The encounter took place a day after three militants were killed in an encounter in Srinagar

Five militants including top Hizbul Mujahideen commander Saddam Padder and an assistant professor from Kashmir University, who went missing since last Friday were killed in an encounter in Shopian district in south Kashmir.

The encounter took place in Badigam village of Zainpora in Shopian district of south Kashmir, where joint teams of 44, 34, 3 Rashtriya Rifles of Army, CRPF battalions and special operation group of J&K police launched a crackdown, triggering an encounter.

The militants killed were identified as Saddam Padder, who was part of Burhan Wani’s core group and active for over four years now and Tauseef Sheikh, who was also active for over five years now. The assistant professor from Kashmir University’s sociology department, Dr Muhammad Rafi Bhat, who went missing two days back after Friday prayers from the campus in Srinagar, was accompanying the militants and is thought to have joined the ranks and was meeting Padder. He was working on contract basis at the campus. Hours before he went missing he had posted a picture of urdu poem, his students had written in his regard and also a wrist watch they gifted him. The two other militants were identified as Moulvi Bilal and Adil Thokar, also well known in south Kashmir. J&K police chief S P Vaid, confirmed the killing of five militants, but they are are yet to confirm the final identity of the militants.

The killing of Bhat, a resident of Ganderbal, is set to create ripples in Srinagar especially in student community, which has been protesting frequently over the killings for past two months now. Kashmir University, fearing protests over killing of Bhat, has decided to suspend classwork on May 7 and 8 and also postponed all the examinations. J&K police had also transported the family of Bhat from Ganderbal in north Kashmir to the encounter spot in south Kashmir, to persuade them for surrender, but to no avail.

For the government and armed forces, killing of Padder and Sheikh is a major breakthrough, which police say would destabilise the militant network in south Kashmir and also bring a temporary halt to the recruitment. The duo, having survived for many years, despite frequent encounters, were emerging as ‘influential motivators and new leaders’ among the militant ranks.

The encounter took place a day after three militants were killed in an encounter in Srinagar and a civilian protestor was run over and killed by a police vehicle, during the protests. Kashmir Valley is observing complete shutdown over the Saturday killings and mobile Internet services and train services have been suspended. On Saturday, three militants offered gun salute to slain militants in Eidgah, in the heart of old Srinagar city. This is a major concern for the government, who had managed to keep Srinagar relatively calm and disconnected from the militant activities in north and south Kashmir.

“This is a sort of continuation of 2016. We saw many encounters in 2017 and this year is turning out to be bloody as well. The situation will remain tense for the whole year, considering the spike in militancy and increasing anger among young generation. There has to be a political way forward. We can only manage the crisis temporarily,” a senior police official told ET.

In 2018, till date over 126 people, including 31 civilians, 63 militants, three political workers and 29 police, Army and paramilitary personnel have been killed.

After the death of Burhan Wani in 2016, around 100 locals joined militancy in 2016,124 in 2017 and over 35 in 2018 till now. The government launched Operation All Out to wipe out the militancy and killed more than 213 militants in 2017.