From tensions of post Burhan Wani’s killing that hovered over 2017 like a dark cloud to NIA’s raids against Hurriyat, from crackdown on militants, braid-chopping to the drifting apart of the PDP-BJP coalition and, finally, Dineshwar Sharma’s new job, the year 2017 wore the robes of both hope and despondency for people in the Valley. A Kashmir Scan report.
By Ajaz Rashid
The beginning of 2017 saw five-month long summer uprising triggered by killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, dying down gradually and certainly. While the new year had begun on a tense note, the abundant snowfall in January was linked by many to the cooling of tempers. By the time May was here, the situation had improved substantially. It was an opportunity for both the state government and the government of India to look back at their policy of handling Kashmir issue and restart dialogue process of some sorts, at internal and external level. That the winter had already set in was an opportune time.
But the opportunity was deliberately let go and, instead, the union government fell back on its old policy of aggression, this time branded as Doval doctrine.
On one hand the security forces were activated to carry out one of the biggest anti-militancy operations to “wipe out” militancy in Kashmir and on the other hand the National Investigation Agency launched a massive crackdown on separatists and some businessmen for their alleged involvement in funding unrest and militancy in Kashmir.
The move came under criticism from the Hurriyat leaders who termed it as a tactic to force them into submission. Though some of the middle rung separatists, including Nayeem Khan were arrested by the NIA, and are lodged in Tihar Jail, the investigating agency is yet to file charge sheet against the separatists in the court of law. The crackdown comes as forces have killed more than 200 militants this year including at least 11 top commanders, the highest number in more than seven years. But the number of local militants who are operating in the Valley continue to remain the same as it was prior to launch of the “Operation All Out”, giving rise to questions about the efficacy of the militaristic approach and killing local militants as a solution to the Kashmir issue.
On the human rights front, one incident that evoked international outrage was the use of a Budgam man, Farooq Ahmad Dar, as human shield by the army on April 9, on the day the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency went to by-polls. While the action was brazenly defended by the army, the state government out rightly turned down the recommendation of the state human rights commission to pay Rs 10 lakh compensation to the victim, justifying, in a way, the war crime of tying a civilian to bonnet of an army jeep and parading him through villages for at least five hours.
As anti-militancy operations and crackdown dominated the scene, the governance and promises made by the coalition partners, Peoples Democratic Party and Bhartiya Janta Party, in their ‘agenda of the alliance’, took a hit. There was no urgency shown by neither the state government nor the government of India to initiate any movement for talks on Kashmir issue. The issue related to governance like return of power projects to the state, vacation of land by the army and some of the other key promises that were made by the alliance partners in the agenda didn’t see light of the day during 2017, like the previous two years.
On the militancy front, two events stood out – one, the announcement by global militant outfit Al-Qaeda to name Kashmiri militant Zakir Musa as head of the new cell, named Ansar Ghuzwat-Ul-Hind. Musa, a close associate of slain Hizbul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, had declared in April that Kashmiris should not “fall for nationalism”, the traditional goal of the separatists. He had threatened to chop off the heads of separatist leaders for calling their struggle a political movement. However, Hizbul-Mujahideen, the outfit Zakir was affiliated to, quickly distanced itself from his statement and the ideology he was seeking to propagate. Musa reacted sharply to it and announced that he is not associated with the Hizb anymore. He added that he stood by his earlier statement.
The second one was the surrender of a 20-year old footballer-turned militant Majid Khan who returned within a week of joining militancy. A video appeal by his mother had gone viral on social media and thousands had urged the 20-year-old to quit militancy and return home. Lashkar has denied that Majid had surrendered.
In a statement, the outfit said Majid had been allowed to return as he was the lone son of his parents. “Majid did not surrender but we send him back to serve his old parents,” a statement attributed to LeT said, “Footballer Majid Khan was released from the ranks of Lashkar on humanitarian grounds for being the lone son of old parents”.
The mysterious incidents of braid chopping that surfaced in Augusts and continued for two months led to a wave of fear and panic in Kashmir. While separatists blamed that government agencies were behind the acts of chopping the braids of women, the government and J&K police asserted that the incidents were linked to the mental health of the victims, though, barring a few incidents they couldn’t prove the claims.
Such was the fear created in Kashmir and owing to absence of any action on part of law enforcing agencies, the vigilante groups took upon themselves to protect their areas, resulting in thrashing of innocent persons who were caught at wrong place and wrong time.
The alliance too didn’t fare well and it wasn’t the only worry for the PDP in Kashmir. The BJP’s opposition to special status of J&K and Article 35A that gives special rights to citizens of the state was a major reason for discord between the alliance partners throughout the major part of the year.
This discord came to the open when the chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, during a function in New Delhi warned that if there was any move to tinker with the special rights of people of J&K, there would be nobody left in Kashmir to wave tri-color. But that didn’t prevent some of BJP minister and party leaders, both in the center and the state, to continue with their opposition to Article 35A and Article 370 to the extent that the government of India refused to file counter-affidavit in the Supreme Court to defend the Article 35A that has been challenged by a lesser known NGO, “We the People”, putting PDP in an awkward position.
The only solace for chief minister Mehbooba Mufti led government in a year that continued to witness bloodshed like 2016, was the surprising announcement of government of India to appoint former IB chief Dineshwar Sharma as interlocutor for J&K, to hold sustained dialogue with all section of people. The announcement took off some pressure of the chief minister who had made commitment that her party would pursue resolution of Kashmir issue once voted to power. Though Sharma has already visited J&K twice and held interactions with political parties, members of some NGOs, lesser known groups and students, there has been so far no attempt to meet top three separatist leaders -Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, who turned down his appointment as “futile exercise”.
The separatist troika have stuck to their stand that unless the scope of the dialogue is widened and Pakistan is involved as party to the talks-process, there can’t be any solution expected to the Kashmir problem. But Sharma created an opening by meeting moderate Hurriyat leader and former Hurriyat Conference chairman, Abdul Ghani Bhat, sparking speculations of divisions in the Hurriyat, fuelled by the resignation of Javed Mir, the head of his own JKLF faction, from the moderate Hurriyat.
Kashmir is set on an interesting as well as dangerous path whose trajectory will be determined by how New Delhi takes the talks forward. Here’s hoping there’s no more bloodshed. That is the least we can ask for!