April 2018 News

Kashmir Fears Another Summer Of Discontent Is On Its Way

12 April 2018
Greater Kashmir
Muddasir Ali

Srinagar: In the last week of March, the Kashmir valley hosted India's biggest tourist summit, an annual feature of the tourism calendar. The convention by Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) had returned to the region after 31 years and the participation of delegates from some European and south-Asian countries was seen as a major boost for the Kashmir tourism. The summit declared 2018 as the 'year of visiting Kashmir' as the government chose the platform to send a message to tourists from across the world that Kashmir was waiting to host them. It seemed everything was going according to the plan for the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti who was desperately hoping for a peaceful summer. Today, less than two weeks later, the prospects of peace are uncertain. The relentless drive of the government forces to go after the militant outfits and the protest it fuels among the people who rush to encounter sites to save them have only led to more bloodshed and suffering. The killing of nine civilians by security forces in less than two weeks at different gunfight sites has sparked new wave of protests that is refusing to die down - and threatening to push the valley in a fresh cycle of unrest. Already, the number of protestors admitted with bullet and pellet injuries to different hospitals in Srinagar has crossed 300 since. More than 50 youngsters are looking at an uncertain future. They all have damaged eyes from pellets fired by the forces during protests. The fresh cycle of violence started on April 1 when 13 militants, four civilians and three army men were killed in three separate encounters in south Kashmir, in one of the biggest anti-militancy operation in Kashmir, in a decade. The region, spread over four districts, which was epicenter of five month long uprising in 2016 erupted in protests against the killings. In next 24 hours the protests spread to central and north Kashmir. The outrage which is now refusing to die down on the streets is threatening to overtake the campuses across the Valley, a phenomena which surfaced last summer. Wary about the fallouts the authorities now don't dare to open the schools and colleges, fearing the student revolt. It is not that the government didn't try to throw open classrooms in towns as well as Srinagar city. The scenes were more visible in Lal Chowk, the commercial hub of the summer capital few days ago when female students from Valley largest women's college came out of the campus and pelted stones on forces; a few of them got injured in retaliatory action. For now the safest option for the government seems to be keeping educational institutions shut. But what must be worrying for the government is that four civilian killings in Kulgam took place just two days after the chief minister met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman separately in New Delhi and sought an end to bloodshed in Kashmir. During her meeting with defence minister Mehbooba had specifically laid stress on avoiding civilian killings during anti-militancy operations. 'Every civilian killing or collateral damage puts the peaceful engagement efforts of the government on back burner and gives vested elements an opportunity to exploit situation..,' she had said. But on the ground the line seems to have been already drawn after the Army chief Bipin Rawat's statement last year that anybody found obstructing the encounters would be treated as over ground workers (OGW) and dealt with severely. At least 19 civilians have been killed at the gunfight sites and during protests with forces since beginning of this year. Among them, of the nine persons shot dead this month, eight were killed at the gunfight sites while trying to save the militants. Besides, 58 militants have been killed in little over three months so far including those who were trying to cross line of control (LoC). Sensing the situation was deteriorating fast the chief minister during her meeting with union home minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday again advocated the need for talks with separatist to end the violence in the Valley. The meeting took place late on Wednesday afternoon when people in Kulgam's Qaimoh village where celebrating the escape of three militants from the encounter site in the nearby Redwani village after 18 hour long gunfight. Soon after the meeting the chief minister said there was urgent need (for people from all ideologies) to come together to take Kashmir out of the vicious cycle of violence and killings. The government spokesperson Naem Akhter termed the civilian killing as 'continuing tragedy' but said 'unless we see the futility of gun it might not be realistic to expect seeing any different results on the ground'. Stating that the government was duty bound to protect lives of people, Akhter, without naming anybody it was also responsibility of 'those people' who were 'glorifying death' and putting it into young minds that by 'losing life aimlessly they are attaining some kind of posthumous glorification'. 'What will there be left to fight for if we keep losing these young buds. After that no azadi, accession or democracy has any meaning. The Hurriyat leadership should see to it that politics of separatism doesn't eat up our generations,' he said. The separatist camp is however furious over the 'unabated civilian killings' and have now asked people to prepare for a fresh uprising, in a major worry for the government that already seems to be clueless to put an end to the civilian killings and calm down situation on the ground. 'What is the option with us other than to come out on roads,' Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who is under house arrest, addressed a press conference over phone yesterday afternoon. His counterpart Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said it was clear that government of India has decided to deal with political problem of Kashmir through military approach. 'They are out to kill us,' Mirwaiz told Greater Kashmir. He said the Hurriyat leadership would meet in coming days and try to involve other stakeholders from within the society to find a way forward. 'Young lives are getting consumed. We also understand that people have economic concerns, the hotel and tourism industry have taken hit. These things are a matter of concern but primary concern for us is to see how to save young lives and first priority has to be given how to save these lives,' said Mirwaiz.