SRINAGAR - Since “Operation All Out” began by Indian Army over 10 district commanders, including battle-hardened Arif Lelhari, Junaid Mattoo and Bashir Lashkari in south Kashmir, had been killed. Some 21 commanders, including Hizbul Mujahideen’s Sabzar Bhat, Shahbaz Shafi alias Rayees Kachroo and Commander Aijaz Mir, have been killed so far as well, The Hindu has reported.
In addition, over 150 militants have been killed in the encounters that erupted in the Valley this year. During the previous year, 165 were killed till December.
Of late, technological inputs have died down as militants have stopped using cellphones frequently in south Kashmir. Human intelligence now remains the core of counter-insurgency grid, officials say.
The Army and the police credit “well-knit overground human intelligence as the main source of a tip-off that led to the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Abdul Qayoom Najar, in an encounter along the LoC, north of Uri, on September 27. He was being infiltrated to take control of the Hizb. After trapping him in a cordon operation in a village in Shopian, the operation lasted 15 hours.
The structure of command-control of LeT has district commanders and a small group at the lower level, followed by operational chief, overseeing all 11 districts in the Valley.
“The job of the operational chief is to coordinate with handlers in Pakistan and identify potential targets and lay down logistical support requirements,” said the counter-insurgency official in Srinagar.
Unlike the LeT, the Hizb structure has a “strong network of overground workers, district-wise militants, district commanders, divisional commanders and operational commanders at the top”.
“As of now, the Hizb has no Valley-based operational commander after its top-ranking commanders were killed this year,” officials say.
However, Hizb commanders like Saddam Paddar, alias Zaid, a district commander and an ‘A++’ category militant, has influence in Shopian and remains active since 2015.
Reyaz Ahmad Naikoo, alias Zubair, active since December 2012, portrays himself as a Hizb ideologue and mainly recruits youth in south Kashmir.
Despite encounter killings of militants, recruitment continues. In South Kashmir, out of 50, as many as 30 from in and around Pulwama have been recruited by the Hizb and Lashkar in the past five months. They are mostly overground workers or protesters who have been regularly converging at the funerals of those killed by the security forces.
A splinter group of Zakir Rashid Bhatt alias Musa, once divisional commander of Hizb, has recruited people in small numbers, pushing youth towards a more hardline ideology, with al-Qaeda already declaring him in-charge of its affiliate in Kashmir.
More than Hizb and LeT, security agencies say the resurfacing of Moulana Masood Azhar-founded Jaish-e-Muhammad poses a “more potent threat.”
“Jaish believes in sensational attacks. We have to deal with them differently,” said Inspector-General of Police, Muneer Khan, after the recent sensational fidayeen attack on a BSF installation close to Srinagar airport.
Security agencies say the killing of Jaish operational commander Khalid Bhai in Baramulla some days ago “cut the umbilical cord of its ranks with handlers across the border”.
A small group of Jaish fidayeen still is a threat in and around Srinagar. However, Khalid’s killing has cut the link with the handlers, officials say. South Kashmir remained a battleground with the emergence of Burhan Wani in 2013, but militants are shifting base to north Kashmir “to make use of the forests in Bandipora, Baramulla and Kupwara”. Even after all the killing, the winter is set to be hot, with foreign militant numbers, according to Army figures, being as high as 70 in north Kashmir alone.
“We fear local recruitment has picked up in north Kashmir, in Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora,” a police official said.