Security review high on Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s agenda during upcoming visit to J&K

Days after a spate of civilian killings, including the targeting of members of minority communities in Jammu & Kashmir, Union Home Minister Amit Shah will visit the Union Territory (UT). October 23-25 are the dates that have been tentatively fixed. Sources say that besides an outreach to the people of the UT, there will be cultural and Sufi programmes during the visit.

Amit Shah is likely to lay the foundation stone for a Metro project in Srinagar and visit Pulwama in South Kashmir, where the foundation laying for AIIMS will be done. He will then spend a day in Jammu. This will be Amit Shah’s first visit to J&K after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019.

READ: Amit Shah chairs meet of power, coal ministers amid concerns over shortage, outages High on the agenda is a security review in the wake of an escalation of violence in Jammu and Kashmir. Sources said that security forces are worried after the escalation in violence both in the Valley and in the Pir Panjal region.

Seven civilians have been targeted in the past week. There have been four encounters in the past 48 hours in J&K. The encounter near the boundary of Poonch-Rajouri districts led to the death of five soldiers, including a JCO.

Security forces at the encounter site in Surankote area of Poonch district on Monday | PTI

Sources in the intelligence grid say this is a new group of better-trained and combat-experienced terrorists from Pakistan.

Security agencies believe these are Pakistanis who have likely fought alongside Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and are back on the LOC. Intelligence grid officers admit that infiltrations have taken place over the last two months. And launch pads across LOC seem to be brimming with terror operatives.

Another noticeable change is that AK-47s have been recovered from dead terrorists. Pakistan’s ISI has been pumping in small weapons, especially pistols, for targeted killings. The recoveries of these pistols have been a feature, said a source in the Indian Army.

READ: Security forces detain 570 after targeted killing of civilians in Jammu-Kashmir Sources said that the pistols have been used for target killing, especially of civilians. Pistols are near invisible, once hidden in clothing, unlike an AK-47.

Unarmed civilians are soft targets, with no retaliation. Panic and shock have forced several families to migrate from Kashmir to Jammu. Sources said security has been beefed up at Pandit camps in the Valley.

But fear is palpable after the sudden spurt of violence. Intelligence sources said from June to August, reports were sent flagging that minorities could be part of the new strategy of ISI to disturb peace in the Valley and stall the return of Kashmiri Pandits, which the Centre has been working on for some time. A strategy is being worked out to pre-empt and demolish any terrorist plans to cause more violence.

Sources have said top officers from IB, R&AW and NIA with experience and expertise in working in J&K have been roped in by MHA and have been camping in Srinagar. The Jammu and Kashmir Police has rounded up 700 overground workers. While several were let go after questioning, a list has been prepared of hardcore anti-national elements likely to be booked under UAPA or PSA as part of consolidated action.

NIA has carried out raids in 15 locations in two terror cases on Sunday and is preparing the ground for more action. Sources say the crackdown will be extended, and the focus is to disrupt the overground network of terrorism. Security has been intensified across Kashmir Valley.

A security personnel standing guard at a check point in Srinagar on Monday | PTI

On-ground joint forces are conducting multiple random frisking, and new checkpoints have been created.

Forces are keeping sustained pressure by launching cordon and search operations. Several meetings have been held by the Home Ministry, with officials in J&K taken on board via video conferencing. Surveys of areas have been done, including Srinagar’s downtown area.

Sources say the priority is to address grievances related to Kashmir migrants’ immovable properties in a time-bound manner. This initiative would end the plight of the migrants, including Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, who have been suffering since the 1990s. This included thousands of applications moved by Pandits living outside Kashmir.

The government had said that people returning to Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 can approach DMs to remove encroachment on their properties, as part of distress sale made at the time of exodus. Sources said the move led to a sense of insecurity. An officer said the move could have been done more discreetly.

But the move has been counterproductive as terrorists targeting minorities have created a sense of fear. A senior officer said a spike is seen every few months. The new part-time terror recruits will be identified and neutralised soon so that violence ebbs.

For now, the challenge is being taken head-on, with top officials monitoring what seems like a tough situation.

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