With bodies of militants not being handed over to families in Kashmir and being buried away from homes, J&K DGP Dilbag Singh has said a decision had been taken by the Centre in this regard to ensure social distancing norms during the coronavirus pandemic.
The last big militant funeral was held in the Valley a month ago, on April 9. In at least one case, a civilian’s body was not handed over to relatives either. The body of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen operations chief Riyaz Naikoo, killed in encounter on May 6, was also buried in a different district from his native Awantipora in Pulwama.
Speaking to The Sunday Express, the DGP said, “The Ministry of Home Affairs, through a letter, advised that bodies of militants not be returned. We are, however, allowing the family at burials.” Apart from the family, a magistrate is present at the funeral.
Incidentally, bodies of those who have tested positive for Covid-19 are returned to families, with the authorities seeking that the numbers at the funeral, including officials, be kept to the minimum.
Singh said the Centre’s directive not to hand over bodies of militants came after three funerals in early April drew large crowds. “The Home Ministry directive cited Covid-19 and the flouting of social distancing norms during funerals, and we are implementing that order and following the SOP,” he said.
Senior security officials in the Valley said the Centre had first sought such a policy shift in 2018, but all operating security forces had advised against it. With the status of J&K changing to a Union territory directly under New Delhi’s control, the decision was “easily pushed”, sources said.
The funeral processions that apparently triggered the move were the two seen in Kulgam and Anantnag in South Kashmir on April 4, when four militants were killed in an encounter at Damhal Hanjipora in Kulgam, and another for Sajad Nawab Dar, allegedly belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammed, held at Saidpora in North Kashmir on April 9.
The DGP said the Home Ministry letter mentioned the funeral in Sopore and questioned the presence of such a large number of people “in violation of the lockdown” in place during the time.
As per precedent, the bodies of foreign militants are buried near Sheeri in Baramulla. Singh said the SOP for burial of local militants amidst the Covid-19 threat remains the same “and is likely to continue”. “There was no option but to resort to this.”
The DGP said the restrictions regarding militant funerals were also required as allowing people to gather in large numbers increased chances of confrontation with police. On several occasions, gun salutes have been offered to militants at their funerals. As per police’s assessment, militant outfits have used funerals in the past to recruit individuals.
After Naikoo’s killing along with a local militant in Beighpora, clashes had broken out between locals and security forces, leaving 16 civilians injured and one dead. The Valley had seen tension for months after clashes during the funeral of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani in June 2016.
Singh anticipated that militant recruitment could see a slump following Naikoo’s killing. “He was commanding the Hizb since 2012, his appeals through his audio clips were heard and heeded… The HM still has the numbers but we do not see anyone being able to operate at his level,” the DGP said, adding that police operations, however, would see no interruption.
Singh said their calculations were that Dr Saifullah, a local militant from Pulwama, may take over as head of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen after Naikoo’s death.
On the operation to capture Naikoo, the police chief said they had been tracking him for six months through the overground worker network, before zeroing in on him at Beighpora. “Just recently, an offer was made to him (Naikoo) to join and take command of a new front, TRF (The Resistance Front)”.
The DGP said they saw the TRF as part of designs by Pakistan to portray the militancy in Kashmir as indigenous, ever since pressure was put on it to take anti-terror measures by the FATF (Financial Action Task Force).
The TRF “began as a social media operation run from Karachi” DGP Singh said, acquiring a physical presence after gaining a sizeable following online. According to him, the Tehreek-e-millat Islamia and Ghaznavi Hind were being run under the TRF umbrella, while it was also trying to revive the Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen.
Singh added that police had managed to delay the “launch” of the TRF by intercepting weapons being sent through Keran in North Kashmir in August last year. “The launch was shifted to March this year, from North to South Kashmir,” he said.
The DGP said any attack by any organisation in Kashmir “will now be claimed by the TRF”, as seen in the recent Handwara encounter, in which two senior Army officers were killed. “The incident was claimed by the TRF but the militant killed (in the encounter) was a Lashkar-e-Toiba commander, Haider,” Singh said.