After a manhunt that lasted nearly two-decades, the hunt for Hizbul Mujahideen's longest surviving commander, Talib Hussain Lali finally came to an end. In a joint operation by the Indian army and the state police from North Kashmir's Bandipora district. The capture is probably one of the biggest in nearly half a decade.
Lali, 36, was a rare entrant into the military from the Gujjar tribe, usually considered to be against the demand for an independent Kashmir.
He managed to fool the security forces of the state for nearly two decades, with his detailed knowledge of Bandipora terrain, especially its mountains. He travelled through the jungles and mountains, and stayed where the police or army would never dare to go.
In fact, on Wednesday, it was only because he had blisters on his sole and acute knee problems that the police were able to capture him. If not, he could have given them the slip once more.
On Wednesday, acting on a tip, the police claim he was arrested after a 15 minute shootout in Bazipora forests of Ajas area in Bandipora, where two over ground workers had gone to meet him.
His two alleged associates, Abdul Rashid Lali and Showkat Ahmad Mir, a former militant, were also arrested by the police.
"Till last year we had no clue about him. He was literally like a ghost, who everyone talked about but never knew where he is. It was a challenge to get him. He was an inspiration for many youngsters," said a senior police official, who was part of the operation.
Lali, joined the military 18 years ago when he was just 18 years old and received arms training locally. He was active initially for three years and then went underground. Nobody had clue about his location. But he was often seen moving around with locals and Pakistani militants in the area.
"Five years back, he was contacted by senior Hizbul Mujahideen militant Muhammad Shafi Shah alias Dr Dawood, presently in the custody of National Investigating Agency and asked to restart the operations," he added.
Shah, mentored and commanded two groups of militants in north Kashmir. One group which is still considered to be the 'most powerful and dreaded' is functional in Sopore, while another was looked after by Lali in Bandipora.
However, things turned ugly for Lali, when Shah was arrested two years ago, which left him without any mentor. "He was now alone and did whatever he could on his own. He had a lot of difficulty to operate by now," said another official. But he continued to give security establishment a slip, which had even announced a reward of Rs 5 lakh for his capture.
Lali, married a local woman six years ago and has a child with her as well. The police have not been able to locate them as of now.