On Monday three thousand troopers comprising Army, Police, Central Reserve Police Force and Indian Reserve Police Force fanned across 20 villages of south Kashmir’s Shopian district in search of militants. The operation continued for around 12 hours. In six villages soldiers searched every house and didn’t even leave the orchards. The search and combing operation was one of the biggest search operations conducted in past 15 years in south Kashmir, it was the reminiscent of crackdowns when in search of militants and their over ground workers, the army used to go for two to three day long crackdowns. The operation was launched shortly two days after militants targeted a cash van of Jammu and Kashmir bank in Kulgam district in which five policemen and two private guards of Jammu and Kashmir bank were gunned down by militants. And in the evening of the same night militants again decamped with five service rifles from the policemen who were posted at the district court complex in Shopian. Earlier there have been series of bank robberies in different parts of south Kashmir and robbers mostly targeted the JK bank branches.
And when troops were returning from the operation, militants attacked army vehicle during its “reverse sweep operation” in which three soldiers and a civilian driver were injured. Later the driver succumbed to his injuries.
The family members of driver alleged that he was taken forcibly by the army while he was ferrying the passengers. The soldiers took him to the operation site without his consent. Army chief Bipin Rawat said that operation happened in south Kashmir after the presence of militants and bank robberies. “It was likely to happen as the forces can’t lower its guard and leave militants and it was launched to bring militancy under control.’’
For quite some time situation in the south Kashmir has been volatile and graph of militancy has gone considerably high with the increase in militancy related incidents. Even after the operation three civilians, a policeman and militant was killed at Mir Bazar. Now almost militancy is not only attained alarming level but has left the top officials of the security forces worried. If hints given by the senior police and army officials are believed than more operations are likely to take place in south Kashmir. As per the official figures more than 200 militants are active in Valley and majority of them are active in south Kashmir.
The government keeping in view the ground situation also postponed the by polls in the south Kashmir as they feared large scale violence and political parties had requested the Election Commission of India to postpone the elections. Though Tasaduq Mufti-brother of J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti who was candidate from South Kashmir was first to raise the red flag over the worsening situation of south Kashmir.
Four districts of south Kashmir – Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag are on boil since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani last year. The killing triggered unrest and series of protests across Kashmir in which more than 90 civilians were killed and thousands injured and many were blinded. If police reports are to be believed currently more than 100 youths are active in different parts of south Kashmir and around 95 have joined militancy since the killing of Burhan Wani.
The south Kashmir has witnessed the revival of old days of militancy with militants frequently releasing videos and other messages on the social networking sites. Recently, militants released two videos on the social networking sites, in one video 30 militants wearing army fatigues were seen moving in apple orchard under the shade of spring sun and in another video a group of militants were seen receiving arms training in an apple orchard. In south Kashmir, militants regularly along with weapons take part into the funerals of their accomplice and also are on forefront in issuing statements on various issues like election boycott. In the past few months there have been several incidents when militants also targeted the houses of policemen and officers belonging to south Kashmir and ransacked their properties and before leaving their houses also warned them to leave the police force.
The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that Valleys largest bank – Jammu and Kashmir bank has stopped cash dealings at 40 branches in two districts, Shopian and Kulgam on the directions of the police after the security agencies feared that these branches are venerable for the attacks from militants. IG Kashmir said that 110 militants are locals and rest is foreigners. He said efforts are underway to bring situation under control by taking operations at various levels. Last month the office of Director General of Police has issued an advisory to its men not to visit their homes for next two months in view of recent attacks and growing threats of militants. The advisory is especially for the policemen hailing from South Kashmir where the spurt in attacks over policeman is witnessed in last few weeks.
The incidents of past six months suggest that many areas in south Kashmir are slipping from the hands of security agencies and militants had managed to make serious inroads in those areas that were considered peaceful areas in the past. The large number of people turning into the funerals of militants or the obstructions created by the civilians is also an indication that in south Kashmir militants especially local boys who have taken up the arms enjoy good support base. This has become a major headache for the government not only in J&K but also in Centre that has been trying to bring situation back on the rails. What has further complicated the situation in Kashmir especially in south Kashmir are the student protests that began from Degree College Pulwama and spread to other areas of the Valley. Though police say that these protests are fuelled by people with vested interests, J&K’s education minister, Altaf Bukhari promised to hear the genuine grievances of the students. The security agencies and government are aware that a small incident in a school or college could snowball into a major controversy as Valley is already sitting on the powder keg. Though government has now started to taking this issue seriously and various levels of coordination’s have been formulated between different agencies, however, government should also look to open up the channels of communications with the people especially when boys who have picked up guns and could be seen in different parts of south Kashmir are the local boys in their early teens. Instead of trying to find solutions through crackdowns and encounters government should try to use alternative options that begin with talks and dialogue. Though J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti has been seriously advocating for the talks and even held one to one meetings with Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh and Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, but so far Mehooba Mufti has failed to motivate them. However, when offices opened in Srinagar after remaining closed for six months, J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti despite pulls and pressure exuded confidence and said that Kashmir has witnessed worse situation in the past and the current phase of turmoil or militancy will also pass.
Chief Minister while interacting with media-persons on the sidelines of opening of Durbar Move offices in Srinagar said that many highs and lows have come in the chequered history of the State but the people through sheer resolve came out of every difficult situation with resilience. She said even the two decade long turmoil of yester years had to be concluded through a series of dialogues and negotiations.
“I remember 1996 when it was difficult to even conduct a public meeting. But people have come out of that and would also pass through the present times with resilience,” she said and appealed for collective and vigilant efforts by every section of the society in this regard.” Despite confidence of chief minister, the government should put the security of south Kashmir on the top priority otherwise things could go out of hand that may give a birth to the next generation of militancy.
The story appeared in print edition of May 10 to 16, 2017.