The growing incidents of gun snatchings have been a source of deep concern for the authorities. Though many of the stolen weapons were subsequently retrieved by the police, the trend has only further caught on. More so in South Kashmir, the spearhead of the current unrest.
As protests erupted a day after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, a large mob raided the police station at South Kashmir village of Damhal Hanjipora and looted around 41 semi-automatic and automatic weapons including SLRs and INSAS rifles. Ever since eighteen more rifles have been snatched from the police men on guard duty of various politicians in the state.
On Monday, suspected militants attacked a security picket at Samnoo in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district and snatched five weapons from the guards posted there.
Earlier, hours after the Uri attack which killed 19 soldiers, suspected militants accompanied by a small gathering of people raided the house of the ruling PDP leader Javaid Ahmad Sheikh in Anantnag district’s Dialgam village, subdued the guards there and looted their weapons.
Similarly, on September 8, , four rifles, including two INSAS rifles, one SLR rifle and a .303 rifle, were looted from a politician’s house in Kulgam district.
The fear is that the weapons are falling into the hands of the militants and their fresh recruits. According to sources in police, more than a score of youth have joined militancy in South Kashmir since the killing of Burhan.
“The number could be higher. Because of the widespread unrest, we are unable to get the exact number of the youth who have picked up the gun,” a police officer said adding the weapons snatched from the police are handed to the fresh recruits.
“Since the militants have a limited number of weapons and the ammunition, the new recruits are asked to get their own weapons and encouraged to attack the police men on the road or on guard duty with help from regular militants,” the police officer said. “This way, the fresh recruit not only gets a rifle, but he is also forced to do a crime so that all his roads to return to a normal life are blocked”.
The trend was introduced by Burhan himself. The modus operandi has been that the militants shoot at a cop and then decamp with his gun. All across South Kashmir, there were several successful and unsuccessful attempts to steal weapons. Sometimes, police men themselves fled with their service weapons to join the militants.
One such prominent incident is about the constable Naseer Ahmad Pandit, a police constable who in March 2015 was posted as the security guard of the newly appointed J&K Public Works Minister Syed Altaf Bukhari and decamped with two rifles to join Buhan. He was subsequently killed in an encounter with the police.
“The new recruits get precious little arms training, possess little ammunition and fewer guns, some of them snatched from the police men,” said the police officer. However, police is trying to get its act together now and strengthen the security positions in Kashmir. “We are trying to ensure that not only do we pre-empt further snatchings but also get back the stolen weapons, many of which we have already recovered,” he said.