Growing reach of new militancy

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It was on the night of October 5, 1996 that around a dozen gunmen of counter-insurgency group Ikhwanul Muslimoon drove a truck into Sadrekoot-Bala, a village in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district. They were led by their commander Abdul Rashid Billa, then a dreaded counter-insurgent. One by one, they barged into four houses, and fired at the inmates, killing seven, four of them from one family.

The provocation for the murders was the alleged support of victims’ for the then rival National Conference candidate Mohammad Akber Lone during 1996 Assembly election in which Ikhwan’s chief Kuka Parray was also a candidate. The killings were carried out a day after Kuka was declared a winner. Police registered the case against Billa and his associates but over the past twenty year, no action followed against the perpetrators of this carnage.

On Sunday, Billa was shot dead at his home in Hajin, once the Valley’s counter-insurgency capital. His son Fayaz Ahmad Parray said that four militants had forced their way into their house in the night, two of whom allegedly were their neighbours, his close friends.

For the last ten years, Billa was living a normal life at his home. According to his son, he would freely roam around the village and carry out his business. However the past came back to haunt him when last year, a human rights group detailed Billa’s crimes in an exhaustive report about the human rights violations in the state in the two decades after the eruption of the separatist militancy in 1989. Later, a local court in Bandipora seized Billa’s property, including his revenue-earning land, following the directions from Jammu and Kashmir High Court.

But nobody could have foreseen the killing of Billa at his home. Since late nineties, Hajin has been a zero-militancy area and one of the most peaceful in Valley – albeit, the township more or less returned to the separatist fold following the assassination of Kuka Parray in 2003. The remaining Ikhwanis, the local name for counter-insurgents, later surrendered and settled back into mainstream life, Billa was one of them. Everything seemed to be normal again. But Billa’s killing has shattered this understanding. The militancy has reached Hajin again and in Billa, it has claimed its biggest target.

The incident has swung Hajin back to the late nineties, when militancy aided by the foreigners briefly returned to the area and started killing top Ikhwanis. But 9/11 fundamentally altered the ground situation. Foreign militants reduced to a trickle and the local militant ranks progressively depleted. In recent years, the militancy has returned with a vengeance to South Kashmir. And as Billa’s killing has underlined, it is no longer confined to South Kashmir alone but is spreading to central and North Kashmir. What is more, it has the capacity to strike. It suddenly seems back to nineties.  But unlike then, the central government seems least bothered.     Only response to the deteriorating situation so far has been the use of disproportionate force. And as the situation stands, this has only further fanned the militancy. The need is for centre to engage to address the long festering issue underpinning the Valley’s renewed descent into turmoil. The delay will only cause the situation to spin out of control.

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