Gurdaspur, Udhampur attacks imply battlefield shift. The recent attacks in Gurdaspur and Udhampur hint at a new turn in Kashmir militancy as the enemy of troops is changing the battlefield. Farzana Mumtaz reports. The twin attacks carried by militants in Udhmapur district of Jammu and Kashmir state and Gurdaspur area of the neighbouring Punjab state point at the new turn militancy is taking.
As the militant numbers in Kashmir are dipping, militant groups seem to have realized the importance of shifting the battlefield from the Valley to the Hindu-dominated districts of the State and the Indian mainland. They are now trying to wage a war not on the streets they know and not among the people they consider their own but in the “enemy territory”.
Mohammad Naved, a militant who was captured in Udhampur on Wednesday after he and another militant attacked a convoy of the paramilitary Border Security Force, said the four-member Lashkar-e-Taiba module of which they were a part had managed to escape after a police team intercepted it in Pulwama district of south Kashmir on July 23.
Naved told interrogators that he had been in India since May 27 and had “enough local support”. He said had been in constant touch with Abu Dujana, the number two in the LeT hierarchy.
From a LeT hideout at Khrew in south Kashmir, where they spent 40 days, the militants had left for Pulwama on a small truck on July 23 and were intercepted. Naved told interrogators that most of the LeT leadership had visited the hideout in Khrew during the holy month of Ramadhan.
According to the interrogation report, Naved started his journey from his launching pad at Halan in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan administered Kashmir on May 27, along with Noman, who was killed on Wednesday, and Okasha and Mohammad Bhai.
The report revealed that Naved had reached the Line of Control in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district on June 2 and had cut the fence to enter this side of Kashmir.
The report revealed that the group then switched on a GPS device to find their way and walked 18 km to reach near the Baba Rishi shrine in Tangmarg locality on June 7, where they met a local guide.
It stated two days later, they were received by another local guide. After being in Kashmir, Naved’s surfacing in Udhampur points out a clear change in strategy of the militant groups operating in Jammu Kashmir.
Reaching Udhampur from Tangmarg while carrying arms and ammunition is an almost impossible task but for militants to take such a journey seems evidence enough that the new directive for the militant groups is to wage a war against the “enemy in the enemy territory”.
Udhampur is one of the three districts with a substantial Hindu population and it seems that the high command of the militant groups have given them a directive to “fight the battle” in the areas where the casualties, even if caused to the civilians, are of the non-Muslims so that the “armed movement” in Kashmir does not lose support among the Muslim population of Kashmir and Muslims of Chenab Valley, Pir Panjal range and Kargil.
Naved was captured alive and become the only second militant to be captured alive since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
He was captured shortly after he and his companion killed two BSF men and wounded nearly a dozen troopers by ambushing a convoy on the Jammu-Srinagar highway in Udhampur.
Pertinently, police officers said Naved was from Bahawalpur in Pakistan.
“I am from Pakistan and my partner was killed in the firing but I escaped. Had I been killed, it would have been Allah’s doing. There is fun in doing this … I came to kill Hindus,” the suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba operative, Naved who was wearing a dark blue shirt and brown trousers said.
Naved, 16, said has two brothers and a sister and one of his two brothers is a lecturer while the other runs a hosiery business.
Naved became the second Pakistani militant to be captured alive during an operation after Ajmal Kasab, the 26/11 attacker who was subsequently convicted and hanged to death for the carnage in Mumbai that left 166 people dead.
An officer said the two Pakistani militants hiding in a maize field along the highway hurled grenades and fired at the convoy when it reached Samroli near Udhampur, about 85 km from Jammu, on way to Srinagar.
He said as the BSF personnel fired back, Naved fled toward a village in the hills and took three civilians hostage in a school.
One of the hostages, Rakesh Kumar, said they misled the armed militant when he asked them to take him to a safe place.
Another hostage, Vikramjit Singh, said the militant was hungry.
“So we stopped. There we got together, forced him to the ground and unarmed him. He pleaded ‘mujhe mat pakdo, mujhe mat pakdo (Don’t catch me, don’t catch me)’ when we pinned him down and took away his AK-47.”
As he was brought down from the mountainous village bound by ropes, Naved looked hassled but smiled when he answered questions from journalists.
“My partner and I came to India through the jungles about 12 days ago … We ran out ration in three days. I was very hungry,” he said, before troops hooded his face and took him away.
The ambush was worrying for troops as it followed the July 27 attack in Punjab’s Gurdaspur that left seven people dead.
The attack was a first on the Jammu-Udhampur stretch of the highway in over a decade.Earlier, militants stormed a police station in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district killing seven people and wounding 10 others.
The militant attack came weeks after prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif met in Russia and agreed that top security officers from the two countries would meet to discuss counter-terrorism strategy.
The 11-hour siege in Punjab ended after troops and police surrounded the building in Dinanagar town and killed three militants.
The area’s Superintendent of Police, Baljit Singh, was among those killed, apart from three policemen and three civilians.
“All ordnance factory marks and numbers on the AK-47s had been erased and so were the marks on the grenade canisters,” a top security official said. “There is nothing to trace the weapons to China or Pakistan. The attack appears to have been planned in great detail so that Pakistan can claim total deniability as no communication was exchanged.”
Two GPS devices found on the bodies were sent to a forensic laboratory to trace the infiltration route, but no identity documents, food, SIM cards or medicines were recovered.
“All we have is three bodies who were on a suicide mission,” the official said. “Our assessment is that they infiltrated across the international border in Punjab and could belong to the LeT as the modus operandi is similar to the (2013) Hiranagar attack in Jammu.” With the Udhampur attack, the militants shifted the battlefield to Hindu heartland of Jammu region and with Gurdaspur attacks, the militant groups had already made it clear to New Delhi that “enemy is at the gates”.