The year 2017 was year of encounters as towns and villages on the countryside witnessed upsurge in the militancy related incidents, especially in the backdrop of 2016 protests against the killing of top militant commander Burhan Muzaffer Wani in Bamdooru village of South Kashmir on July 6.
In the aftermath of this mass uprising a series of protests, strikes and encounters took place that gripped the whole valley and dozens of young men left their homes to join the militant ranks. To contain the trend the army soon launched the Operation All Out – against the militants, the encounters began taking place in the Valley, especially in south Kashmir where number of militants had swelled post Burhan Wani killing. During encounters, when protests broke out dozens of civilians also lost their lives even women got killed close to encounter sites after security forces witnessed a new trend of civilian protests disrupting anti insurgency operations at encounter sites. As the trend was first of its kind, it prompted security forces to issue the advisory for civilians to stay away from the areas under operation.
Though police maintained that civilians were killed while they tried to march towards encounter spots to give safe passages to the holed up militants, locals however allege that the civilian causalities could have been easily avoided had forces exercised maximum restraint.
Meanwhile, after eight years, the militant killings have surpassed 200 and if official figures are to be believed, around 210 militants were killed in the Valley this year including more than 120 militants were foreigners most of whom were killed near the Line of Control after they sneaked into the Valley. Even officials claim that they managed to kill some top commanders of Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar e Toiba and Jaish Mohammad. Among the top commanders killed this year included, Yasin Yatoo, Abu Dujjana, Sabzar Ahmad, Abu Ismail. Police blamed on the commanders responsible for attack on the Amarnath Yatra bus that left eight yatris dead and 19 injured.
Even nephews of Jaish chief Masood Azhar and Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi were also killed in the encounters in the Valley this year. Though, the top officials were happy for containing the militancy, however, joining of more than 100 youths into militancy has send alarm bells ringing within the security apparatus of the state.
On the insistence of J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti during operations police and army tried to get local militants to surrender, however, majority of the holed up militants instead of laying down weapons preferred death during encounters. For the forces, however, the silver-lining came when they managed to pull out some youths from encounters or the newly joined militants came back to their home. In the past 12 months, fresh security force camps were setup in Kashmir with an aim to reach those areas where militants had managed to create their influence, especially in south Kashmir that is still witnessing encounters, civilian killings and killing of militants and forces personnel. The way encounters have intensified, the officials fear that the graph of militancy will still go up as youths are still joining militant groups in different areas of the Valley.
On the political front, the Valley witnessed by elections for the Srinagar LoK Sabha seat that was vacated by the former MP, Tariq Hameed Karra who resigned from the seat and left the PDP to join Congress. Despite violence on the polling day low voting turnover was recorded and NC president, Farooq Abdullah managed to win the elections by defeating the PDP candidate. Senior Abdullah became the MP again. Though elections were to be held for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat, the PDP had nominated Tassaduq Mufti, younger brother of J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti as the party candidate from this LoK sabha seat. The opposition had nominated J&K PCC president, Ghulam Ahmad Mir as its candidate, however, prior to the elections, the Election Commission posted the elections on security reasons and till date elections were not held. Though, Tassaduq began his political inning after he was nominated as MLC by Governor N N Vohra, initially he was heading the Grievance Cell of the J&K chief minister before he was nominated as MLC and is tipped to be the new Tourism Minister of the J&K. The portfolio has been vacant since Mehbooba took over chief minister; however, Tassaduq has been seriously looking after the affairs of this department. NC after the victory of Farooq Abdullah received a short in the arm and the party leadership started organizing grassroots level meets and public gatherings and managed to play a role of vibrant opposition only after three years. The NC leadership is hopeful that it will be now able to create dent in the image of government especially when according to them majority of population in both Kashmir and Jammu are annoyed with its leadership. With bringing Tassaduq into cabinet, J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti is now trying to get complete hold on the PDP. Junior Mufti has already learned some tricks of the governance and managed to get jobs for his friends in the government.
Tassaduq will be new Tourism Minister. It was only in the end of this year that J&K government has decided to hold panchayat elections, despite reservations from many quarters, the elections will be held in the third week of February next month with an aim to take governance at the door steps of common masses, however, there is every possibility that militancy will mark spike during these elections and those who will try to contest elections in the areas where militants are roaming will become scapegoat.
And for the first time after many years, the Centre appointed former, IB chief Dineshwar Sharma as its point man to hold talks with all sections of society including the separatists. After being appointed as interlocutor, Sharma visited Kashmir three times and met dozens of delegations especially all the top leaders of mainstream political parties and other groups. Sharma also met youths involved in cases of stone pelting and pellet victims. Though after his appointment as point man Sharma said that he is willing to talk to all separatist leaders, however, all the top separatist leaders stayed away from Sharma terming his appointment as farce and futile exercise. Even though there were media reports that Sharma managed to hold a meeting with former Hurriyat chairman, Abdul Gani Bhat at his Srinagar residence. However, Bhat denied of having any meeting with Sharma and termed it as a rumour.
Even though Bhat said that his party Muslim Conference always was in favor of dialogue and resolution of issues through dialogue but Bhat was rebuked by other top separatist leaders for meeting interlocutor. This year also top separatist leaders didn’t meet any body from New Delhi except former minister, Yashwant Sinha who compiled a report and send it to Central government.
In the mid of this year, the National Investigative Agency –(NIA) raided several houses and business establishments across the Valley, Jammu and outside state in connection with the hawala funding. The NIA arrested seven separatist leaders who are still under detention. NIA also arrested son of United Jihad Council, chief, Syed Salahudin in connection with an old case. The separatist leadership has termed these raids and arrests the ploy of New Delhi to bring separatists on the table. However, the top leaders who are part of Joint Resistance Leadership – Syed Ali Geelani, Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq vowed to continue their struggle. For the PDP that was under pressure since it joined hands with the BJP, especially in south Kashmir the speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Independence Day came as a big relief and then appointment of point man was other boaster for the leadership, especially chief minister Mehbooba Mufti who utilized every platform and met all the top leaders of BJP urging them to initiate some sort of dialogue with separatists.
Amnesty to protesters
And the amnesty granted to youths who were first time offenders helped the PDP government to portray that they care about the youths who have been under stress and the government on the orders of J&K chief minister granted amnesty to around 5000 youths. The government also provided jobs to those youths who lost their vision due to pellet injuries, but it couldn’t convince the security forces to stop the use of pellet guns that left around ten thousand people especially youths injured last year.
Nevertheless, while the state was in news for many political and security related developments during the year, it is to be seen how it will tilt in the coming year of 2018 as Kashmir is the place of happenings. One can pray and hope for its peace and prosperity!