Why Shopian emerged as hub of new age Kashmir militancy

Why Shopian emerged as hub of new age Kashmir militancy

People grieve during the funeral of Al- badr Millitants Nawaz Ahmad Wagay in Reban, Shopian. (DH Photo/Umer Asif)

Over the last more than two years, this south Kashmir district has emerged as a hub new age militancy as this year only 44 militants, mostly locals, were killed by the security forces in the apple rich district.

According to official figures out of 44 killed militants this year, 42 were locals while two were Pakistanis. Nestled deep in apple orchards, Shopian sits in the lap of the Pirpanjal mountain range and is one of the more prosperous districts in Jammu and Kashmir.

Shopian emerged on the radar of security forces immediately after the killing of poster boy of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen Burhan Wani in July 2016. Prior to that a Facebook photo that marked the arrival of new-age militancy in Kashmir was taken in Turkwangam village of Shopian in July 2015. Burhan posed with 12 associates, carrying assault rifles and with faces unmasked.

After the killing of Burhan, Shopian remained out of bounds for security forces due to the relentless protests for nearly seven months, with militants seen moving around freely and posting their videos as well. Before 2016, police records say, there were only eight militants in the district. Burhan joined militancy in 2010, and it is believed that before his death, he spent “quite some time” in villages across Shopian, influenced by the ideology of Jamat-i-Islamia, a religio-political organisation.

The topography of Shopian mixed 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 make it as their base. Most villages in the district are located at a tri-junction connecting Shopian with Pulwama, Kulgam and Anantnag. The dense orchards provide cover to the militants.

A senior police officer said militants, including from neighbouring districts, meet freely in Shopian as people are more than willing to provide shelter and logistics to them. Before Shopian, Tral area in Pulwama district and Sopore in northern Baramulla district were considered to be militant strongholds in Kashmir.

He said especially during summers, dense apple orchards and nearby forests in Shopian gives militants an advantage as they often give a slip to security forces when cordon-and-search-operations (CASOs) are launched. 

However, the officer said, as the security forces launched a winter offensive against militants two months back, space is shrinking not only in Shopian but across south Kashmir for the ultras. “Not only local recruitment has come down in the district, but there has been a drastic decline in protests by civilians during gunfights and funerals of militants,” he said and added flow of local intelligence is also pouring all-time high.

The officer said security agencies have “jointly re-established intelligence gird in southern Kashmir. After Burhan’s killing, militants reorganised themselves, but we know their writ is almost over now.”

Spread over 30,741 hectares, Shopian has a population of 2.6 lakh (according to 2011 census) and is relatively affluent, with money earned from the over 20,000 hectares under apple cultivation. Over two lakh metric tonnes of apples are produced here every year.