Ahmad (56) was killed and his two subordinates – constables Fayaz Ahmad and Abu Bakar – were injured when terrorists opened fire on their patrol at Lal Bazar

They can be easily spotted in a bustling marketplace buying vegetables or dropping their children to school. The everyday ordinariness of their lives has rendered the Jammu and Kashmir police personnel “soft targets”, as they fight a seemingly endless battle against militancy in the valley.

Assistant Sub-Inspector Mushtaq Ahmad Tuesday became the 49th victim of terrorist violence in the past over six months in Jammu and Kashmir, where militant attacks on soft targets have shown an upward trend despite successful counter-insurgency operations by the security forces.

Ahmad (56) was killed and his two subordinates – constables Fayaz Ahmad and Abu Bakar – were injured when terrorists opened fire on their patrol at Lal Bazar on the outskirts of Srinagar.

He is the 11th state policeman to have been shot dead by terrorists in Kashmir since January, officials said on Wednesday. Six army personnel and five paramilitary Jawans have also laid down their lives this year taking the total number of fallen security personnel to 22.

Last year, a total of 42 security forces personnel were killed in the valley. Of them, 21 were from the Jammu and Kashmir Police.

Ironically, Ahmad’s son Aaqib Mushtaq, an alleged “terrorist associate” was killed in an encounter in Kulgam in April 2020.

Among the 49 victims of terrorist violence, 27 are civilians who fell to targeted attacks in different parts of the valley, setting off panic among Kashmiri migrant pandit employees engaged under Prime Minister’s employment package and Dogra staffers who are on strike since May demanding relocation from Kashmir to Jammu.

According to a police official, terrorists are looking for soft targets to make their presence felt without encountering much trouble. The officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said since the state police constituted the first line of defence, they were in the line of terrorist fire.

“Police is spread thin. It is the first line of defence. The Army is deeply entrenched in camps and rightly so as Army is the last resort,” he said.

“We are everywhere, we are easy targets. We have to go to our homes, get vegetables from market, drops kids at schools. We are soft targets,” he added.

Quite a few of the felled police personnel like constable Ghulam Hassan, who was shot dead on May 7, were unarmed. Others like constable Saifullah Qadri were enjoying familial bliss when their lives were cut short by terrorists’ bullets. Qadri was shot dead outside his home, while his seven-year-old daughter was injured in the attack.

The 27 civilians killed by terrorists included government employees belonging to minority communities like Rahul Bhat and Rajni Bala who were shot dead in their respective places of posting in Budgam and Kulgam districts on May 12 and May 31, respectively.

Officials said stepped up counter-insurgency operations neutralised 133 terrorists across Jammu and Kashmir since January this year with June accounting for the highest 35 terrorist fatalities.

While 66 terrorists were eliminated between March and May, 22 were killed in January and seven others in February, they said, adding three terrorists were gunned down in the first two weeks of the current month.

Shocked at the targeted killings, panic-stricken government employees belonging to the minority community, especially Kashmiri migrant pandits and Dogras, have been on strike since May in support of their various demands, the foremost being relocation from the Kashmir valley to Jammu division.

Many of them have already fled to Jammu after the killing of their colleague Rajni Bala of Samba and are staging a sit-in at Panama chowk in the heart of Jammu, unwilling to resume their duties in the valley till normalcy returns.

Kashmiri pandits are also protesting inside their heavily-guarded camps in different parts of Kashmir and in Jammu since the cold-blooded murder of Rahul Bhat, a clerk, inside his office in central Kashmir’s Budgam district.

They insist “no place is safe for them in the valley”.

For most of these attacks, The Resistance Front (TRF) – believed to be an off-shoot of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) – has claimed responsibility. The TRF came into existence after the Centre abrogated Article 370 and divided J-K into two union territories.

Officials believe LeT perpetrated the attacks but TRF claimed responsibility to put on a façade of indigenous involvement. By doing so, Pakistan also wants to evade any action by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which has still kept it on the grey list.

The TRF often releases videos and pictures of an attack. Of late, the militants have been using body cameras to shoot the killings.

After ASI Ahmad’s killing, a video released by Amaq news agency – the propaganda outlet linked to the ISIS – shows a terrorist firing a pistol at a policeman before he goes on to shoot another inside a police vehicle. He then goes around the area and shoots another policeman taking refuge behind a tree, as a burst of gunfire rings in the background.

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