The saying that terrorists have no religion was once again proven right last Tuesday when two terrorists violated the sanctity of Jamia Masjid in Padgampora village of South Kashmir’s Pulwama district by not only hiding inside but even attacking security forces from within the mosque. While the news that the mosque suffered no structural damage in the exchange of fire between security forces and the holed-up terrorists is comforting, the fact that the terrorist duo intentionally defiled the sanctity of the mosque is extremely disconcerting for a number of reasons.
Firstly, armed terrorists using a mosque as a safe sanctuary just to save their lives goes against religious edicts and as such naturally offends the sensitivities of believers. Secondly, exploiting the fact that security forces would be restrained in returning fire or entering a mosque as it could cause damage to this holy place of worship is a despicable act without any religious sanction or moral justification. Lastly, and most importantly, using the inherent security of the mosque precincts to target security force personnel is an unpardonable act of extreme depravity.
From the information available, it emerges that two terrorists had taken refuge in the mosque to avoid apprehension by the security forces who had specific information regarding their presence. Having surrounded the area, the security forces asked the terrorists to surrender. But instead of doing so, they opened indiscriminate fire injuring two soldiers [one of whom subsequently succumbed to his injuries]. Displaying extraordinary courage and perseverance, the security forces managed to successfully extricate the worshippers before neutralising the terrorist.The slain terrorist was identified as the one who had murdered an unarmed 40-year-old local belonging to the minority community two days ago.
While the encounter was raging, the second terrorist managed to jump out of the mosque window and hide himself in the toilet of an adjacent house, where he met his end. That the mosque didn’t suffer any damage and there were no injuries to civilians bears testimony to the consummate professionalism and genuine concern for civilian safety, which is the hallmark of the security forces.
The security forces deserve full credit for tracking down and neutralising the murderer of a minority community member within 48 hours of the grisly crime. At the same time the public’s rejection of terrorism too merits due appreciation, as it’s obvious that locals had provided information to the security forces regarding the exact whereabouts of the terrorist who had murdered the minority community member. The perceptible mutual trust that exists between the security forces and terrorism-weary people of Kashmir is a positive sign that will certainly go a long way in defeating the proxy war being waged by Pakistan!
This isn’t the first time that terrorists have tried to hide in a mosque. In March 2000, security forces neutralised three Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT] terrorists who had taken refuge in Dodhipora mosque located in the outskirts of Handwara in North Kashmir’s Kupwara district. In April 2006, a Hizbul Mujahideen [HM] terrorist seized a mosque in Akoora village of South Kashmir’s Anantnag district for about four hours before he was slain by security forces.
Just a year later, two HM terrorists holed up in a mosque in Tujan village of Central Kashmir were neutralised by the security forces. In 2009, three LeT terrorists who were being chased by the security forces in the mountainous Keshwan area in Kishtwar district, barged into a mosque and battled the security forces from there till they were finally eliminated. Even though desecration of mosques by terrorists was never appreciated by locals, fear of retribution sealed their lips.
However, thanks to successful anti-terrorist operations being conducted jointly by the security forces alongwith J&K local police, and supplemented by active public participation, terrorists are now on the backfoot. The improved security situation has enabled the people of Kashmir to publicly give vent to their feelings against terrorist excesses and this is exactly what happened after the Potgampora mosque encounter.
Hundreds of Pulwama residents took out a long candlelight march on Friday late night to protest the defiling of Potgampora mosque by terrorists. On the other hand, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference [APHC] has maintained a stoic silence on the sacrilegious act of terrorists barging into a mosque and turning its sacred precincts into a battle ground. Since APHC leader Umar Farook is also the Mirwaiz [chief priest] of Kashmir, his failure to condemn this blatantly sacrilegious incident is particularly disturbing.
However, this isn’t the first time that the Mirwaiz has failed to condemn violence occurring in and around places of worship. Readers would recall that in 2017, a mob lynched Deputy Superintendent of Police Mohammad Ayoub Pandit just outside Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid. This tragic incident occurred when Shab-e-Qadar [a holy night on which worshippers are blessed, their sins are forgiven and supplications accepted] was being celebrated even as Mirwaiz Umar Farook was giving a sermon inside the mosque.
While he may not have been involved in this dreadful incident, but since it was perpetrated by a group of people that had just exited from the Jamia Masjid where he was leading prayers, one had expected the Mirwaiz to have at least condemned the killing of a Kashmiri by Kashmiris on such a pious occasion when believers seek forgiveness. But leave alone condemnation, the Mirwaiz didn’t even consider it necessary to offer condolences to the deceased police officer’s bereaved family.
So much so for one who heads APHC and professes to be a “true representative” [emphasis added] of Kashmiris!