2. Stone pelters

Aakash Hassan | Jun 20, 2018 | 5 min read


Governor's rule beginning of 'muscular approach' in J&K?

Intro: Experts believe that BJP walking out of the PDP coalition is a political move leading up to the 2019 elections, as such a partnership wouldn't be beneficial at the national-level

Byline: Aakash Hassan

Mohammad Arif, in his early twenties, is facing multiple stone-pelting cases, and has been detained for three months. From a south Kashmir town, Arif says he was promised by a local People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader that cases against him will be withdrawn. “I agreed not to indulge in stone pelting if the cases against me are withdrawn,” he says. Arif’s father, a fruit vendor, says, “I want my son to study, but these cases are deterring him,” adding that he has lost hope.

There are hundreds of boys such as Arif who were hopeful that their cases would be withdrawn. Earlier this year, the J&K government approved to withdraw cases registered against 9,730 people involved in stone-pelting - including first-time offenders - between 2008 and 2017. In 2016-2017, 3,773 cases were registered.

In the three-year PDP-BJP government, a coalition that the BJP walked out of earlier this week resulting in the resignation chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, Kashmir witnessed unprecedented violence. Less than four months after Mehbooba succeeded her father late Mufti Mohammad Sayed, popular commander of militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, Burhan Wani, was killed. This led to massive violence, with more than a hundred civilians being killed and thousands injured in the months-long uprising. This also lead to a rise in the local militancy, with more than a hundred locals joining various militia.

Over the growing militant attacks, particularly the Amarnath Yatra attack on July 10, 2017, in which eight Hindu pilgrims were killed and at least 18 others injured, operation ‘All-Out’ was launched - a joint offensive launched by Indian Army, CRPF and J&K police to flush out militants completely. In 2017, 220 militants were killed, most of whom were locals. More than 80 civilians were killed during militancy-related incidents the same year.

The Mehbooba-lead coalition government came under pressure over the rising bloodshed. PDP was known as a soft-separatist party, and to gain back that image, they started different initiatives to restore peace. The decision was taken to give amnesty to first-time stone pelters. Also, it was Mehbooba who advocated ceasefire in Kashmir against the militants. But this seems to have not gone well with the BJP, due to which they withdrew their support. Governor’s rule has been imposed in Kashmir, and it is being looked at as the beginning of a ‘muscular’ approach.

Anti-militancy operations for peace: BJP 

“We want peace in Kashmir,” says former deputy chief minister of J&K and senior BJP leader, Kavinder Gupta, adding, “But that doesn’t mean you can let the stone pelters go, they are culprits and should be punished.” Gupta says that when Mehbooba announced the withdrawal of cases against stone pelters, she had not approached BJP. “She would make decisions on her own. She called for the ceasefire without consulting us,” said Gupta. He advocates that an anti-militancy operation must be put in place to bring peace. “Militants should be killed, and those trying to create problems, should be tought a lesson.”

Previously, a large number of casualties have been witnessed during encounters between militants and forces. Civilians try to help militants flee during gunfights, which is a hurdle for the forces. J&K's police chief, Shesh Paul Vaid, however, says that change in power would not make a difference. “We have been doing operations, and will continue to do so. We will ensure minimum civilian casualties,” Vaid said.

'Violate not answer to violence'

The locals in Kashmir say that they felt relieved during the Ramadaan ceasefire. “On normal days, there were routine search operations by the forces. They would vandalize property and beat locals,” says Aamir Malik from Kulgam, adding, “On ceasefire days, it was relatively peaceful, but now routine searches have started again.”

An army official, under anonymity, says anti-militancy operations are going to rise. “The increasing recruitment of local militants is worrying. We have to clean the area, as these militants lure others,” the officer said.

The government had mounted pressure on separatists earlier, as the National Investigative Agency (NIA) intensified its operations in Kashmir. Top separatist leaders have been arrested in the terror-funding case. Gupta says NIA is likely to resume its operations, while experts say that these tactics are meant to serve BJP's political interests in the upcoming elections.

“Both BJP and PDP failed to draw any tangible advantage from their alliance. Rather, both failed to satisfy their respective constituents in the Muslim-majority Kashmir and Hindu Jammu. They (PDP and BJP) were desperately trying to score points so as to catch gain popularity in their respective constituencies, and BJP took the lead,” says Shah Abbas, a senior journalist based in Srinagar. “Now, when the BJP has direct control over Kashmir through the Governor, it will try to tackle the Kashmir situation in its own way, so that it can sell that during the upcoming general elections,” Abbas opines.

Leader’s from other parties think that a muscle approach is going to make matters worse. “Only proper dialogue can bring peace in Kashmir. Violate can’t be the answer to violence,” says Altaf Kaloo, national conference MLA from south Kashmir's, Pahalgam.

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