‘Congrats, You Got Me’

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After keeping the counter-insurgency grid on tenter-hooks for almost seven years, Abu Dujana, the master of deception, was finally killed in a swift operation in a dusky Pulwama village, reports Aakash Hassan

Abu Dujana

In the dozen odd telephone call records that surfaced after the encounters between militants and the counter-insurgent forces in last few years, invariably the rebel would be heard making a brief talk with his family. Last week, there was an addition to this audio-visual record of death and mayhem: a soldier was talking to a rebel.

Army officer, apparently a Major rank officer, gets in touch with the house owner. It seems, they had not talked for the first time. The phone finally lands in the hands of Abu Dujana, a top Lashkar militant, whose real name nobody knows.

“Dujana,” the officer begins. “Kya haall hai (how are you),” Dujana responds calmly. The officer comes direct to the point and asks him, “Why don’t you surrender? Make up your mind, I will arrange it.”

The conversation goes on for next more than five minutes in which despite repeated requests of the officer, Dujana refuses to come out. “I have to die as a martyr,” Dujana says. “I have forgotten my parents the day, I left my home.”

The officer admits his failure in catching him and the besieged rebel says: “Mubarak Hou, Aap Nay Mujay Pakad Liya.” The officer explains that they (army) have no personal animosity with him. “You were doing your duty, and we are performing ours.” The rebel tells him that he has seen him while he was deployed around.

But what was interesting was that he rejected the officer’s assertion that he must surrender for the sake of the girl he has married. “I have not (married), it is all a lie,” he reacted.

The militant refused to surrender insisting that he will stay put and leave everything to Allah. The conversation breaks when the inmates of the Hakdipora house are being asked to come out. Apparently, the gun battle starts and it eventually leads to Dujana’s death on early August 1.

Reims of newsprint and too much digital space was consumed by the Dujana killing. J&K police’s official twitter termed it a “huge achievement”. Adding spice to the spectacle, much of the airtime was consumed by the reports that the ‘rebel romantic’ was caught in the village he had married.

But the operation was swift and accurate. India Today reported that the police had set up a special team to chase the top commanders and Dujana killing was outcome of this operation. Once the input came, the security grid positioned its people for an observation till the cordon was ensured.  No family was disturbed till all exit routes were sealed.

A resident lady, living quite adjacent to the targeted house said it was around 7:30 am, when they got a knock and they saw army. Within minutes, the family was moving out and away of harm’s zone. Ten minutes later, the woman said, the firing started. “Then it stopped. There was a long pause and then the army kept on firing for an hour. The militants were killed in the first round only.” Along woth Dujana, a local militant Aqib Dar (Lelhari) was killed.

By then people had gathered around the ‘death’ cordon. Visuals from the encounter site suggested it was a rocket that destroyed the house and killed the militant duo.

By the time bodies could be retrieved from the debris, a civilian was slain in the clashes. Identified as Firdaus Ahmad Bhat, a driver living in Begumbagh, had succumbed to grievous injury in the District Hospital Pulwama. The “stray bullet”, as police claimed, devastated a family. Bhat is survived by a three year old daughter and a pregnant wife. Scores were injured in clashes and one more young man died in the hospital. He was driven to SKIMS with mangled spleen.

There were clashes in Kulgam, Srinagar and various other places.  Authorities had to close the colleges to prevent escalation of tensions.

Seventeen-year-old Umar Fayaz, was hit by pellets in clashes at Gooru village after protests erupted, on the day of encounter, making him 71st person who has suffered pellet injuries in both eyes since killing of militant commander Burhan Wani last year.

Dujana, unlike his peers, remained away from camera gaze but his shadow had no less impact on Kashmir’s ‘military-militant game’.  Though not much is known about his militant actions, he has, however, created a huge image for being “master of deception” and “hiding in plain sight”.

With the thin beard and curly hair, Dujana was a handsome young man of average height. But, how  did 26-year-old, Gilgit (many say he belongs to Karachi) boy raised to Lashkar’s commander with such fame and become a most wanted militant carrying Rs 15 lakh booty on his head? How did he survive for seven long years?

As per police officials, Dujana infiltrated into Kashmir in 2010 and started his operation in the north Kashmir. He was trained about ground by abu Qasim, Lashkar’s former Kashmir chief who was killed in December 2015. After Qasim, Dujana succeeded. Qasim had carried a number of attacks along the highway. He was also named as the mastermind of August 5 Udhampur attack.

By now Dujana was in South Kashmir, operating between Pulwama and Tral. A police official said that whenever they  would cordon off a certain area to get him, he would leave the spot, minutes before.  There have been more than a dozen instances in which he gave the security grid a slip.

“Duajana had his own strong network on which he would rely on,” the police officer who had served in counter insurgency grid said. “Moreover, he was well aware of the geography of the area he was operating in.”

On July 19, a newspaper report said, Dujana and his associates had given slip to troops in Banderpora, Koil. They were travelling in a sumo vehicle and were being chased by troops.

Pregnant wife of civilian Firdous Ahmad, who was killed in clashes, wailing over his death. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

After his encounter Lt Gen J S Sandhu, Corps Commander of the Srinagar-based Chinar Corps briefed reporters: “Dujana was not involved in too many operations; he was more of a nuisance,” Lt Gen J S Sandhu, the Commander of Srinagar based 15 corps said. “He was more involved in coercion and not many in terms of terrorist acts. So, he was only enjoying himself here. That is the way I look at it.”

 However, police officers said that militants like him are hard to tackle.

“Like Qasim, Dujana was operating independently and would not wait for the orders from higher-ups,” said a police source. “He would work with his local support and execute the attack. This attracted the youth who were joining militancy and some even left Hizb for him.” Because of this, the sources said, he had developed rift with the top command for being autonomous, unlike Hizb ul Mujahideen.

“Abu Ismail was sent in and literal command was given to him,” the officer said. If the police sources are to be believed, he had shifted his base to Pulwama belt and Ismail remains in the Kulgam area. However, police officials say that Ismail has also started working on his own network and plans.

“The recent attack on the Yatris is believed to be abu Ismail’s action,” one police officer said. “Also the killing of six police men along with SHO Achabal was carried by the Lashkar militants in reaction to the burning of bodies in the encounter.”

Indian Express reported about his differences within Lashkar and mentioned that Dujana had joined Zakir Musa-led new affiliate of the Al-Qaida.

Another senior officer said that when his command failed to rein him in, they used one of their key contacts to tackle him. “That over ground worker advised him first and then pushed him to traps twice but he escaped,” the officer said. “It was in reaction to those cases that abu Dujana killed him recently.”

Police officer said the “game” that Abu Dujana was talking about in his conversation with the Major was a reference to this.

It is now being said that the elusive rebel, a techie, was caught by his phone. It was in a raid that he left his iPhone in car and fled. The phone was seized. It took a lot of time for the intelligence set up to get into it but they failed and eventually it was flown to US where some experts helped them trace his connections and some of these contacts eventually landed him in the trap at Hakdipora.

Interestingly, various families in south had claimed that Dujana was actually their ward. As the body of Aaqib reached to Lellhar for his funeral, in Hadigam village of Bijbehara people in hundreds were on roads. They were waiting for the body of Dujana claiming that a family believes that their son who had crossed LoC thirteen years back was Dujana. A similar scene was prevailing in Danew Kandimarg, a far-flung area in Kokernag. In Pulwama, locals said that three different families of the district claimed that he was  their son.

However, security grid maintained that Dujana was a foreigner. They also do not know if he was basically from Gilgit or from Karachi. JKP, initially, asked Pakistan High Commission in Delhi to take the body of their national. In absence of a response, he was driven, after post mortem, to Gantmulla village in Baramulla where he was buried in a cemetery that usually is the eternal address of the non local combatants.

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