first time in last over 25 years of conflict in Kashmir, the Jammu and Kashmir
Police on February 18 issued an advisory in which they asked people to stay
away from the encounter sites. A police spokesperson said about the advisory:
“They (people) should not venture out as stray bullets can hit and cause damage
(to the people).” The spokesperson added, “The elders, chowkidars and village
elders are requested to advise people to stay away from encounter sites.”
The advisory was issued after Police said that two young students were killed by stray bullets during an encounter between militants and armed forces in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district on February 14. The residents near the encounter site however refuted the police claim.
In Pulwama authorities found a different situation to handle. Unlike past incidents when at the sound of first bullet fired people used to run for cover, this time people, mostly youth, were seen marching towards the encounter site. Such an unusual development has not been witnessed in over two-decades-long standoff between forces and militants.
The events that unfolded at Pampore soon after EDI encounter ended on February 24 raise many questions on the changing dynamics of political situation in the restive state. Nine people including two captains of Indian Army were killed in the 48-hour long battle.
The situation corresponds to those existing in early 90s when armed rebellion with popular support broke out in Kashmir. Women were seen singing traditional songs eulogizing militants and public address systems of mosques were used for pro-freedom and pro-Pakistan slogans to boost the fighting spirit of carrying forward the
“struggle for freedom”. “Aiye Mard e Mujahid Jaag Zara – Ab Waqta-e-Shahadat HeyAaya” (Oh the warrior wake up, it is the time for sacrifice) was aired for a long time.
What may appear as a temporary phase to those handling the recent turn around in the government, defines a change in the ground situation. This has not come
overnight but after a long lull that was marked with the breakdown of all sorts of approaches by the government promising any urge or desire to deal with Kashmir politically.
PARTICIPATION AND SUPPORT OF PEOPLE
In last over two years the outlook of militancy has changed. After receiving setbacks in mid-1990s, mainly because of rebellion within militant ranks and birth of pro-Army Ikhwan who were dismissed as “renegades” by the separatists, the militant set-up went into the hands of foreigners. Foreign militants being mostly Pakistanis, the set-up was based on an 80-20 ratio.
The arrangement continued for a long time and the reconciliatory process that developed between India and Pakistan as also between some sections in Srinagar and Delhi helped consolidate the “peace”. After peace talks got derailed in the wake of Mumbai attack in 2008, a vacuum was created. The hanging of Afzal Guru in 2013 degenerated the situation which further led to progressive despondency and frustration. Also a narrative build up on the lines perceived as anti-Kashmir, by a section of media in India and practiced by the BJP government contributed significantly to the escalation of situation when swords seemed to be out on issues such as Masarat Alam’s release, beef controversy, hoisting two flags, etc.
Analysts also do not rule out the joining of hands by PDP with the right-wing party BJP as a factor, since PDP was always seen playing middle role between National Conference and the Hurriyat. The party sought votes to keep BJP away, and in south Kashmir the youth mobilized in that spirit but ultimately PDP allied with BJP to form the government.
There has been confirmation from officials that some of the youth who actively supported PDP as election agents joined the militant ranks after the “unholy alliance” was stitched.
With no sign of intent on the part of New Delhi to approach Kashmir politically, a new window towards militancy and violence has been opened, precisely to the local youth.
In recent past a 21-year-old handsome guy, Burhan Wani, from south Kashmir’s Tral area was among the most popular on social media with his video. He became an icon for many of his fans. Official figures suggest that the trend among Kashmiri youth including some University pass outs to join militancy had set in long before.
Figures say that 28 locals joined the militant ranks in 2013, 60 in 2014, 66 in 2015 and 12 in the first two months of 2016, thus modifying the ratio of 80-20 to 70-30. The period has also seen an indigenous militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen, making a comeback. Earlier the scene was dominated by Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad.
LARGE ATTENDANCE AT FUNERALS
As militants stepped up their strikes, it led to their killings. But the most significant change observed was large participation of locals in their funerals. Two months ago when a commander of LeT, Abu Qasim, was killed in Kulgam district, his funeral was attended by over 30,000 strong gathering of people. Not only did the number swarm up in a short time but two villages fought to get the militant’s body for a “decent burial”. And Qasim was a Pakistani national.
Same was repeated at other funeral, which is why Police quietly removed the bodies of three Pakistani militants killed in the encounter at Pampore and buried them far away in Uri near Line of Control. People in the area had been aggressively asking for the bodies. This is the reason people have been comparing the two funerals of the militant Qasim and that of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who died in office on January 7 and had far lesser number of people at his funeral.
How did the militants become heroes again in Kashmir while the place has been riddled with the violence and people have repeatedly talked about the fatigue and remorse over the loss of life and property? With a status quo maintained on political front, the entry of local youth seems to have attracted the people towards this “used method”. Not only has the involvement at social level made them “heroes” but many believe that the new breed of Kashmiri militants is “harmless”. This is viewed in the context that unlike 90s, today’s militant does not make the lives of a commoner uncomfortable. They don’t indulge in local disputes, don’t interfere in government functioning nor do they resort to extortion. This might be a factor playing a reverse game but the larger problem lies in the continuous denial of New Delhi to recognize Kashmir as a political dispute and addressing it politically, thus leaving a free space for extremist tendencies in which even common people get involved.
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