Army personnel taking position during encounter at Hajin area of Bandipora district of north Kashmir, where one LeT Militant got killed in a gunfight with security forces, on March 01, 2018. The Times of India/Bilal Bahadur

The government has hailed the deaths of 13 militants in three separate encounters in Kashmir, calling it the “biggest strike of the decade”. And the security forces responsible may have hit an even bigger jackpot, as they will share in a record pool of reward money. 

Jammu and Kashmir Police killed 12 militants in two separate clashes in the apple town of Shopian on April 1 in a joint operation with the Army’s Rashtriya Rifles and paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Another was killed and his fellow militant nabbed in the adjoining district of Anantnag in south Kashmir.

Four civilians were also killed and more than 200 injured, allegedly while government forces were firing, and three Army jawans (junior soldiers) lost their lives in the incidents.

The security forces who executed the operations and possibly their  informers will share reward money expected to total around Rs20 million (US$307,577). Official sources told Asia Times that it is the “highest-ever” reward for a single day since the three-decade-old armed insurgency began in the region.

They said that informers now play a critical role in shutting down militants: getting a clue from a source about mobile phone used by operatives is often enough to entrap them.

The sources said the state police had kept a bounty of around Rs500,000 on each of the militants, who were all were locals. Under the counter-insurgency protocol a “similar bounty” is kept by the army and paramilitary forces, and this triples the total reward money.

The government has categorized cash-for-kill incentives. The then Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed had the rewards increased after taking office in 2015.

The reward for killing A++ militants was raised from Rs1 million to Rs1.25 million and the amount for the A+ category militant was increased to Rs750,000 Rs500,00. For A-category militants the amount was increased to Rs500,00 from Rs300,000 and for B-category militants it went up to Rs300,00 from Rs200,00. The cash-for-kill incentive for C-category militants was doubled to Rs200,000.

A police officer said most of those killed on Sunday belonged to category A, while one was an A+ militant. Officers say the slain man belonged to Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“Today is a very special day. This is probably the biggest strike on the militants in a decade.”

There are protocols on the distribution of bounty money. “While a portion of the reward money goes to informers, if any, the other share is distributed respectively among the personnel of the executing party. However, no gazetted officer is entitled to the reward money,” said a senior police official.

Informers get rewards only from one agency; other forces distribute the lot among their team members.

Police sources said security forces were tipped off about militant movements in the Pir Panjal region, but initially no action was taken. Chief Minister Mehbooba Muftis government had asked the security forces to temporarily suspend anti-militancy operations until the 64th annual convention of the Travel Agents Association of India had been completed in the summer capital of Srinagar.

The three-day convention, which started on March 27, was aimed at reviving tourism in Kashmir. It concluded with 2018 being declared “Visit Kashmir Year”. Hours later, the counterinsurgency resumed.

Hizbul and Lashkar groups were about to hold a joint meeting in Shopian to decide on future strategies when the security strike took place.

“These groups were under constant surveillance through the mobile phone tracking system that had been updating us about their latest geographical coordinates with a hi-tech precision system. All we had been waiting for was a nod to resume strikes,” said a police official.

Businesses were not happy at the timing of the attacks. Killings, business and education cannot go hand-in-hand. At the onset of spring, the government has doomed prospects of business in summer. These killings must stop,” said Kashmir Economic Alliance chairman Muhammad Yasin Khan.

But while the situation remains uneasy in Kashmir, government forces are satisfied with the outcome of the clashes. The army’s General Officer Commanding 15 Corps, Lt General A K Bhatt, Director General of Police SP Vaid and Inspector General CRPF Zulfiqar Hassan called the killings a “major victory” at a press conference.  

“Today is a very special day. We are all glad that our forces have successfully managed to kill a large group of militants in three separate gunfights in southern Kashmir. This is probably the biggest strike on the militants in a decade,” they said.

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