front (TRF), an outfit affiliated with the Pakistan-based LeT. In a purported TRF press release, the group claimed that the two Army and one police officer was waylaid in a “planned ambush attack".

It said the attack was retribution for the killing of one Muhammad Riyaz, an activist associated with the proscribed group Jamaatud Dawaa in Pakistan on 9 September.
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Riyaz, who originally hails from the Surankote village of Poonch in J&K, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Rawlakot in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. His fellow activists have blamed Indian espionage agencies for carrying out the killing. 

However, sources within the security establishment dismissed TRF claims, arguing it was only by the dint of luck that militants were able to make a successful strike. "Security forces were aware that the terrain was challenging and vehicular access was not possible,” sources explained.

“Hidden terrorists had the upper hand, yet they proceeded into the area. Probably, the security forces underestimated the terrorists. Ideally, they should have sent a small, silent team, but instead, they cordoned off the area in the evening and suspended the operation. It’s possible that the terrorists had already detected their presence, leading to an ambush.”

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It's the second time since 2019 that a DSP-level officer of J&K Police was killed during anti-militancy operations.

Slain cop Humayun Bhat

Special Arrangement

A Cop With a Knack for Gadgets

Meanwhile, senior officers in J&K Police said that Humayun Bhat was a tech nerd who ingeniously merged his passion for gadgets with his professional service.

“He was the most meticulous operation officer. He refurbished his bulletproof jacket by getting specialised components imported from the United States,” a senior J&K Police officer said. “He had modified his AK-47 rifle with a flashlight, scanner, pointers, etc. That was the level of commitment he had towards his job.”

Bhat had also won the Police Medal for Gallantry (PMG) for his role in various counter-terrorism operations that he led. “Unlike his father who was a very disciplinarian police officer, Humayun was very affable, easygoing, flamboyant, and very accessible,” the officer explained.

(Shakir Mir is an independent journalist. He tweets at @shakirmir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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