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Civilians fear getting caught in new web of violence in Kashmir

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-05-2017 PTI

Srinagar: The mutilation of two soldiers by Pakistani special forces, coming on the back of a spike in militant attacks and frequent confrontations between security forces and protesters, has escalated fears among civilians that they will be caught in a new web of violence in Kashmir.

People residing along the Line of Control (LoC) and the International Border in Jammu and Kashmir fear escalation in the hostilities between India and Pakistan over the latest ceasefire violation by Pakistan.

Also, residents in the hinterland say they are apprehensive about excessive use of force especially against those who interfere in anti-militancy operations by pelting stones in an attempt to help besieged militants to escape.

“There must be an increase in resentment among the security forces personnel... Besides fighting militancy where they are suffering huge losses, they now have to deal civilians pelting stones. The spillover in the anger of security forces can have disastrous consequences,” Jagmohan Raina, a social worker here, said.

A Junior Commissioned Officer of the army and a Head Constable of the Border Security Force (BSF) were killed and their bodies mutilated by a Border Action Team (BAT) of Pakistan Army in a cross-border raid near the LoC in Krishna Ghati sector yesterday.

Hours later, heavily-armed militants struck in Kulgam district of south Kashmir, killed seven persons including five policemen in an attack on a cash van of Jammu and Kashmir Bank and decamped with four service rifles of the deceased cops.

Militant activities are on the rise, especially in south Kashmir where militants killed three political activities including Pulwama district president of ruling PDP last month.

A former commander of erstwhile Ikhwan, a counter- insurgency group of surrendered militants, was also killed in north Kashmir Bandipora in April, while a civilian was killed and three policemen were injured in a grenade attack on a police station in Srinagar on Sunday.

Given the prevailing security situation, there is an apprehension of use of excessive force by security forces while dealing with stone-pelting protesters, who of late, have been hitting the roads to hamper operations against the militants and vent their anger against the government, said Farooq Ahmad, a lecturer at a college here.

He said the latest incidents including the beheading of soldiers have left him and his colleagues worried. “We discussed the incidents and the likely fallout. It is a very scary scenario as most protests including by students have become a routine affair. If anything untoward happens, God forbid, the situation will be back to the square one like what happened after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani last July,” said Ahmad.

The people living close to the LoC and the International Border, mostly in Jammu province where the gruesome attack took place, spend sleepless night, fearing escalation in cross-border shelling which has been common despite the 2002 ceasefire agreement between the two countries.

“The Pakistan Army carried out unprovoked rocket and forward mortar firing on two forward posts on the Line of Control in Krishna Ghati sector. Simultaneously, BAT action was launched on a patrol operating in between the two posts,” the Northern Command of the Indian Army said in a statement.

The army termed the Pakistani action as unsoldierly and warned of appropriate response for the despicable act. “We had a sleepless night after the latest violation by Pakistan, fearing escalation in the cross-border shelling,” Khawaja Irshad Ahmad, a resident of Uri sector in north Kashmir, told PTI over telephone. “The gruesome attack should not have taken place at all. Such type of incidents causes outrage and compound the problems being faced by the border residents,” he said.

Ahmad said though the LoC in the sector has remained by and large peaceful over the past year owing to the heightened alert in the wake of attack on Army base last September, the visit of Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa to Haji Peer Sector on the other side of Uri a day before the Poonch incident has caused some concern to the people.

The September attack, by four militants, left 17 Indian soldiers dead and 19 others injured. The militants were also killed by the army. Choudhary Mohammad Shafi, a resident of Bhimbargali in Rajouri, said “we condemn the brutal attack by Pakistan Army on our soldiers.” “Anger is there against the incident but war is no solution to any problem. Every now and then the border residents are forced out of their homes after the breakdown of 2002 ceasefire and had to face a lot of trouble in the absence of proper management plan,” he said.

The incident united the mainstream politicians in Kashmir, with the ruling coalition parties as well the opposition strongly condemning the incident and demanding maintenance of sanctity of the LoC at all costs.

Opposition Awami Ittihad Party (AIP) supremo and MLA Langate Sheikh Abdul Rasheed, however, said the people are not afraid of the consequences as their conviction drives them on the roads. “Every killing is a wake up call for all the quarters concerned to understand the urgency of resolution of Kashmir dispute,” he said and asked mainstream leaders not to shed crocodile tears over the slaying of the soldiers at LoC and seven persons in Kulgam. “The pain of mothers receiving coffins including that of a militant, an army soldier, a policeman or a common man can never be divided, but the state has always the huge responsibility to ensure peace by resolving conflicts,” he said.

He appealed to political parties not to score points and keep the Kashmir dispute out of politics. If they sincerely develop a consensuses it would be biggest service to the people of the subcontinent, he said.

National Conference president Farooq Abdullah said there is an urgent need to control the situation on the LoC and within the state and for that “we have to demonstrate flexibility”. “Dialogue is the only way to stop bloodshed and it is imperative to start unconditional talks with all the stakeholders,” he said, adding “oppressive policy or ban on Internet will not help in dealing with the deteriorating law and order situation in the valley.”

Abdullah said Kashmir is heading towards darkness. “Kashmiris are getting killed, wounded, maimed and blinded and also getting economically weak. Kashmiri children are getting far away from education and it is Kashmiris who also get affected because of the hostility on the borders.”

He urged the Centre to give up its policy on Kashmir, accept the reality of the Kashmir dispute and start political resolution of the issue to avoid repetition of a 1990-like situation.

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