‘Balhama encounter called off without sanitising the area’

The encounter started at 2 pm in the afternoon on Thursday after three militants took refuge in the house of Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, a poet, popularly known as Madhosh Balhami.

ABID BASHIR
Srinagar, Publish Date: Mar 19 2018 12:50AM | Updated Date: Mar 19 2018 12:50AM
‘Balhama encounter called off without sanitising the area’File Photo

Has the Balhama encounter, on the Srinagar outskirts in which three militants including a Pakistani national were killed, exposed the faulty standard operating procedure (SOP) of the forces? Many security officials believe that the operation was called off in a hurry at 2 in the morning without sanitising the area.

The body of the  third militant, Abu Hamas, a Pakistani national, was first spotted by the locals clearing the debris of the destroyed house. It was after 24-hours of the encounter that the people spotted the body.

The encounter started at 2 pm in the afternoon on Thursday after three militants took refuge in the house of Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, a poet, popularly known as Madhosh Balhami.

“At 2:15, entire area was cordoned and the house was zeroed in. The firing stopped at 11 in the evening and the forces left along with the bodies of two militants from the spot at 2 in the night,” said Ghulam Mustafa, a village elder.

Naseer Ahmed, another resident said that there was no sanitisation operation carried out by the forces or the police to look for any scattered or an unexploded mortal shell. “Only Naib Tehsildar of the area visited the spot to assess the damage of the house,” he said. “At 10 am on Saturday, locals, who were clearing the debris separating bricks and stones, spotted body of the third militant. His body was burnt but he could be identified from his face that had not burnt completely.”

Soon after the news of recovery of third body spread in the area, youth in large numbers rushed to the spot and staged a massive protest. A witness said youth tried to take the body of slain militant but policemen resorted to the firing of tear gas shells in which a youth sustained injury. “Police took away the body amid massive protests,” said the witness.   

“In Balhama encounter, I would say, yes, the operation was called off in the dead of the night without properly sanitising the area. There is a set procedure to ensure no live ammunition remains scarred and also check whether there is any unexploded shell,” an official said, wishing anonymity. “In the dark cover of the night, both these things were impossible though high-beam lights were used to kill militants hiding in the house.”

He said SOPs are usually framed by the people who have no experience of operations on ground. “So it is always the commander or the in-charge operations who takes the call. The operation has obviously left some areas where all the agencies need to work out to ensure no further lapses,” he said. “The larger question is how operation was called off when there were exact inputs about presence of three militants including a Pakistani one.”

Talking to Greater Kashmir, director general of police (DGP) Shesh Paul Vaid said that the operation was closed only to avoid civilian causality. “We didn’t want any civilian to get killed in the protest in the area. So we decided to close the operation. There were apprehensions of law and order problem if the operation would have been prolonged,” Vaid said.

He said police had already directed the village heads of the area to inform police soon after they would spot the third body. “We were knowing third body was there. But we didn’t not want any major law and order issue there,” Vaid said. The DGP, however, said: “They will be extra cautious and take measures to ensure no such thing happens in future.”