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Padma for hunter of rebels

Srinagar, Feb. 1: This year’s Padma Shri list had a surprise for Kashmir: the inclusion of a man dreaded by many and described as the Valley’s first counter-insurgent.

Ghulam Mohammad Mir alias Momma Kana, 60, has got the award for public service and is one of only two Muslims to make the Padma list from the state, the other being poet Hamidi Kashmiri.

Counter-insurgents are gunmen who fight militants but are not officially paid by the government.

Officials said the award to Mir had come as a big embarrassment for the state government. “We are surprised by the Centre’s move; it will lower the prestige of the award. Mir doesn’t have a good reputation,” an official said.

Mir shot into “fame” in Magam township of central Kashmir in the early 1990s when militancy started in Kashmir. He was dreaded not only for targeting the rebels but also the civilian population.

“His name sent shivers down the spine of people across Kashmir. A lot of stories about how he would commit atrocities on people began being circulated in Kashmir those days,” a police officer who knows Mir said.

“He became a counter-insurgent when nobody in Kashmir was willing to become one because of a strong militant presence. Drivers would hesitate to go into his area.”

Mir, however, said he was a victim of militant violence. “My stepbrother and nephew were killed by militants, and I got 5,000 militants arrested or eliminated,” he said.

Police sources said Mir was senior to Kuka Parray, who is often dubbed the father of counter-insurgency. The secretary-general at the state administration department, Basharat Ahmad Dhar, said he did not know who Mir was. “I am not aware of any person of this name from the state getting the award,” he said.

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