43 militants killed in Pulwama-Shopian this year

According to official data, Pulwama witnessed ten encounters in which 22 militants were killed, while 21 militants were neutralised in a similar number of encounters in Shopian. (PTI File Photo)

As the south Kashmir districts of Shopian and Pulwama have emerged as a hub of new age militancy since 2016, relentless operations by security agencies have led to the killing of 43 militants in the twin districts in 20 encounters this year.

In the rest of the state, 37 militants have been killed so far this year. According to official data, Pulwama witnessed ten encounters in which 22 militants were killed, while 21 militants were neutralised in a similar number of encounters in Shopian.

The twin districts came under the radar of security forces immediately after the killing of Burhan Wani, the poster boy of the militant group Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, in July 2016.

The arrival of new-age militancy in Kashmir was marked by a Facebook photo of Burhan and his comrades, that was taken in Turkwangam village of Shopian in July 2015.

Burhan posed with 12 of his associates, carrying assault rifles and with faces unmasked.

After the killing of Burhan, the twin districts remained out of bounds for security forces due to the relentless protests that went on for nearly seven months, with militants seen moving around freely and posting their videos as well.

Such is the influence of militants in the two districts that less than 3% voters exercised their franchise in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls. Pulwama and Shopian are part of the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency.
 
In Pulwama and Shopian, with people openly espousing the separatist cause and young boys proudly talking of their “heroes who died for a cause", makes it an ideal ground for militants to use as their base. 

A top police official said the twin districts were on the radar of security agencies to ensure that top leadership of militants is wiped out.  “During summers, dense apple orchards and nearby forests give militants an advantage, as they often give a slip to security forces when cordon-and-search-operations (CASOs) are launched,” he said.

However, the officer said, after the security forces launched an offensive against militants since 2017, space is shrinking for them in the two districts. “Not only has local recruitment come down, but there has been a drastic decline in protests by civilians during gunfights and funerals of militants,” he said and added that the flow of local intelligence is also at an all-time high.

Last week, Ishfaq Sofi, a local militant of Islamic State Jammu and Kashmir (ISJK) was killed in an encounter. Sofi alias Abdullah Bhai, a resident of northern Sopore town and close aide of Zakir Musa, was killed by security forces in a gun battle in Amshipora village of Shopian on Friday.

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