SRINAGAR: Is ‘Operation All-Out’ that was launched in 2017 to stop ‘new age militancy’ from gaining a permanent foothold in Kashmir over? That was the indication given by Governor Satya Pal Malik at a function in Jammu.

Speaking with reporters, Malik, who is the first governor with a political background to head the state in many decades, said that there was “nothing like Operation All-Out” and that the people were using “wrong term”.

“There is nothing like 'Operation All Out'. Some people are using this wrong term. We want these children (militants) to come back and we are ready to do what we can do for them," Malik said yesterday.

Governor Malik, however, issued a word of caution to militants, stating that forces have been asked to exercising restraint while dealing with law and order problems in Kashmir.

"But when a militant somewhere opens fire or throws a grenade, it can’t be like you will fire and we will give you flowers and bouquets. They (militants) should leave this path as they will achieve nothing from this," Malik said.

With the security situation deteriorating fast, the ‘Operation All-Out’ was launched in Kashmir in May 2017 following a meeting of the Unified Command headed by the then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.

According to official data, from May to December 2017, 215 militants were gunned down by security forces including some top commanders of Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad outfits.

However, with the onset of winter in 2018, the counter insurgency offensive that has been a source of much suffering in Kashmir was tapered off, “It allowed militants to regroup and think up of new strategies. During this time, local recruitment of youth into militancy also went up,” a top police officer said.

As spring arrived, more than 50 youth had joined militancy in the first five months of 2018, which sent shockwaves across the security establishment, “It was then decided to restart the offensive with new vigour and intensity,” the officer, who is not authorised to speak with media, said.

In the last year, security forces, according to official data, launched close to 300 ‘cordon and search operations’ during which more than 250 militants were killed.

“The strategy was fine-tuned from targeting random militants to cutting their overground network while going after the top leadership who were mainly responsible for the recruitment of local youth into militancy,” the officer said.

A hit-list was prepared by the security forces comprising of 25 commanders of Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen and the Ansaar-Gazwatul Hind.

“Now only three or four commanders like Riyaz Naikoo and Zakir Musa are alive and they have also gone into hiding. Local recruitment is falling gradually for the first time since 2016 but we are not going to sit back and relax,” the officer said.

With the state administration preparing to hold the assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Jammu and Kashmir this year, it is very likely that the forces have been asked to restrict the anti-militancy operations. Governor Malik’s remarks that ‘Operation All-Out’ doesn’t exist is perhaps a hint in that direction!