New Delhi/Srinagar, Feb 20 (IANS) Its location makes it vulnerable, more prone to being occupied by suicide attackers for a possible long-drawn gunfight, a senior police officer had once said with some foreboding about Kashmir’s entrepreneurship institute at the centre of a battle between security forces and terrorists on Saturday.
The police officer’s apprehension during a casual talk with me was the first thing I immediately remembered when I heard about a group of militants had stormed into the multi-floor complex of the Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI), where I used to work until recently as a communication officer.
Had I not returned to journalism, I would probably have been one of the employees of the institute who were trapped inside the complex hours after the shootout began.
The institute, situated on the strategic national highway connecting Jammu and Srinagar, has three buildings – a guest house, a hostel complex and the main office building – on a large swath of 3.5-acre land on the eastern bank of Jhelum. The institute trains young boys and girls of the job-starved state to be entrepreneurs and has nearly 300 employees spread across 22 districts of the Jammu and Kashmir. Nearly 100 employees are posted in the main office near Pampore, some 12 km from Srinagar.
The road on which the institute is located connects capital Srinagar with south Kashmir. It is the lifeline not only for local supplies but is the only all-weather road link used by the army to reach the Srinagar-based 15 Corps headquarters that is the nerve centre of the fight against militancy in the state.
The area around the building is not residential. It houses a government-owned joinery factory where wooden objects like doors, window frames, beds, chairs are made. On the other side of the road is a highly secured complex of medium and shortwave radio transmitters of Radio Kashmir, Srinagar.
There is a large slice of marshy land that separates the JKEDI complex from the Jhelum. Police previously had on many occasions proposed that the building be secured with security forces.
But the proposal was rejected as the administration of the institute was of the view that it (police presence) may scare young boys and girls from visiting it.
The police officer during the talk last summer was pointing to the location of the institute on the highway and the bushy wetland at the back of the complex – making it an easy target of militants who would also want to exploit the rush of youth into the institute.
And that is exactly what might have happened on Saturday evening as I was informed by my colleagues.
They said that three to four militants – apparently teenagers – walked inside posing as aspiring entrepreneurs before launching the attack on an security force convoy. Many of the employees had no idea what was brewing outside.
The militants, carrying heavy weaponry, then stormed inside. The attackers quickly scaled the stairs and occupied the fourth floor of the building from where they began shooting at security forces, the employees said.
In the melee, many of the employees sneaked out and ran towards the hostel complex. But many were still trapped inside before they reached the ground floor.
I could hear the gunshots over the phone as I spoke with my former colleagues. I heard them screaming over the phone. They were running for their lives before being evacuated by security forces to safer places.
I was told that a gardener was injured being hit by a bullet on one of his legs. Rest of them are safe and living.
(Sarwar Kashani, previously with JKEDI, is with IANS. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)