Loud explosions and gunshots continued to echo in Kashmir’s Pampore throughout Tuesday as a standoff between security forces and militants, holed up inside a government institute, 15 km from Srinagar, has stretched on for over two days now.

A second militant was reported to have been killed by the security forces in the ongoing encounter that entered its third day today. One militant was reported killed on Tuesday evening.

Security forces cordoned the area and stopped traffic on a stretch of the arterial national highway close to the Entrepreneurship Development Institute in Pampore area of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.

Smoke rose from the building as shells landed on the roof and its sides, occasionally hitting the administrative building that had suffered extensive damage in an earlier encounter between militants and security forces in February.

In February, militants had taken positions in the administrative section of the same building and the ensuing gun battle had lasted for over 48 hours. Five security force personnel and a civilian were killed along with three militants then.

Unguarded riverside

An unconfirmed number of militants are believed to have entered the campus from the riverside this time, using a boat on the Jhelum river.

The militants reportedly managed to sneak into the campus undetected and took positions in the hostel building on Monday morning.

They are supposed to have set fires inside the building, which alerted the few staff present on campus. The holed up militants opened fire as soon as fire tenders and security forces reached the spot.

The campus had been shut since the unrest began in the valley in July and had been shifted to Jammu earlier in August.

Suspecting a trap, security forces chose not to storm the building which has more than 60 rooms, police officials said, as the intention was to exhaust the holed up militants first, as there were apprehensions that they may have planted Improvised Explosive Devices in the doors.

The holed militants however had been sparingly returning fire, prolonging the standoff. One soldier of the army and a personnel of the Special Operations Group were reported to have been injured.

The building has suffered extensive damage due to mortar shelling, its walls broken and covered in black soot, while tinted glass covering the building lies shattered.

Security forces entered the first floor of the 7-storey building on Wednesday morning and reported to be clearing one room after another.

There have been a string of militant attacks across the valley since the unrest began. After the Uri terrorist attack on September 18, and the surgical strikes that followed on September 28-29, there have been many instances of ceasefire violations on the Line of Control and intelligence agencies have been warning of a spurt in militant attacks.

The Director General of police, K Rajendra Kumar, told State Times that the Army and Police would flush out the militants with PAVA shells and tear gas and try to eliminate them without risking collateral damage, because of which the operation could take a longer time.

Security lapse

Despite a major attack on the campus earlier this year, security on the campus doesn’t seem to have been beefed up. Following the February attacks, the Jammu and Kashmir police deployed more personnel on the campus, despite which militants still managed to sneak in.

The Sempora Pampore area is a few kms from the Army’s 15 corps headquarters and has several security forces camps in the area. The buildings on the campus are some of the tallest structures in the valley and have no other prominent building nearby.

The multiple rooms in the building and a high vantage point gives the militants a tactical upper hand making it difficult for security forces to approach the building. "A seven storey building occupied on the top floors automatically gives you domination and a view," said Lt Gen Ata Hasnain, former General Officer Commanding 15 corps.

Commenting on the use of boats by the militants, Hasnain said during his time in Avantipora, the river used to be regularly patrolled and the army had placed ambushes along the river banks while boats had been disallowed after 7 pm.

“There was no movement after 7 o’clock in the evening. So once [the boats] are locked on the shore and the keys are with the local police, then you know the boats can’t be used. Someone may try to swim across or use a rope to cross, for that you have patrolling and ambushes,” he said.

Earlier this year an attack on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy on the national highway in Pampore led to eight personnel being killed. Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba had claimed responsibility for the attack.