Normalcy remains an elusive dream in J&K

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DSC_2236In Kashmir, people are looking forward for the Eid-u-Fitr after the passage of the Holy Ramadan, which had begun with protests and violence after the killing of top Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Sabzar Bhat on May 27. Some are also looking to the flourishing of tourism industry, after last year’s unrest wiped out entire tourism season. The fear of spontaneous protests and stone pelting is widespread. Since past few months, the Kashmir Valley has witnessed repeated cycles of violence without any prolonged normalcy. The protests, for instance, after Sabzar Bhat’s killing were initially intense, but died down within a week.

New Delhi’s consistent refusal to take a political approach to resolve Kashmir issue has meant that people are getting anxious and frustrated. So, even as the situation becomes normal, everyone knows that this is fragile peace, with increase in militant activities and young boys joining militant ranks. As per media reports there are over 100 active militants while a number of young boys have taken up arms from last one year. As more local boys join militancy, there is also increased sympathy of the locals to the militants.

Nowadays, people are risking their lives to rescue militants from the encounter sites. As soon as news spreads that a pitched encounter is going on between the militants and the security forces, locals flock to the site chanting anti-India slogans and pelting stones against the security forces, to give passage to the trapped militants. Locals are no longer fearful of the security forces, in fact angry for the excesses committed by the security forces during last year’s unrest after Burhan Wani’s killing.

What is more disturbing for India is the tactical use of the social media by these militants which has had a lasting impact on peoples’ minds especially the impressionable youth. Most of these militants are tech-savvy with which they remain updated of the developments around them. In Kashmir, social media accounts of most youth are flooded with anti-India messages and pictures of these local militants. It is this pool of youth that militant recruiters have tapped into to maintain a steady stream of local recruits into militant tanzeems. This has helped the Hizbul Mujahideen to shore up its strength as compared to three-four years ago, when it was on the verge of becoming irrelevant and subservient to the more powerful Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

So, India has to fight not only these militants on the ground but also the young boys who are being lured by these militants. Security forces have been hot on the trail of these militants, but have consistently lagged behind in stopping the recruitment as the militant recruiters have been successful in maintaining a close bond with the young boys through the social media and therefore with the Kashmiri society. And the open confrontations that this is triggering between the locals and the security forces, such as during the encounter sites, has now become a matter of concern at the highest levels of security establishment. No wonder the Army Chief General Bipin Rawat had to warn the locals of tough action for ‘hampering’ counter-militancy operations earlier this year.

“People in Kashmir are witness to the incidents like Asiya and Neelofar in Shopian which are awaiting justice from the last nine years. Incidents such as these are the major reasons for anger among young boys, who have taken up arms against the Indian state,” said Javid Rather, a teacher from south Kashmir.

New Delhi and Srinagar should have had their ears on the ground, which would have saved a lot of energy for the security forces. A phenomenon witnessed even before the protests at the encounter sites, was the surging number in turnout of people at the funeral prayers of these killed militants. While turnout at Burhan Wani’s funeral is still a matter of debate, it is true that such large turnout was witnessed even before his killing. In October 2015 for instance, 20,000 people attended the funeral of Abu Qasim, a LeT militant commander, who was killed in an encounter in Kulgam district in south Kashmir.

Recently, when Sabzar Bhat was killed in Tral, many youth travelled to Tral, to attend his funeral, even as authorities clamped down curfew in most parts of Srinagar and south Kashmir. “We travelled almost 25 kilometres by foot to reach Tral. Though Sabzar was not buried the same day, we paid him tribute,” one of the boys from south Kashmir told Tehelka.

These protests coupled with militant activities are being witnessed in south Kashmir, which is the bastion of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Mufti family. But nowadays anger has engulfed its support base particularly when the Muftis joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and continue to stick with that alliance. “People in south Kashmir have trusted the PDP, while looking at their soft separatist approach. But it’s a known fact now, that they have betrayed the people to join hands with BJP,” said Suhail Bhat, a local.

As pro-separatist sentiments dominate the Valley, there has been less and less mainstream political activity. Also, people associated with mainstream politics and political process fear the militants, who have openly challenged them to persist with their political activities. Some of the political leaders and policemen have also been threatened of consequences, while there have been a few who have been killed. On 15 April, Bashir Ahmad Dar, a political activist was killed in Pulwama district by unidentified gunmen. Similarly an advocate, Imtiyaz Ahmad Khan, who was believed to be associated with a political party, was shot dead on 17 April in Shopian. Such attacks have created a fear psychosis among those who have been associated with the mainstream political process with many giving up the membership or any association with the politics.

Incidents like these have prompted the J&K Police to issue an advisory asking its field personnel to avoid returning to their homes for the next few months especially in south Kashmir.

Sense of despair is high among the people in the Valley, who are gradually losing faith in mainstream politics and on the other hand are also losing precious young lives on streets in protests. So as the region prepares for Eid, many rozedars in the Valley are praying for return of better times for them and the Valley.

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