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Killing of Lakhvi’s kin, senior commander leaves Lashkar reeling

Riyaz Wani | Updated on: 18 November 2017, 22:13 IST

In one of the biggest successes for the security forces in a single operation, six militants including Abu Owaid, the nephew of the Mumbai attack mastermind Zakiur-Rehman Lakhvi were killed during an encounter in North Kashmir town of Hajin.

Owaid is the son of Lakhvi’s brother Abdur Rehman Makki, second in command of Jamat-u-Dawa headed by Hafiz Saeed.

The Valley’s LeT chief Mahmood Bhai and the divisional commander and Abu Zargam were also killed.

“Six LeT militants killed in Hajin encounter. Weapons and ammunition recovered. One of the militant named Owaid is son of Zakir Rehman Maki and nephew of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi”: DGP SP Vaid tweeted.

Musaib is the third member of Lakhvi family who has lost his life in Kashmir. Owaid’s elder brother Abu Musaib was killed in January early this year. And Lakhvi’s 20 year old son Mohammad Qasim was killed way back in 2007 in an encounter in the Bandipore area.

The encounter began early this morning at the Chandergeer area of Hajin. According to reports, seven militants were trapped. As the forces were laying cordon, the militants came out and opened fire at them killing one commando Nirala and injuring another. However, the forces tightened the cordon, killing six of them.

The operation has broken the back of the militancy in the Hajin-Bandipora belt, a former stronghold of pro-government insurgency group Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon. Over the past two years, militancy in the area had witnessed a revival of sorts. The revival had been led chiefly by Abu Musaib. He, according to police, had crossed over into Valley in 2015 and was initially active in the hills of Bandipora. But he later shifted to the Hajin belt, ostensibly to mobilize more recruitment into Lashkar. And within a year, the outfit’s figures went up to around twenty, several of them local youth.

However, ten of them were killed in 2016. With the killing of Musaib in January this year, the prospect of the further revival of the militancy in the area appeared doomed. And by the time another high ranking militant Abu Waleed Mohammad was killed in March, the chances only grew further bleak.

But Lashkar would not let that happen. Soon after in Lahore, a conference was held at Al-Dawa school to observe the martyrdom of Waleed Mohammad which was addressed by Musaib’s father Abdur Rehman Makki. He praised the spirit of ‘martyrdom’ of Waleed Mohammad, and pledged to intensify jihad in Kashmir.

It was then that his second son Owaid came over to take his brother’s place and together with Mehmood Bhai went about the task of consolidating the fledgling militancy in the area. By summer this year, Hajin seemed to be back in the reckoning as a militant-friendly place. And its proof was the killing in an encounter of Abid Hamid Mir, the first local militant from Hajin to be killed after more than two decades. And to further announce their arrival on the scene, the militants also killed a longstanding counter-insurgent Abdur Rasheed Billa.

Hajin’s changing fortunes

In the early nineties, Hajin became the site for an Army backed counter-insurgency campaign against separatist militancy. The advent in 1993 of Kuka Parray, the first major pro-India insurgent leader and a Hajin resident, dramatically altered the militancy scene in Valley in favour of the government.

For three years, Kuka ruled Sonawari, a cluster of villages including Hajin and further beyond. Hundreds of militants and even civilians with alleged sympathy to militants were killed by Parray’s men.

This increased the level of violence by manifold, triggering a massive internal displacement of people from rural to urban areas, with Srinagar being the preferred destination. The horror played out for five years until the Kargil war in 1998, with militants aided by the fresh infiltration across LoC regaining the dominance. Now, it was their turn to kill Ikhwanis, as Parray’s men were called. Parray himself went on to become an MLA and was subsequently assassinated by militants in an ambush near his home in 2003.

The killing of six militants in a single operation has once again dealt a blow to the militancy in the Hajin-Bandipora area, in the strategic North Kashmir belt that is used by militants as a staging post to spread through the Valley. According to police estimates, around a dozen Lashkar militants were active in the belt this year. Losing six of them including LeT chief Mehmood Bhai, and the top commanders Owaid and Zargam is likely to make the militancy’s revival in the area a lot tougher.

First published: 18 November 2017, 22:13 IST