New Delhi: Everyone is aware of the Indian Army’s Surgical Strike across the Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in September 2016.
But about a decade prior to that, there was a similar strike, although on a lesser scale, to target terrorists within the Kashmir Valley.
Narrating the story about this strike is a new book ‘Operation Khatma’.
The book is an eyewitness account by two journalists — R C Ganjoo and Ashwini Bhatnagar — of an operation to clear the historic and much-revered Hazratbal Mosque in Srinagar of terrorists who laid a siege there in March 1996.
The operation by the Special Operations Group (SOG) of Jammu and Kashmir Police led to the killing of 22 hardcore terrorists of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).
The ‘Operation Khatma’ was launched when JKLF commander Shabir Siddiqui and about two dozen of his associate terrorists occupied the Hazratbal shrine in March 1996.
Earlier, in 1993 too, a group of JKLF terrorists had occupied the Hazratbal shrine and after 32 days of painful negotiations and international media spotlight, the terrorists were embarrassingly allowed a free passage to Pakistan.
The government’s soft policy in 1993 had emboldened JKLF’s rival outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, led by Afghan mercenary Mast Gul, to occupy the Sufi shrine Charar-e-Sharief in Budgam in 1995 for over two months.
The shrine was ultimately burnt down by Mast Gul before he managed to escape the security dragnet, causing acute embarrassment to the country.
When the Siddiqui-led JKLF terrorists captured Hazratbal in March 1996, the state government, led by Governor Lt Gen (retd) KV Krishna Rao, was in a fix for the first four days.
SOG chief and SSP Farooq Khan, was, however, determined that the desecrators of the holy shrine should not go scot free.
The book gives a blow-by-blow account of how Farooq Khan took the risks, persuaded the top brass and launched the historic strike.
“The mandate to Khan was clear – no entry into Hazratbal or damage to it,” the book mentions.
“As a first step, the occupiers were deftly persuaded to leave the main dargah and move to an adjoining building while the demands were being considered by the government,” the authors write in the book.
“But, even as the talks were on, Shabir Siddiqui was instructed by JKLF chief Amanullah Khan, based in PoK, to move back to the shrine. The message was intercepted and Khan immediately took on the terrorists. When they refused to surrender and fired at the police party, ‘Operation Khatma’ was launched,” the authors said.
Ganjoo and Bhatnagar, who covered Kashmir intensively, including when terrorism erupted there, give an account of the Operation as well as the events leading to it.
The authors said Operation Khatma underlined the fact that there was no scope for a dialogue with jihadis within a democratic framework.
The rampaging bull has to be grabbed by the horns and pinned to the ground, and, in doing so, politicians, who play both ways, should be ‘obscured’ from the scene, they opine.
“The only solution to jihadi terrorism is counter-terrorism operations. There is no scope for a negotiated settlement of grievances through the democratic political process because religious fanaticism has no space for a well-rounded public discourse. Agree with me or I will shoot you, is what they say,” Ganjoo told UNI.
The authors said the peace in Kashmir had been undermined decades before the much-maligned rigged Assembly elections of 1987.
“Of course, they (rigged polls of 1987) provided the trigger, literal and metaphorical, for the so-called gun culture to take over the valley, but right from 1951-52, Sheikh Abdullah had started tilling the land for a violent harvest,” they say.
The book has been acquired by an international film production house for making a web series