ON THE morning of 13 March, two fidayeen, dressed as cricketers, entered a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp near a police school in Srinagar’s Bemina colony and killed five jawans. Both the terrorists were also killed, but the biggest casualty in this terror attack was peace in the Kashmir Valley. Terror of this kind was revisiting the Valley after three years of lull and the reason behind it was not too hard to guess. After the hanging of the 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, the Valley is simmering once again.
Six days after the attack, the Jammu & Kashmir Police claimed to have cracked the case with the arrest of four persons, including Muhammad Zubair alias Talha Zaraar, a Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militant from Multan, Pakistan. At a press conference on 19 March, Kashmir IGP Abdul Gani Mir said the attack was carried out on the instructions of LeT commander Ahmad Bhai and the outfit’s logistics chief Anas Bilal based across the Line of Control.
Both the slain terrorists were Pakistanis; Saif was from Dera Ghazi Khan and Haider belonged to Multan. The duo were controlled by their Pakistani handler in Srinagar, Zubair, and had been instructed to target CRPF personnel in close proximity to youngsters in order to inflict maximum damage and possibly cause civilian casualties as well.
Among those arrested were former militants Bashir Ahmad Mir and Mukhtar Shah. Bashir’s arrest surprised many as he was reportedly also a ‘source’ for some security agencies. What he reportedly told his interrogators was something that had been on the radar of the agencies for a while now: “This attack was meant to avenge the hanging of Afzal Guru.” But at the 19 March press conference, the IGP claimed that contrary to what was initially believed, the Bemina attack had nothing to do with Guru’s hanging.
The Bemina attack has brought the focus back on terrorist violence in the Kashmir Valley, after a period of relative calm since the 2010 unrest when 120 people were killed. Nearly 55 lakh tourists had visited the Valley in 2012. So, does the fidayeen attack mean that the state is staring at a possible repeat of the volatile 1990s? And will Guru’s hanging be a factor in how the situation plays out?
One thing is clear: the hanging has given thousands of Kashmiris a new reason to hate New Delhi. Ask any Kashmiri what s/he feels about Guru’s hanging and it would be impossible not to note the anger in the voice as s/he answers. But along with the anger, if you listen keenly, there is trepidation. There is fear that any return to the violent 1990s will wreak havoc on people’s livelihoods.
Javed (name changed), a Srinagar-based businessman, is worried that the Bemina attack might impact the tourist season in a big way and spell doom for business in the Valley. As the talk turns to Guru, he says, “What stopped New Delhi from handing over Afzal’s body to the family? More than his hanging, it is this inhuman approach that hurts.”
The anger over Guru’s hanging is more palpable among youngsters in the Valley. Twenty-year-old Bilal, a student of Jammu & Kashmir University, feels that by hanging Guru, New Delhi has cocked a snook at the people of Kashmir. “They hanged a person without a fair trial, and it’s not only Kashmiris who are saying this. There were reports in the national media that talked of the sham of an investigation and trial that Guru was subjected to, yet they hanged him.” Accusing the Centre of a bias against Kashmiris, he adds, “The surreptitious way in which the hanging was carried out would make anyone suspicious. And the icing on the cake was the letter that reached Guru’s family two days after he was dead.”
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti too believes the hanging shows a short-sighted approach that may end up rolling back a lot of the gains made over the years, “from Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Manmohan Singh”. Pointing out that Guru was 28th on the list of convicts on death row, she asks, “What about the killers of Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh? What was the desperation in Guru’s case?” (Read full interview)
Even the security forces acknowledge that Guru’s hanging has given the militants a tool to instigate youngsters in the Valley. And a few officials also question the wisdom of the hanging, albeit in private. “After a peaceful period, the Valley is now back to stone pelting, firing, fidayeen attacks and allegations of excesses by security forces,” says a senior CRPF officer. “The politicians are safe in Delhi, but we have to bear the brunt of their decisions.”
An anguished CRPF jawan vented his ire, saying, “We feel like orphans. It seems nobody cares for us.” CRPF personnel were outraged that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah failed to attend the funeral of the jawans killed in the Bemina attack. This anger and its potential fallout forced the CM to rush to the Srinagar airport to pay homage to the martyred jawans.