The Unlucky 11!

Niloofar Qureshi

ONE had expected that after Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s declaration that “terrorists have to be neutralised only through terrorists,” the militant leadership would have become more alert and devise means to counter this new threat. However, instead of taking more stringent measures to conceal the identity of their cadres so that they are not detected by the terrorists New Delhi proposes to use against them, we instead find group photos of Hizbul Mujahideen militants doing the rounds on social media. With the JK police already having identified almost all those in the photographs, one can well imagine the catastrophic consequences of this juvenile act!

When militancy erupted in Kashmir twenty five years ago, it had put New Delhi in a bind. Though it had adequate forces to tackle militancy, what the center lacked at that time was an effective intelligence network that could assist security forces in identifying militants from within the vast multitude of innocent civilians. Moreover, with no cooperation forthcoming from the public, the job of hunting out militants was similar to looking for pin in a haystack and things looked really bleak for the security forces as they were searching for an ‘invisible’ foe. In fact there are many stories about how militants posing as ‘informers’ would often send security forces on a wild goose chase by telling them made up stories about militants being present in places where they obviously weren’t!

Surprisingly, the security forces soon started apprehending militants with remarkable speed and accuracy. The secret of their success lay in the hoards of photographs showing militants proudly posing with their Kalashnikovs which the security forces invariably found while searching their houses. Though the present generation may be unaware, but ask any elder and you will be told of how in those days, army patrols armed with photo albums containing snaps of militants would establish check-posts in busy places like markets and bus stops to ‘screen’ every passerby. This was also done out during ‘crackdowns’ when entire localities were surrounded by troops and the inhabitants made to congregate at a designated place and undergo screening. A large number of militants were thus compromised by their own photographs!

At that time, none of the young boys who had joined militancy and had a craze for being photographed brandishing their guns would have ever thought that the snaps they sent so fondly to their family members, friends and beloveds would become the very source of their own undoing and in many instances turn out to be their own ‘death warrants’. However, it seems that the militant leadership soon realised the humungous damage that these snaps (which were equivalent to today’s ‘selfies’) was causing and appears to have taken stern measures to put an end to this dangerous trend.

Though, this practice may not have ceased completely, yet there has been a substantial decline in instances of militants circulating their photographs indiscriminately and the results are there for us to see. Readers would recall the recent JK police gaffe when the photo of the alleged Sopore killing mastermind Qayoom Najar released by it turned out to that of an innocent shopkeeper from Kupwara! It appears that  Najar, who is a very senior Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander, is perhaps not camera crazy and it is probably due to this that he has not yet been apprehended despite a bounty of Rs 10 lac on him!

This is exactly why the photograph of eleven armed Hizbul Mujahideen militants in battle gear posted on social media a few days back comes as a big surprise. It also raises some very serious questions- how did a photograph in which the faces of militants are clearly recognisable end up on social media? Was this the impulsive act of one of the young boys in the photograph, or this has deliberately done for publicity purposes and attracting others to join? Since the Hizbul Mujahideen has not made any comments on this, it is for us to try and find out whether it’s serious method or just madness!

It could well be possible that one of those in the photograph or the photographer himself may have in his exuberance put the snap on social media without realising that this could endanger the lives of those in the photograph. After all, those in the photograph appear to be young boys in the age group where ‘showing off’ come naturally. However, amongst these young boys is also ex-constable Naseer Ahmad Pandit, a personal security guard of Minister for Public Works, Syed Altaf Bukhari who in March this year had run away and joined the Hizbul Mujahideen carrying two AK-47 rifles with him.  While the others may have been immature, Pandit certainly isn’t and during his stint in JK police as well as the personal security guard tenure with a Minister, he surely must have observed how the police use photographs to track down militants. So, how did he allow the young boys to take such a snap is something that in itself is inexplicable!

The likelihood of this photograph being deliberately posted on social media by Hizbul Mujahideen to draw fresh recruits too cannot be ruled out. What lends further credence to this assumption is the fact that in this photograph, icons of both the sections of society that the Hizbul Mujahideen is attempting to woo – the police (ex constable Naseer Ahmad Pandit ) and the youth (young Hizb commander Burhan Wani of Tral) are present. Moreover, as per the police, it appears that the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses used to upload these photographs have been deliberately masked to conceal the location from where they were uploaded. If uploading the photographs was simply a spontaneous act on the part of someone ignorant of the consequences, then why would that person take all this trouble to conceal the IP address?

Whatever be the case, one thing is certain- whether the idea to upload photographs of militants was an individual act or an organisational decision, it was a very bad one. Probably it is this type of acts that Defence Minister Parrikar was hinting at when he made his “kaante se kaanta nikala” (‘using a thorn to extract an embedded thorn’) remark. The photographs have no doubt been uploaded by a militant (or in Parrikar’s words a ‘Terrorist’) and as this will be of immense help in tracking down eleven militants, ‘Parrikar’s postulate’ which states “terrorists have to be neutralised only through terrorists,” stands proved!

—Post Script: What has been done cannot be undone, but the eleven people posing in this photograph need to be very, very careful as having been identified by the police, they are now ‘marked’ men and have thus become extremely vulnerable in the ‘terrorist versus terrorist’ game that New Delhi will now be playing. And in the days ahead, should any of these boys come to any bodily harm, then those who uploaded the photographs would be just as guilty as the ones who physically harm them!

Niloofar Qureshi is a regular columnist and can be reached at: [email protected]

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