March 2001 News

Lashkar strikes again, this time egged on by Srinagar youths

26 March 2001
The Indian Express

Srinagar: With local youths shouting pro-Lashkar slogans a few hundred yards away the first such demonstration in Srinagar , the Lashkar-e-Toiba struck today in yet another suicide attack on a CRPF camp in the high-security Wazir Bagh neighbourhood. Four jawans and two militants were killed and the encounter was on till late this evening. While a CRPF spokesman said that two militants in police disguise sneaked into the 88 battalion at 5.45 pm, a Lashkar spokesman called up newspaper offices claiming that three militants had attacked the camp. And that this was its first suicide attack against the ‘‘desecration’’ of the Quran, a reference to an alleged incident in New Delhi which has already led to clashes and loss of life in places as far apart as Pune, Kanpur and Hyderabad. And which led to a general strike call by Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani. A joint offensive was launched by the CRPF, the BSF and the Special Operation Group of the state police at 6.30 pm. Security personnel entered the complex in bullet-proof vehicles and fired at the holed-up militants. Surprisingly, a group of youths appeared from the nearby Lal Ded hospital side and started shouting pro-Lashkar slogans. In fact, police had to chase them away even as the firing was on. This is for the first time in the city that pro-Lashkar slogans were made when militants of this group launched an attack. Earlier, the local population would generally be silent spectators of encounters between foreign militants and the security forces and, at the most, collect the bodies at the police station and take them for the burial. A similar situation had arisen in the Haigam village when the Army had opened fire on demonstrating villagers who were protesting an alleged custodial killing. Five vilagers, including two women, had been killed in the shooting and later villagers raised pro-Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammad slogans. A few days ago in Sopore, too, an angry mob literally snatched the bodies of three foreign militants from the security forces after they were killed in an encounter. The change in the mood, which was first seen only in staunch pro-Pakistan pockets of rural Kashmir has now started happening in urban Srinagar as well. This shift hasn’t happened overnight. In fact, this is seen as one outcome of the Centre’s failure to translate the ceasefire initiative into a proper peace process especially after the Geelani-led Hurriyat delgation was not given permission to visit Pakistan. Of late, there has been a growing convergence of Geelani’s public statements with the action of foreign militants, sparked off by his open snub to colleague Abdul Gani Lone for asking foreigners not to interfere in the politics of the Kashmir dispute. Geelani, who severely criticised the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan called for a general strike over the alleged desecration of the Quran. He was even arrested by the police while trying to take out a procession. And for the first time, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, too, stepped in and gave a bandh call against an alleged police assault on Geelani. So foreign militants and Hurriyat hardliners are rallying around Geelani who’s picking up public support becuase the moderates are seen to have failed in their attempts to ‘‘initiate a purposeful dialogue to resolve the problem.’’ Geelani has stepped up his public campaign and addresses people in the mosques. His refrain is loud and clear. ‘‘The ceasefire is just a ploy to appease the international community and will never translate into a purposeful dialogue. A section of Hurriyat leaders are tired of jihad. The Kashmir dispute is a religious issue and not a political issue and Kashmiris are being killed and suppressed only becuase they are Muslim.’’


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