A crucial breakthrough

Print edition : August 15, 1998

A FEW minutes past 3 a.m. on August 9, a group of unmarked police vehicles rolled up around an inconspicuous house in Srinagar's old city, their engines turned off and headlights switched off. The silence was broken soon by loudspeaker annou ncements asking those inside the house to come out. These orders were met with assault rifle fire and grenades. Jammu and Kashmir Police Special Operations Group (SOG) commandos and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel returned fire, pinning down those who were launching an assault on them from behind the second floor windows. One commando group broke down the front door and brought out a woman and three children. A second group proceeded upstairs. Within a few minutes, one of the most important police operations in ten years of insurgency was complete - Hizbul Mujahideen chief Ali Mohammad Dar, his aide Ali Mohammad Bhatt and long-standing bodyguard Tauseef Ahmad, lay dead.

Ali Mohammad Dar, a long-standing Jamaat-e-Islami rukun (member) and a police constable until 1991, was a key figure in sustaining terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Dar, who was the acting chief of the large terrorist organisation, was technically second only to the Hizb's Pakistan-based Syed Salahuddin, whose position has, in recent years, been largely symbolic. Dar, who preferred to use his theatrical alias, Burhanuddin Hijazi, returned to India on April 27, 1997, after almost the entire field command of the Hizbul Mujahideen was killed. Joint operations by the SOG and the Intelligence Bureau had led to the elimination of top terrorists Firdaus Kirmani, Manzoor Khan and Naseebuddin Gazi in March 1997. SOG officials quickly learnt that Dar had returned and that he was operating under a new alias, Rafiuddin Ghazi. Two Hizbul Mujahideen wireless sets operating intermittently in central Srinagar carried orders under other code names - 'Khursheed', 'Daud', and most frequently, 'Junaid'.

In its search for 'Junaid', the SOG made two vital breakthroughs in recent weeks. Last month, SOG troopers arrested Abdul Latif Bhatt, a journalist working for Afaaq, a Srinagar newspaper. A powerful wireless set recovered from Bhatt turned out to be the principal Hizbul Mujahideen transmitter in Srinagar. The journalist had been operating this under the aliases of 'Muzammil', 'Idris' and 'Mudassir'. Bhatt's arrest recently led the SOG to Abdul Rauf Trambu, the Hizbul Mujahideen's finance chief. SOG undercover operatives then traced the Hizbul Mujahideen chief and his bodyguard to a home that his key aide Ali Mohammad Bhatt had bought recently. Bhatt was living there with his family (his wife and children were the people the commandos brought out of the house to safety).

The raid that put an end to Dar's career in terror was carried out by 20 SOG personnel and two platoons of the CRPF, led by Srinagar's Superintendent of Police (Operations), Manohar Singh. Manohar Singh, an SOG veteran, joined the group shortly after it was set up by his predecessor in office, Farooq Khan.

Dar's diary, recovered after the raid, has provided insights into the state of play in the Hizbul Mujahideen. It makes a mention of persistent differences within the Jamaat-e-Islami - between the Hurriyat Conference's chairman Syed Ali Geelani and Amir-e-Jamaat or supreme head G.M. Bhatt. It states that the latter's advocacy of peace has led the organisation's cadres increasingly to dissociate themselves from the Hizbul Mujahideen. Strategically, the diary records the problems encountered in bringing weapons across the Line of Control (LoC) and sketches the possibility of using the relatively more porous Rajasthan and Gujarat borders with the likely assistance of mafia baron Dawood Ibrahim's apparatus. Another section deals with the organisation's requirements for terrorist operations in Doda and adjoining Chamba. Manohar Singh said: "There are also records of the Hizbul Mujahideen's financial dealings in Kashmir, which were worth some Rs.80 lakhs a month. We will be investigating these entries and whether they are connected with the hawala cases against Hurriyat leaders."

THIS evidence of pressure on the Hizbul Mujahideen casts interesting light on the Hurriyat Conference's recent problems. Evidently anticipating immediate intervention, the organisation responded with delight to the fact that the international community's attention was again on Kashmir following the nuclear tests. This anticipation obviously emerged from the realisation that terrorist groups in the Kashmir Valley could no longer act to affirm the Hurriyat's relevance and authority. The Hurriyat leaders, who have been conducting largely ineffective and peripheral agitational programmes in recent months, fear that Pakistan may be forced to abandon them to their fate. This perception is shared by other secessionist groups, including the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front's Amanullah Khan faction, which has been lobbying vigorously on the nuclear issue in the United Kingdom. The faction recently warned that if Pakistan gave in to pressure from the United States and signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, it would mean the virtual consigning of the conflict in Kashmir to the dustbin.

Meanwhile, New Delhi's Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition Government and the National Conference in Srinagar have claimed that Dar's elimination was an outcome of their "proactive" policies. The ironies will be evident to all those who are familiar with policing in Jammu and Kashmir. Requests by the Jammu and Kashmir Police for more personnel and weapons have met with little response from either the State Government or the Central Government. Four senior SOG officers who were instrumental in fighting terrorism were recently denied promotions by the State Government, while dozens of recommendations for police valour medals, including one for Manohar Singh, lie mouldering in the Union Ministry of Home. Whether the SOG's success will now result in a more serious approach by the bureaucracy and the Government remains to be seen.

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