SRINAGAR: In between the two anniversaries that Kashmir usually observe by strikes in memory of Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru – who were hanged and buried in Tihar, highly armed militants barged into a sprawling garrison in Jammu during wee hours on Saturday, February 10, 2018. By late afternoon when the army General Bipin Rawat was in the Temple City to review the overall security, it was fairly clear that the deadly encounter was over.
Right now when the armed forces are busy clearing the premises after a final scan, the overall death toll in the attack is 10 killed and 11 injured. Apart from four militants, who were killed in two days, these included five soldiers and a civilian. A police said they have recovered AK-56 rifles, Under Barrel Grenade Launcher, some ammunition and grenades from the bodies of the slain militants. However, only three militants bodies have been recovered, so far indicating the group might have been a trip only and not four.
As the encounter was declared over in Jammu, mourning’s started in Kashmir because five of the six slain persons were from Kashmir. These included Subedar Mohammad Ashraf Mir, Havaldar Habibullah Qureshi, Constables Monzoor Ahmad and Mohammad Iqbal. Tragically, Iqbal’s father was living with him in the family quarters. He was also killed. The only non-Kashmiri who was killed in the attack was Madan Lal Choudhary, in whose accommodation, various other persons were injured.
The slain civilian was the father of one of the slain soldiers serving the JAKLI. The father-son belonged to Pinglish village of Tral, according to unconfirmed reports. Iqbal, according to these reports, had married Shabnam in May 2015, and was the father of a minor Mohammad Absar-ul-Haq.
Police sources told Kashmir Life said that slain soldier Mohammad Ashraf Mir is a resident of Maidanpora Loalb and Havladar Habibulah Qureshi is the son of Amanullah Qureshi, a resident of Batapora Haihama. Another soldier Manzoor Ahmad Deva was a resident of Qazigund.
Police said as many as 11 persons were injured in the attack. These included Lt Col Rohit Solanki, Major Avijit Singh and two others ranks. All other injured, including six females, were the family members of various soldiers posted in the camp. A minor boy of around 14 years of age is reported to have had suffered a gunshot wound in the head and is not out of danger so far.
Police said the encounter started at around 4:55 hours when the militants barged into the camp by cutting the wires of the fence in garrison’s rear side. The camp houses 36 brigade JAKLI-1. The militants resorted to grenade throwing and indiscriminate firing. They finally entered the JCO family quarters where most of the fighting took place, according to the police statement.
Though the fighting has started, the operation is still not over formally. Various security agencies are scanning the premises. Scores of the family which were trapped within the housing space are now being evacuated, reports from Jammu suggest.
What was frightening about this particular attack was when the images of tanks started being flashed on the TV screens. Reporters who were on the spot said there was a movement of the battle tanks but they were not used. It was not immediately known if any of the garrison buildings were destroyed in the encounter. Sunday afternoon witnessed the movement of fire tenders into the garrison but officials said these had gone in as a precautionary measure.
How They Infiltrated?
Media reports suggest that the attack was carried out by the ‘Afzal Guru Squad’ of Jaish-e-Muhammad outfit. Guru’s fifth death anniversary was on February 9, 2018, and the attack was mounted barely a few hours after the anniversary passed peacefully and incident free across Kashmir. Guru was hanged to death for his involvement in the 2001 attack on parliament.
Reports appearing in media suggest the militants had moved towards the rare of the garrison as it was very difficult to infiltrate the front gate.
However, what is interesting in this attack took place almost within the city, which is far away from the International Border (IB), as all earlier attacks were slightly closer to the border or much far away from it.
“What the attack means is that the militants are willing to get into Jammu,” Nazir Masoodi, the NDTV correspondent, who is covering the attack in Sunjwan, said. “The idea seems to be stretching the security arms of the state beyond the valley.” He said the army chief is already in town and this indicates the seriousness of the attack.
This is for the first time after the Uri attack when the army chief flew into the state within hours after the attack. As many as 19 soldiers were killed in the attack on Uri brigade at the peak of 2016 unrest days ahead of a serious confrontation between India and Pakistan in UN. All the four attackers behind the Uri garrison attack were killed.
But the Sunjwan attack was not the first militant activity in the region. There have been serious attacks on the military installations in and around Jammu. Seven soldiers were killed in an attack, mounted by three militants, on Nagrota garrison on November 29, 2016. Seven persons were killed when a similar attack was carried out on March 20, 2015, on police station Kathua.
On September 26, 2013, around 13 persons were killed in twin suicide attacks in Jammu. Prior to that on July 22, 2003, three militants stormed into an Akhnoor garrison killing eight security men including a Brigadier. However, the worst attack has been the May 14, 2002, attack on Kaluchak, a garrison not far away from Sanjuwan, when 26 persons were killed.
The massive attack led Chief Minister Ms Mehbooba Mufti to immediately call a high-level meeting to analyse the attack. Soon, she drove to the army hospital where she enquired about the welfare of the injured soldiers.
Congress, BJP and all other political parties did not stop from expressing their concern over the attack. Congress had gone to the extent of asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to personally supervise the operation.
“We appeal to the Prime Minister, whichever part of the world he is, to personally supervise the operation and ensure that these terrorists are gunned down and give the armed forces every possible help in this regard,” Randeep Surjewala, Congress communications in-charge, was quoted saying. He termed it a “matter of deep concern” that 14 major attacks took place on the Army in J&K since 2014 when NDA took over. “Fourteen soldiers have been killed in the last 31 days.”
Since the attack took place at a time when the assembly was in session, the issue triggered uproarious scenes. While the BJP resorted to massive anti-Pakistan sloganeering, NC lawmaker proved an odd man out when he reacted with a pro-Pakistan slogan. Though Lone tried offering interestingly vague justification for his outbursts, his statement was disowned by his party. Lone, it may be recalled here, is always in the news since he was made famous by his finger as Speaker of the assembly in its last term.
Earlier, even the assembly Speaker Kavinder Gupta was in a tight spot when he said the attack happened because of the presence of Rohingya Muslims in the city. The opposition took a strong note of the comment and forced him to eat his words. However, after the sitting was over, Gupta reiterated his comments. Rohingya Muslims have been living in Jammu as refugees for some time and their presence has been linked to possible demographic changes in the area on basis of which the right-wingers have been making a lot of noise.
But what made the Sunjwan attack different from the similar attacks that are taking place in Kashmir and other parts of the state was that response from the people. Unlike Kashmir, where the army requires an additional layer of deployment of police and paramilitary forces to stand guard against people who usually resort to stone pelting for disrupting operations, the civilians in Jammu were seen coming with food for them. This gesture has been telecast live from the spot as all the major TV crews have been stationed in the Sunjwan belt for last two days.
Reports said the residents of Sainik Colony have been polling their resources in last two days to fund the distributions of tea, snacks and other food items to the police and paramilitary men who were deployed in the outer and middle ring of the operation. The volunteers were quoted saying by various media outlets that they have served meals to as many as 500 persons in two days.
What made the human angle very visible on the TV was that of a pregnant woman who was hit by a bullet during the attack. She received a serious bullet injury in the lower part of her back and was bleeding when the soldiers traced her. She was flown to the hospital where doctors carried out a caesarean operation and a baby girl was born.
The woman was in the 35th week of her pregnancy. Doctors told reporters that mother and baby are fine and the baby weighed a healthy 2500 grams. Interestingly, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti met the lady when she visited the hospital on Saturday.
The identity of the lady is slightly in dispute. While media reports identified her as Parmjeet Kaur, a police document has identified her as the wife of rifle-man Nazir Ahmad. She is in the Satwari army hospital. Media reports suggest she was a guest of Lt Madan Lal in whose residence various people were hit by bullets. Lal was killed and some of his relatives are admitted in various hospitals.