In a big jolt to the Hizbul Mujahideen’s 21-year-old commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the Army on Saturday claimed to have caught one of his close associates from a joint check-post with the police, in Pulwama, south Kashmir.
Tariq Ahmad Pandit (25), who belongs to the area, was one of 11 militants who posed with Kalashnikovs for what became the postcard picture of the new breed of militants in Kashmir led by Wani.
The arrest by the 55 Rashtriya Rifles is a major blow to Wani as several key members of his group have already been killed by the police and Army.
Tariq had joined the militants a few months before he appeared in that photograph along with Wani.
He had left home in
March last year along with policeman-turned-militant Naseer Ahmad Pandit, a friend and relative, Aafaq Ahmad Bhat and Bilal Ahmad Bhat. All the other three are now dead, killed in separate “encounters”.
Naseer, who had left after stealing two service rifles from the Srinagar residence of then Roads and Buildings (R&B) minister Altaf Ahmad Bukhari, at whose house he was deployed, had also featured in the photograph with Wani.
While Aafaq was killed on October 28 last year in Drabgam Pulwama, Bilal and Naseer were killed on April 5 and 7 in Gadoora Pulwama and Shopian respectively.
In its statement, the Army said, “In a major blow to the HM outfit, Tariq Pandit, a close aide of Burhan Wani, was apprehended by Army in a well coordinated swift operation today on Newa-Pinglana road of Pulwama… He was apprehended by the team of Rashtriya Rifles battalion. A 9 mm pistol, two Chinese grenades and other war-like stores were recovered from him.”
A resident of Karimabad in Pulwama, Tariq had dropped out of college and drove public transport. “He (Tariq) was motivated by Naseer to join militant ranks,” said a counter-insurgency police officer. “He was active in parts of Pulwama and Shopian district.”
Police records show him as involved in the killing of policemen in Shopian and a village head in Pulwama.