As the Uri attack sparks nationwide debates, it may be worthwhile to recall what happened a week earlier (September 11-13) in Poonch where a similar attack was sought to be mounted by Pakistani terrorists. The attack was neutralised even before it could be launched as the local people, sick and tired of terrorism, opted to cooperate with the security forces.
While on the one hand, we find some locals in Kashmir Valley trying to obstruct anti-terrorist operations being conducted by security forces, on the other hand, we witness a fierce three-day-long encounter in the Poonch area of Kashmir where security forces were able to eliminate four Pakistani terrorists with the active support of the local population. Such divergent trends within Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) rubbish the claims being made by the separatists regarding the overwhelming popularity of militants and efforts of the pro-Pakistan camp to give legitimacy to terrorists by referring to them as “freedom fighters”. It has fooled none.
Since they come from the same society and have common roots, the public does develop a soft corner for local militants. But this attachment is more emotional in nature than ideological in spirit as the separatists are making it out to be. If the Kashmir valley has people who support militancy, then it also has those who don’t approve of the so-called “armed struggle” and there is a genuine reason for this. Though Syed Salahuddin, who is the chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and also heads the United Jihad Council (UJC), may disagree, the 26-year-old track record of militancy in J&K has proved that the “armed struggle” in Kashmir has not even made one positive contribution to the so-called “freedom movement.”
Poonch has experienced fierce militancy in the past and its people have suffered immensely due to this. However, after realising that militancy was only bringing about distress, destruction, and death, the locals decided not to support those who called themselves “freedom fighters.” The encounter that took place in Poonch last Sunday has proved that the efforts by Pakistani terrorists to re-establish their foothold in this region have once again failed. Right from the moment their presence was detected and up to the time the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorists were eliminated, the locals played a commendable role in physically as well as psychologically assisting the security forces in neutralising the armed intruders.
In this entire incident, the most noteworthy thing is the keen presence of mind and courage displayed by the seventy-year-old Haji Nazir Mir and his sixty-two years old wife Mumtaz in whose house the LeT terrorists had surreptitiously entered. This elderly couple only came to know that terrorists had gained access into their house after they shot and injured a domestic help who tried to force open the door of the room in which they were hiding. Despite the sudden shock of finding terrorists inside his house, Nazir remained calm and immediately rang up his brother Muneer who in turn informed the police and army. With their characteristic speed and efficiency, the security forces surrounded the house where the LeT terrorists were hiding.
For the next 72 hours, intermittent gunfire and grenade blasts rent the air as the security forces and the LeT militants engaged each other. With Nazir, Mumtaz and their domestic help trapped inside the house, it was a hostage situation and due to this the police and army personnel were at a definite disadvantage. While the well armed LeT terrorists were able to take potshots at the police and army personnel at will, the men in uniform had to ensure that their retaliation did not endanger the lives of the entrapped civilians. This is when the locals came to the assistance of the police and army by volunteering to get closer to the house and pass back information on the location of the terrorists.
Though one policeman was killed in this encounter and another was wounded, the casualty figures would have been higher had the locals not put their lives in danger in order to help the security forces in evacuating their wounded as well as maintaining continuous vigil over the house in which the terrorists had taken refuge to ensure that they don’t escape. Due to the commendable public assistance that the police and army men engaged in this operation received, four hardcore LeT terrorists hiding in a house within a densely populated residential area were eliminated without any collateral damage. How vital has been the contribution of the locals during this operation can be gauged by the fact that Northern Army Commander Lt Gen DS Hooda made it a point to personally come to Poonch and felicitate Nazir well as SSP Poonch JS Johar who led the police team.
By once again shutting the doors on terrorism, the people of Poonch have demonstrated that they are fed up with the unending cycle of death and destruction that terrorism initiates. The fact that the LeT terrorists chose a residential area to hide reveals their evil intentions of wrecking havoc in a densely populated area and then blaming security forces for the civilians casualties in cross-firing. With this happening just before Eid, there are all the reasons to believe that the LeT terrorists were planning a bloodbath during festivities of this religious event. The LeT is well known for adopting such dirty tactics in order to gain public sympathy and this incident once again expose its complete lack of concern for the safety of Kashmiris.
Even if the act of LeT terrorists quietly sneaking into Nazir’s house is condoned on the grounds that this is the common modus operandi of militants, where was the requirement for them to fire at and injure a poor unarmed domestic help who posed no threat to them? If the locals actually cooperate fully with the “freedom fighters” and help them in every way as the separatists proudly claim, then why did LeT terrorists shoot at an innocent Kashmiri who was just trying to open the door of the room in which the terrorists were hiding? What is bewildering is that while the comparatively less privileged and less educated people of Poonch have seen through the ‘freedom struggle’ charade in J&K, their more advantaged and learned brethren belonging to the Kashmir Valley are still being fooled by separatists!
Perhaps the people of Kashmir Valley, too, will be able to sift the grain from the chaff as far as the issue of militancy in Kashmir is concerned. That the separatist leaders and militant commanders have kept their own children far removed from the much publicised “armed struggle” in J&K is adequate proof that those espousing militancy are themselves aware that guns cannot resolve the Kashmir issue. Too many young men have lost their lives and limbs and now it is for the youth of Kashmir to take stock of the situation and not get carried away by rhetoric or emotional appeals and risk their lives for no worthwhile purpose.