Residents Fearful as Gunfight Rages For 11th Day in J&K’s Pir Panchal Valley

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Poonch: Indian Army jawans patrolling at the Line of Control (LoC) in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday, days after ceasefire violations by the Pakistan Army in Krishna Ghati sector. PTI Photo/File

Nine soldiers have been killed so far in the fresh spate of violence in the area close to the LoC

Muhammad Raafi | Clarion India

SRINAGAR — The residents of Bhata Dhorian and Nar, two neighbouring villages in the Pir Panjal valley of Jammu and Kashmir, are living in fear with brimming uncertainty as the military operation against the suspected militants in the region continued for the 11th day on Friday.

On October 20, the villagers — through the public address systems of local mosques – were told to stay indoors by the Indian Army. The armed forces were preparing to launch a massive assault to trace the suspected militants hiding in the forest area, locally known as ‘Lar Khas Forests’, a vast territory in the south of J&K’s Pir Panchal Range. Nine soldiers have been killed so far in the fresh spate of violence in the area close to the Line of Control (LoC).

Mushtaq Ahmad, a resident of Bhata Dhorian, told Clarion India that the people returned to their homes on Wednesday, soon after the announcements, along with their livestock. Since then, the villagers are not allowed to venture out affecting their routine. “We do not have enough fodder to feed livestock while our rations have also exhausted,” Mushtaq said.

On Friday, intermittent exchange of fire between Army and the militants continued for the 11th day, officials said. The gunfight broke out in the dense forests of Nar in Bhata Dhorian village of Mendhar sub division on October 14 after the militants attacked a patrolling party of the army, killing four soldiers, including a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO).

 

The gun battle initially erupted in the adjoining Chamrer forest range on October 11, according to police officials, the militants fired at forces after they encountered army personnel, triggering a heavy exchange of fire in which five army personnel were killed.

Police officials believe that around four heavily armed militants are holed up in the forest area and intermittent exchange of fire is on for the 11th day. They said that the area is mountainous with dense forest cover, making the operation difficult.

The operation is the longest in the Pir Panjal region of the restive Himalayan region with the highest number of army casualties in 17 years.

The police officials said that a massive search operation has been launched to trace the militants who have been exchanging fire and withdrawing back to the forest.

Following the killings of nine army personnel, the army rushed in reinforcements and launched a massive search operation using drones and high-calibre weapons. However, no militant casualty has been reported so far.

The army has also shut the main highway connecting Jammu with Poonch as the cordon area has been stretched. “Over 10 kilometres of a stretch of the National Highway from Jhadiwali Gali to Bhimber Gali has been shut,” Ghulam Mustafa, another local resident, said.

Ahmad said that the intermittent firing almost every day since the beginning of the operation on October 11 has instilled fear among the local residents.

Eight persons including a mother-son duo have been detained for questioning from Bhatta Dhorian allegedly for providing logistic support to the militants.

The Poonch military operation comes amidst the rising tensions in Jammu and Kashmir that has witnessed over two dozen killings in October alone, including the killings of twelve civilians. Over 30 civilians have been killed in targetted assassinations this year so far, including members from minority communities, triggering fear and uncertainty.

The security grid including Jammu and Kashmir Police, Indian Army and paramilitary forces, have launched a massive operation to tackle the increasing violence. In over a week’s time, hundreds have been picked up, summoned and called for questioning by the police.

This is the eighth gunfight to have been reported in Jammu division since July and most of these have happened close to the LoC. In the earlier gunfights, two army soldiers were killed on July 8 in the Sunderbani area while one JCO died on August 19 incident at the Thanamandi area of Rajouri.

The security establishment has issued an alert in the region including in the forest area of the Pir Panjal range around the Poonch and Rajouri belt after heightened militant activities in Krishna Ghati and Bhimber Gali sectors.

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