Unprecedented ceasefire violations by Pakistan on the Line of Control (LoC), growing militant violence and mounting civilian casualties during counter-insurgency operations have made Kashmir more vulnerable this year.
What has added a feeling of desperation to the combustible situation is the communal politics played over the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua belonging to the nomadic Bakherwal community.
Why so many civilian deaths?
People’s anger is giving way to dissipation of fear of death among the youth, who constitute 60% of Jammu and Kashmir’s population. This year, the first civilian death, of Khalid Ahmad Dar in Kulgam’s Kudwani in south Kashmir, happened on January 9.
Security forces opened fire to stop the locals converging on an Army camp after an encounter nearby, and Dar fell to bullets. The sister of a trapped militant turned up at another encounter site and was shot at on January 24. She succumbed to injuries on February 10, fuelling more anger. The civilian killings proved no deterrent to the locals, who rushed to encounter sites to help militants escape.
Last year, 30 civilians died near the sites of gunfights. This year, the graph shows an alarming upward curve. Over 300 civilians have been injured in clashes during counter-militancy operations since January. In the first 100 days of the year, at least 17 civilians died near the sites of encounters, especially in south Kashmir. In just 10 days in April, nine civilians died in the clashes with security forces in their bid to help trapped militants. On April 11, an 18-hour encounter saw four civilians dying in clashes, but the three trapped militants escaped the fierce encounter, emboldening the outfit they belonged to.
What is the government stand?
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is struggling to stop the youth from joining militant ranks and to restrain security forces so as to minimise civilian casualties during the operations. Her attempt to establish a deterrent for the security forces on January 29 by filing an FIR and naming an Army officer in the killing of two civilians evoked sharp criticism. The Supreme Court also provided relief to the accused Major.
The State government has sought changes in the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), especially for the police, in dealing with the law and order situation. However, there is no consensus among the security agencies. Director-General of Police S.P. Vaid said any changes in the SOP to fix the loopholes “is the prerogative of the senior officers of the security grid.”
Has Operation All-Out failed?
The Army’s ‘Operation All-Out,’ launched in May of 2017, is also failing to yield desired results. From around 150 militants in 2017, the number still hovers around 100, despite the fact that 190 militants were killed last year. Around 30 militants have joined militant ranks since January, against over 35 killed in the same period. So, for every militant killed, one joins the ranks.
This despite the fact that for the first time in two decades, 13 local militants were killed in one day on April 1 in Shopian in a coordinated operation by security forces.
The impact of the political reach-out and calming of the situation by the Centre through special representative Dineshwar Sharma is diminishing in the absence of concrete steps.
Mr. Dineshwar Sharma’s multiple visits to the State have failed to persuade the stakeholders, including the Hurriyat, to agree to talks. His lack of a clear mandate and failure to push for any major confidence-building measure is only creating a void to be filled by more radical ideologies.
(Adapted from The Hindu)