| BSF personnel during the wreath-laying ceremony for their comrade Balbir Singh at the force’s headquarters in Srinagar. (AFP)
Aug. 31: Security agencies and the Jammu and Kashmir government are scrambling to put beyond doubt the identity of the militant killed in yesterday’s Srinagar encounter.
Late last night, several spotters — former militants who now help the security forces — confirmed the body was that of Jaish-e-Mohammad commander Gazi Baba, a fact on which the BSF, which conducted the operation yesterday, and local police now concur.
“It is a major blow to the terrorists because Shabaz Khan (Gazi Baba’s real name, he has several aliases) was one of their top strategists,” a senior Kashmir police officer said.
Vijay Raman, IG, BSF, made the same point. “I feel killing foot soldiers has little impact on the situation, we need to get at the generals.”
After the body was handed over to the police, in the excitement of the moment it was buried without taking the fingerprint and exhumation has now become necessary.
To be doubly sure of the identity, the BSF might send a photograph of the slain militant to Delhi police’s special cell so that it can be shown to Mohammed Afzal, one of the three militants facing death sentence in the December 13 Parliament attack.
Afzal, who is in Tihar jail, met Baba in the Pahalgam jungles of south Kashmir in early 2001. He has told interrogators of being inspired by Baba to launch the attack on Parliament.
The joint commissioner of Delhi police (special cell), Neeraj Kumar, confirmed that they had been approached by the BSF for Baba’s identification. It is equally important for Delhi police to get a confirmation because in their books Baba figures as an accused who is absconding.
In Calcutta on a visit, chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said he spoke to officials in Kashmir this morning and they had confirmed Baba’s identity. The face of the killed militant had been compared with video films and photographs of Gazi Baba. “The man is 100 per cent Gazi Baba and it is a great achievement for the security forces,” he said.
Mufti congratulated the BSF last evening. “Despite being in a heavily-populated area, no civilian was hurt. It was so neat,” Mufti said of the operation.
After yesterday’s success, the morale of the security forces is high. “Our intelligence is better and we are in a pro-active mode. Earlier we were reacting to terrorist strikes but now, with better intelligence coming in, we hope to take them on,” an officer said.
Although the forces know Baba’s death is a major loss to the militants, they also acknowledge that other leaders will come up to take his place.
“Gazi Baba has spent the last 15 years in Kashmir and knew the area inside out. It may not be so easy to replace him,” the officer added.
In the past one month, there has been a spurt in terrorist strikes in Srinagar and surrounding areas, but security forces believe it will be quiet for at least a month. The large cache of arms recovered from yesterday’s operation proves Jaish was planning attacks in the city.
“All this talk of Kashmir returning to normal is bad for Pakistan and the militants. They need to disrupt this and bring back people’s thoughts back to militancy and away from Mufti’s healing touch,” a bureaucrat said.