Anantnag: With the killing of its Kashmir commander Abu Ismail, militant outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) has been left headless once again. Just one-and-a-half month ago, the Lashkar had lost its commander Abu Dujana on August 1, and now it has lost his replacement as well.
This one-and-a-half month span is the shortest time the government forces have taken to eliminate a Lashkar commander. Before killing Ismail, they had neutralised Abu Qasim and Abu Dujana within two years, Lashkar’s former commanders both of whom had been active for several years in Kashmir.
Qasim, who remained active for about five years in Kashmir valley before getting killed on October 29, 2015, was considered to be a master planner and was allegedly involved in some high-profile attacks, including the killing of tech-savvy police officer Altaf Dar who was known as Altaf Laptop.
Dujana, after serving as deputy to Qasim for several years, took over the reins of the LeT soon after Qasim was killed.
Famous as a master “cordon-breaker” for having escaping more than a dozen cordons, Dujana was considered to be instrumental in making Hizb and LeT work in tandem for quite a while, apart from carrying out some major attacks.
There are, however, no such details available regarding Abu Ismail with the security agencies.
“There is generally no information regarding foreign militants. A profile is sketched out on basis of inputs, when they spend time here in Kashmir. In Ismail’s case, there is little we know, for he did not get to spend much time here,” a top source in the security establishment told Kashmir Reader.
He said that Ismail is believed to have entered the Valley sometime in August or September last year.
An army source in south Kashmir maintained that Ismail’s first footprints in the Valley can be traced to the December 17 attack last year on an army convoy in Kadlabal area of Pampore, which left 3 army men dead.
“Since then, his name popped up during investigations of at least four bank robberies and at least five attacks, all in south Kashmir,” the army source said.
Of the five attacks that Ismail is believed to have carried out, the attack on Amarnath Yatris on July 10 in Battengoo area of Anantnag district brought him to limelight.
Eight pilgrims were killed and at least two dozen others injured in the attack.
Immediately after the attack, police brought up Ismail’s name and in a recent presser announced that he was indeed involved in the attack.
“He had 15 FIRs lodged against him,” a police spokesperson said.
The leadership crisis:
The LeT, as per sources, may be in its worst crisis now as far as the leadership on the ground is concerned. It now has no known faces apart from local boy Zeenat-ul-Islam left in the group.
“But they do not usually make a Kashmiri their commander,” the source in the security establishment said.
He said that there were around six to eight Pakistani militants active within LeT ranks in south Kashmir.
“But all of them are relatively new,” the source said. “None of them, I guess, can be as yet elevated (to rank of commander). This leaves them with the choice of only Zeenat-ul-Islam, the militant from Sugan area of Shopian district.”
This is exactly what General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the south Kashmir-based Victor Force, Major General BS Raju, had to say at the presser held after Ismail’s killing in Srinagar on Thursday.
“We are expecting a vacuum in the Lashkar now, which should give us more opportunities,” Raju told reporters.
Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kashmir, Munir Khan, maintained that the focus will be to eliminate the militant leadership.
“For us it is important to neutralise the militant leadership,” Khan told Kashmir Reader. “This is our strategy. These commanders are important because they recruit youngsters, lure them to militancy, plan violence and create a mess.”
For now, the government forces seem to be walking the talk.
In June this year, a list of twelve most-wanted militants was released by the army, following the killing of Sabzar Bhat, the most-wanted Hizb militant.
The forces have managed to neutralise seven commanders from that list, leaving only five active on ground.
There, however, is another fact that cannot be ignored, and which can very well be counted in the favour of militants: the number of local youth picking up arms. The increase in that number has been relentless.
Since the killing of Burhan Wani in July last year, more than 80 youths have picked up arms in south Kashmir alone; the number keeps swelling each day, sources said.
“Unless the number of home-grown militants is limited, I do not think that there can be a logical conclusion to the phenomenon,” a police source said. “We can thump our chests and pat our backs as much as we can, but the truth is, there is no end in sight.”
Interestingly, nine of the twelve most-wanted militant leaders in the ‘list’ were Kashmiris. Four of the five surviving ones are Kashmiris as well.