Militants losing public goodwill
12 June 2001
The Indian Express
Srinagar: The recent spurt in religious places being targeted by militants is being described by security agencies here as a sign that the militants have lost public goodwill and are trying to whip up religious passions. The past 11 years of conflict in the Valley have seen several instances — three in the past fortnight — of militants using mosques. Ashok Bhan, IGP, Kashmir, claims that there was a ‘‘groundswell of public support’’ for the police and security forces to go after the militants hiding in the mosque at Shangus. This episode, he adds, has sent them a warning that they cannot take religious places for granted. And it wasn’t just Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone who said, at a press conference here, that militants should avoid using religious places like mosques as shelters. Religious scholars, while condemning both parties militants and security forces — for the damage caused to the mosque, believe militants should spare religious places from their hive of activity. Less than a fortnight ago, militants had taken shelter in a mosque at Khanwara, Shopian. Security forces laid siege to that mosque, too, and withdrew only after Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah intervened and the militants were given safe passage. More recently, six women devotees were killed and 60 injured in the premises of Sufi saint Sheikh Nooruddin Wali’s shrine at Chrar-e-Sharief after an unidentified person lobbed a grenade on them on Friday prayer congregation. Chrar was also the scene of the most famous such siege. On May 9, 1995, an encounter broke out between security forces and militants led by Mast Gul at the shrine. At the end of the three-day clash, the shrine complex was completely gutted, as were several nearby houses. And Mast Gul escaped, along with 30 of his men. Similarly, in 1996, the lakeside Hazratbal mosque touching the shrine complex at one end witnessed a fierce encounter between SOG-led security forces and militants. Later, 17 militants of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) were killed and part of the mosque gutted The outfit’s publicity chief at the time, Shabir Siddiqi, was also killed in the incident. The Hazratbal shrine also witnessed a month-long drama between a dozen holed-up militants, civilians and security forces in 1993, which, however, ended with the safe passage being given to former.