Locals keep militants at bay
28 April 2007
Prankote: An erstwhile bastion of militants, the Prankote belt of Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir, is now practically a free zone and this is much due to the valour of local Gujjar tribes. The locals, predominantly Gujjars, have picked up weapons to prevent the entry of the militants in the belt. One can reach the Prankote belt — a cluster of several villages — after eight hours walk from the nearest motorable road on the Reasi-Arnas road and it is one of the most inaccessible parts of the State. Prankote came on the national scene when on the night of April 17, 1998, 28 civilians were slaughtered here. The news of the gruesome massacre reached the authorities 10 hours later and it took more than 24 hours for the security forces to get to the village. The massacre provoked mass migration of civilians as about 3,000 people from various villages migrated from the remote hills to low lying areas of Reasi district. Nevertheless there was a large population which decided to stay on and fight the militants. After a long drawn process, the local population has finally succeeded to drive out the militants. Interestingly the first challenge against the militants by the local civilians was through locally made 12 bore guns. After years, the residents of 11 villages in the belt are experiencing freedom but the threat to their lives still remains. The villagers who have become a headache for the militants have been on their hit list. In the surrounding belt, Jehangir, area commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, has been the longest surviving militant. His cadre of 22 men have repeatedly threatened the local population. In December, 2006 there was an attack by the militants in the belt which injured a civilian but it was repulsed. In February this year, there was again a foiled attempt to cause causalities by the militants. Atiq Mohammad, a 24 year old youth who had encountered the militants in February, says, 'By the severity of the attack, we can well gauge the determination of the militants to eliminate us but we are also motivated and there is no room for being complacent. For us the battle against militancy is far from over and therefore any negligence would mean certain death. Most of the attacks occur at night and therefore one among us always remains awake in respective areas.'