As protesters continue to put themselves in the line of fire to rescue militants, New Delhi’s historical rigidity is making matters worse in Kashmir, even for the state government! Amid simmering tensions, upcoming by-polls and neat absence of political initiatives, is the Valley bracing up for another hot summer?
On March 9, two protestors, including a teenager, were killed as security forces opened fire to quell protests in Padgampora village of Pulwama district in south Kashmir soon after an encounter during which two militants were killed.
As the news about the encounter spread more and more people, mostly youth, had rushed towards the spot and engaged police and central forces in stone pelting. At least 10 youth received injuries due to bullets fired by forces on the protestors and an equal number of youth had their eyes badly injured by pellets.
This wasn’t an isolated incident but part of a pattern that has spread across south Kashmir, posts a brief lull at the end of last year, and is threatening now to spill over to entire Kashmir. Amid the surge in the anti-militancy operation this year after the 2016 summer uprising, anger is again brewing in the south Kashmir as people, during every anti-insurgency operation; now rush towards the encounter sites to help militants escape by pelting stones to divert the attention of the forces.
“This (people rushing towards encounter site) is a big concern; the youth are ready to put their lives in danger to help militants escape. During every encounter nowadays, we see youth from far away villages join the protests during encounters. It is in total contrast to the past when people would leave behind everything and flee an encounter site. It indicates a really grim situation in today’s Kashmir,” a police official from South Kashmir told Kashmir Scan.
This worsening situation in the region spread over four districts coincides with the army chief Bipin Rawat’s open warning that those trying to disrupt anti-insurgency operations in Kashmir would be treated as “over ground workers of terrorists”. But the Pulwama incident, where people assembled in large numbers to stage protests, clearly shows that the army’s warning, instead of helping calm down the situation, could fuel more anger at a time when there is no forward movement on Kashmir and the by-polls for Anantnag-Pulwama and Srinagar-Budgam Lok Sabha seats are nearing.
“The Army Chief’s warning hasn’t helped and instead more people are coming out in support of militants. A threat can’t solve this problem,” former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah told media on March 14 in summer capital Srinagar. “The government should deal with the people who disrupt security operations by counselling them rather than threatening them.”
A top police official admitted that with each anti-militancy operation, the ground continues to simmer and at times this “anger running deep” inspires Kashmiri youth to join the militant ranks.
An official report on the rise of the militancy in the Valley highlights the trend. Prior to the killing of Hizb commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani by the forces in July 2016, there were around 200 militants operating in Kashmir, a majority of them locals. Since the uprising, at least 70 youth have picked up the guns and the number of total militants has now crossed 300. The revival of the local militancy is being attributed to the absence of any political initiative by the government of India and state government’s complete surrender before New Delhi.
The policy of meeting the voices of dissent with force and leaving no scope for dialogue is also seen by political observers as the implementation of the ‘Doval Doctrine’ by the Centre in the Valley – a strategy to wear out the entire population into submission. Speaking about the Kashmir protests at a seminar in Hyderabad in October 2010, national security advisor Ajit Doval had told policymakers “not to overreact and give in”. “The crisis will pass off. It looks big in the midst of it, they cannot sustain it beyond a point and even if they do there is a price they have to pay,” Doval said.
“This is exactly what New Delhi is now doing in Kashmir. They don’t have any intention of political engagement with Kashmiris and instead want to push younger generation to war by sending more troops and weapons,” said political scientist Prof Noor M. Baba.
The union home ministry’s decision to allow CRPF to procure more pellet guns for use in Kashmir explains the continuation of the iron fist policy in the restive Kashmir. According to a report, after the Home Ministry’s authorization for 4,949 pellet guns for CRPF, their total number will rise to 5,589 which will be powered by 6 lakh cartridges. Every CRPF company will be equipped with nine pellet guns.
The pellet guns have already taken a huge human toll in Kashmir. Apart from the deaths of nearly 100 civilian protesters, killed in action by security forces as they tried to quell the protests that erupted last year, the five-month period also saw around 15,000 people being injured, some of them maimed for life. What caught the attention of the global media and international human rights organisations like Amnesty International was the abuse of the deadly pellet guns by the forces. By the time the unrest died in November, more than 7,000 people had received pellet injuries; including 1200 people who lost their eyesight.
An official report from Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) to the government revealed that of the total eye injury victims, 850 would never regain vision in one or both pellet-injured eyes. This very high number of eye injuries saw the media terming 2016 as the year of “dead eyes” for Kashmir.
“The procurement of more pellet guns for use in Kashmir signifies, as we have said in our report, the deteriorating situation in Kashmir and therefore more the need for political solution through dialogue,” said former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha who led a panel of “concerned citizens” to Kashmir during the unrest and came up with a detailed report for moving forward on Kashmir issue. “We have opposed the use of pellet guns and that remains our position.”
“There is an increasing lack of fear in the youngsters of Kashmir in confronting security forces. They claim that they take death in their stride and they say that the best thing for which we are thankful is that your (the government) use of weapons, including pellet guns, has killed the fear in us. We now celebrate the martyrdom,” the Sinha-led delegation’s report quotes a youngster saying during an interaction.
Amid the rising toll of casualties and no initiative by New Delhi to engage stakeholders in dialogue, there is a growing worry in the Valley about possibility of a breakout of another spell of unrest in the coming summer. These fears have got credence following a report by police warning about the possibility of a more dangerous repetition of 2016 after March and highlighted the “lack of the preparedness to handle such crisis on part of the civil administration and police”. “The mass contact program of Hurriyat leaders and their meetings with their small constituents are a matter of concern. And by reaching out to victims of the 2016 unrest, they are reaching out to the common man and thus preparing the ground for another unrest,” the report said.
While the police and government continue to claim that the situation was gradually improving, it remains to be seen how the increasing number of encounters followed by protests amid simmering anger would shape the situation in the Valley in coming months.