Civilians Underfire

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The Security agencies are facing a tough trend of militant sympathizer civilians disrupting anti insurgency operations leading to innocent killings. The Legitimate writes why govt should wake up to the concern and find ways to arrest the trend. 

Asem Mohiuddin

An Indian army soldier takes position near the site of gunfight at village Frisal in Kulgam some 70 kilometers south of Srinagar./Photo: Zahir Farooq

An Indian army soldier takes position near the site of gunfight at village Frisal in Kulgam some 70 kilometers south of Srinagar./Photo: Zahir Farooq

Srinagar: The killing of two civilians one during encounter at South Kashmir’s Frisal village and another during protests in Kulgam after an encounter ended in which four militants and two army soldiers were killed on Sunday is a grim reminder that all is not well in the Valley. The post encounter protests have become a routine in Kashmir, especially in south Kashmir where many youths have picked up arms and joined militancy ranks. Earlier also whenever encounter starts people especially youths in order to divert attention of the security forces try to break the cordon so that militants will get a chance to escape. On Sunday, when the Army, Police and CRPF laid a cordon around the two storey house where six to seven militants were hiding – the army and police as per the local eyewitnesses took two sons of the house owner inside the house, while one returned another didn’t come out. The Army claims that the operation was delayed for several hours so that civilian could come out but once the firing began the civilian identified as Ashiq Husain came out from the house and was hit by a bullet and died on spot. Two soldiers were also killed in the cross firing. The locals, however say that Ashiq, 40, along with his another brother was used as a human shield by the army.  Another civilian was killed when police and paramilitary forces fired pellets and bullets on the protestors who poured on to the streets of the village where encounter took place and started pelting stones on government forces. More than 30 civilians got injured and most of them had bullet and pellet injuries when forces tried to chase them away to avoid any major law and order problem following the killing of militants. 

The trend of assembling near the encounter spots is picking up especially from the last year when at many places security forces had to face civilians. Now time has come when government should realize that there is deep sense of alienation among the people especially youth who put their lives on risk to save the militants

Despite the warnings from the police and army that locals should stay away from the encounter sites at least two kilometers from the encounter spot for personnel safety, police claim that people especially youth without caring for their lives try to break the cordon by pelting stones on the police and army personnel who are busy in the encounters that results the death of civilians. This is not the first time when civilians were killed during an encounter or in the protests. Only last year more than 90 civilians lost their lives in the five month long unrest in different parts of Kashmir. Over 30 civilian’s mostly young men were killed in the first two days after Hizbul Mujahedeen commander, Burhan Wani was killed at Bambdoora village in Kokernag in south Kashmir. Like past, again government has promised to look into the circumstances that led to the killing of two civilians in Kulgam. But people don’t have much faith over the government probes keeping in view the past experiences. The trend of assembling near the encounter spots is picking up especially from the last year when at many places security forces had to face civilians. Now time has come when government should realize that there is deep sense of alienation among the people especially youth who put their lives on risk to save the militants. Instead of showering pellets and bullets on the protestors who are carrying stones, the government especially the police should tackle this issue with human heart and uphold the maximum professional values and use minimum force. On Sunday around one dozen people had bullet injuries that further agitated the people and locals allege that the bullet fired were above waist that are life threatening. On the other hand there is an unprecedented trend of people rushing to the encounter spots to offer safe passage to the trapped militants without caring for their lives. This makes very tough for forces to tackle the situation with civilians while engaging with the gun battle with militants. Although the government has already been placing the three layer security apparatus of state police, army and paramilitary forces at the spot of an encounter to deal with any eventuality emanating out of the militants killings without inflicting collateral damage, the civilian killings doesn’t stop. All the time when any civilian fall to the bullets of security forces while controlling the protests, the forces state that the situation was “out of control” or they shun the responsibility of civilian killings under duress.  Though chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti had asked security agencies that efforts should be made so that instead of putting fight the militants should lay down their weapons so far government has not been able to connivance boys who have taken up arms to lay down their weapons.  With an ever increase in the encounters and presence of local boys in the ranks of militancy the government especially police should try to formulate a new strategy that will save the civilians from getting killed in the encounters and it has been seen that killing of civilians is the biggest impediment towards peace and a small incident could snow ball in to a major crisis as it happened last year after the killing of Burhan Wani. On its part security officials are also worried over civilians rushing towards encounter spots. “” Of late this is becoming a new trend that is very dangerous. Even sometime small protest during encounters could become cause for many civilian killings,’’ a senior army officer said. The separatist leadership that is spearheading the protest since the killing of Burhan Wani last year had warned government of fresh crisis as government has taken no lessons from the past and situation can turn from bad to worse any time. The government should take steps to restore confidence among the masses as the people seem to be annoyed with the functioning of the state machinery. On its part Centre is also responsible as they have not taken steps that will help to restore normalcy in the Valley. Even the centre is silent over the recommendations made by several groups who visited Valley last year during unrest. The suggestions which those groups had submitted to the Centre are still being discussed instead of implementing on ground despite requests from the J&K chief minister. Even though long strikes have ended, but peace is still elusive in Kashmir and Valley is passing through the volatile situation. With presence of new breed of militants’ especially local boys the government should try to open channel of communication with their families so that young lives are saved and the deep alienation carved out of civilian killings in the past could be reduced to the substantial level. On the other hand, the civilian populace must also understand that the deliberate disruption into the counter insurgency operations by the security forces can only lead to the innocent killings but not hinder their job of tackling militancy. The civilian population must not enter into the battle zones and leave it for the two warring sides to fight. Sofi Owais Talib, a netizen sums up rightly the ongoing trend on his facebook wall.  “Let us be honest to ourselves also and to people around. Nowhere on earth, will any army tolerate a civilian population disrupting the encounter by pelting stones or jeering at soldiers while they are engaged in a gun battle. Going near to encounter sites and then making an attempt to help militants flee takes away your right of being a civilian and you cease to be called a peaceful protestor. However, it is totally a different thing that keyboard warriors from Malaysia to Kashmir, London to Egypt glorify all these things as resilience and valour. I call this a stupidity.”

The author can be reached at bhatasem@gmail.com.

From the print edition of Feb 15 to 21 2017. 

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