Who was Lashkar commander Abu Qasim? What was the nature of his operations in the Valley?
Abdul Rahman alias Abu Qasim was a resident of Bahawalpur in Pakistan, and had been active in the Valley for the past six years. He headed the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s operations in Kashmir, was its seniormost commander and top strategist, as well as its main recruiter. He was in touch with the Lashkar’s Pakistan-based commanders Waleed, Alqama and Hurrarah, and received fresh batches of militants crossing over the Line of Control. He headed a group of 12-15 militants in South Kashmir, besides supervising Lashkar operations in central and south Kashmir, and travelled frequently across the Valley. Abu Qasim, who was in his early 30s, carried a cash reward of Rs 20 lakh on his head. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) too began to look for him after he was identified as the mastermind of the Udhampur attack.
What is the significance of his elimination to the counter-terrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir?
Abu Qasim was one of the sharpest and most capable militant commanders operating in Kashmir, and his killing is considered a big loss to the Lashkar. He learnt the ropes from senior Lashkar commander Rahmanbhai who was killed in 2011 in South Kashmir. Abu Qasim replaced Rahman, and was elevated to take charge of Lashkar operations. Over time, he built a strong network of sources across Kashmir, and there is no one to match his capabilities currently. The command of the Lashkar in South Kashmir will in all likelihood now pass to another foreign militant called Dujhana, who worked closely with the slain commander, and was groomed by him.
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What is the Lashkar’s current state in Kashmir?
The Lashkar has suffered several setbacks in the Valley, especially in South Kashmir, over the past several months. Irshad Gania, a local militant commander who was considered Abu Qasim’s No. 2, was killed in an operation in September. The outfit has lost over two dozen militants this year, including some commanders. Officials say some 2-3 dozen Lashkar militants are currently active in South Kashmir and some parts of Kupwara district.
What is the current state of the larger militancy in the Valley?
More than 150 militants are active in the Valley. The Hizbul Mujahideen is the largest and most active group; most of its militants are active in South Kashmir, and in some pockets of North Kashmir. The Hizb also has some sleeper cells. The group led by Burhan Wani is currently the most active of Hizb groups, and has been recruiting local youth in South Kashmir.
How has 2015 been in terms of counter-terrorism operations? In what ways will the contours of the battle and strategy of the security forces change with the onset of winter?
Over the past 10 months, more than 30 militants have been killed in multiple operations across Kashmir — at the same time, many local youths have joined militancy in South Kashmir. With the onset of winter and heavy snowfall, the infiltration of militants from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir will stop. Militants who usually live in the forests during the summer will be forced to look for hideouts both in villages and urban pockets. This is the time when they will be more vulnerable to the security forces.
What will be the likely fallout of Abu Qasim’s elimination?
For the Lashkar, it is a big setback — and it will probably take a few years before the outfit is able to groom another militant who is as good a planner as Qasim. This will bring relief to the security forces. But the killing is unlikely to have a major impact on the overall militancy scenario, as many local militants are still active in different parts of the Valley.