The sensational killing of the two policemen by suspected militants in Kulgam district on Friday afternoon is a troubling sign of changing times in Kashmir Valley. Catalysed by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, the situation in the Valley is deteriorating fast with the number of militants almost doubling since the last year.
According to the police, the attack took place on Friday afternoon in the main market of Kulgam where two to three suspected militants, who were travelling in a private car, fired indiscriminately at a police checkpoint, sparking panic in the area as pedestrians ran for cover.
"Three policemen were injured. Head constable Tanvir Ahmad and constable Jalal-ud-din, residents of Kulgam, achieved martyrdom while another injured constable Shamis-ud-Din was shifted to Srinagar Hospital for treatment," a police spokesperson said in a statement.
Later, the car, a Hyundai Santro, was found abandoned near Laroo village, a kilometre away from the site of the attack in Kulgam district which has witnessed some of the worst incidents of violence in the last five months of the civilian uprising.
Officials said the security agencies are trying to trace the owner of the car with JK-18 registration plate. Meanwhile, a wreath laying ceremony was held for the slain at the District Police Lines in Kulgam which was led by DIG North Kashmir, Nitesh Kumar.
Following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, Kashmir has been reeling under curfew and separatist-sponsored shutdowns with the authorities launching one of the severest crackdowns on civilians, jailing more than 9,000 people, including minors, who are accused of participating in freedom protests.
Although the crackdown has managed to restore some semblance of normalcy on the streets, it has, in absence of any political outreach, only perpetuated anger and alienation in the civilian population who are now openly coming out in support of militants in what is being described as the 'war on occupational forces'.
To make matters worse, since the 8 July encounter in which Burhan was killed along with his two associates, a senior police officer said there has been a spurt in the disappearance of local youths, many of whom are believed to have joined militant groups.
According to official data, at least 60 rifles were snatched from police personnel in the last four months of unrest. This is a troubling sign that the Valley might soon slip into the whirlpool of violence which can bring down the facade of normalcy put up by the PDP-BJP coalition government
"Situation is very bad," a senior police officer, who spoke to Firstpost on the condition of anonymity, "Call it our good luck, these boys don't have open access to weapons like it was in the early nineties, which is keeping the situation from going out of control".
The police officer said about 50-60 youths, mostly from south Kashmir districts of Kulgam, Pulwama, Anantnag and Shopian, have been reported missing in the last more than four months of unrest. In many cases, the missing youths have told their families not to search them anymore.
"We have managed to speak with the parents of some of them. As per our records, around 30 of them have joined militant groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen while the rest are in the process of joining. To avoid further deterioration of law and order, we are trying to get them to surrender," the police officer said.
Coupled with the dangerously rising levels of infiltration along the Line of Control, the deteriorating security situation will pose a tough challenge to the forces who have to deal with street protests on one hand and also carry out counter-insurgency operations.
"Presently we have about 250-300 militants active in the Valley. With locals openly coming to their support and sympathy for militancy gaining ground after Burhan Wani's killing, the situation is going to only get worse in coming days," the police officer said.