Renegades to Rebels Hajin witnesses a tectonic shift

Once a bastion of renegades, Hajin, a small sleepy town surrounded by agricultural fields, witnessed a series of fierce gunfights between militants – mostly foreign – and troops this year.
The gunfights have been followed by a mass support of the locals for militants, marking a change in scenario and support toward militancy.
Hajin, which used to be a hub of counter-insurgency militia (locally known as Nabidis or Ikhwanis) during the 1990s, is now being seen as a transit route for foreign militants travelling to and fro Bandipora district and Kupwara district in north Kashmir through the Hajin-Sonawari belt.
Presently, the disbanded Ikhwan is invisible while militancy survived their onslaught not only in Hajin but also its adjoining area.
However, locals in the area joining militant ranks in recent times are far lesser than what is being witnessed in south Kashmir areas.
But, foreign militants who infiltrate from different routes along Line of Control (LoC) in north Kashmir manage to set their bases in Hajin area.
Among the groups of foreign militants, mostly associated with Lashkar-e-Toiba outfit, most now have been killed in various gunfights this year.
This year alone, according to a senior police officer, over 20 militants have been killed in Bandipora district.
“Of around 21 militants killed in gunfights in Bandipora district, nearly 14 were killed in Hajin area,” said a police officer.
After November 18 gunfight at Hajin’s Chandergeer village in which six LeT militants including the nephew of top militant commander, Zakir-ur-Reham Lakhvi, Owaid Jangwi and a Garud commando of Indian Air Force – deployed for live operational experience, were killed, General Officer Commanding of Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Lt Gen J S Sandhu said Hajin was “an area of focus” for them.
“Early this year, we had a number of operations and militants were killed in Hajin,” he said. “Subsequently, the militants revived, resorted to some atrocities which followed anti-militancy operations on a daily basis in the area.”
Lt Gen Sandhi said the six militants comprising a bulk of Hajin group had been largely decimated.
But, as is indicative of the ground situation, militancy has not ended in the area.
The latest attack in the area was carried out on the residence of a Congress leader, Imtiyaz Parray, the son of notorious counter-insurgent-turned-politician, Muhammad Yousuf alias Kukka Parray.
Kukka Parray, who was accused of unleashing a reign of terror on the civilians during 1990s in a bid to crush militancy in north Kashmir, was killed by militants in 2003.
According to sources, around four more militants continue to be still active in the area.
“One local youth, Saleem Parray is active for the past month while another youth, Inayat in underground and there is no indication yet on whether he has joined militants or not, but we are sure he had been roaming with the militants,” they said.
Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), North Kashmir Range, Vidhi Kumar Birdhi termed the November 18 gunfight as a “big achievement” and said militants were largely killed in the area.
“But given the topography of the area, at times there is a push-in from other areas,” Birdhi said. “Majorly the area is alright now but I can’t share the number of active militants, although, their movement remains due to the transition area.”
The change in the situation was first witnessed during the 2008 uprising when Hajin would erupt in protests like other places of Kashmir.
As the 2008 and 2009 uprisings subsided, Hajin was almost militancy-free.
But, some foreign militants after infiltrating to this side managed to set Hajin as their operational base.
A senior police official said those militants, who managed to operate in the area in the recent times, had managed local support from people who wanted the area to shed the tag of having remained a base of the notorious renegades.
“The foreign militants at times manage to avail local support but we have been largely successful in the area,” he said. “We have been focusing on the ‘local support to militants’ aspect as well and been able to break that support to a considerable extent.”
DIG Birdhi said the situation always remains dynamic and hoped for normalcy in future.
Imtiyaz’s residence was not the first to get attacked by militants.
A major attack was carried by militants on April 16 in which one of the notorious renegades of yesteryears, Abdul Rashid Parray alias Rashid Billa was killed.
Militants had barged into his house and shot him dead on spot.
Billa was accused of killing seven civilians of three families, including women, on October 5, 1996, in Saderekoot area of Bandipora district.
Back in 1990s, Billa was part of Kukka Parray’s Ikhwan group that had the official backing to stop surge in militancy in north Kashmir.
On September 28, when the family of an off-duty BSF constable, Rameez Parray, resisted militants from dragging him out his residence, he was shot dead.
Two Garud commandos and two LeT militants were also killed in a brief gunfight in Rakh-i-Paribal area of Hajin on October 11.
The area continues to remain under the radar of troops but whenever there is a cordon and search operation against militants, it witnesses interruptions by protestors, who hurled stones at troops.
javid@risingkashmir.com