An embattled Mehbooba Mufti government is mulling over handing the reins of the ongoing crackdown against the mass protests to the Army, who have been working alongside the police and CRPF to quell the protests over the last six weeks. But it is now believed that the government is resorting to the use of maximum force in the form of the Army to retrieve the ground in south Kashmir, that it has lost to people's mass gatherings and pro-Independence processions and street protests.
Army chief, General Dalbir Singh, arrived in the Valley on Friday to review the security situation, particularly in the four worst affected districts of south Kashmir, that have become the epicenter of the current uprising. These four districts — Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag — continue to witness hundreds of pro-freedom rallies every day in the absence of an effective police force on the ground.
Sources said Singh, who was briefed by General Officer Commanding of Chinar Corps Lt Gen Satish Dua, instructed his commanders "to be ready for operations across south Kashmir".
These operations, sources added, would help the law enforcing agencies, particularly Kashmir police and CRPF to reassert control over the ground that has slipped under the control of police and CRPF. The protests have gone out of hand since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on 8 July. More than 70 people lost their lives in various protests.
A defence ministry spokesperson in Srinagar said Singh reviewed the security situation and "collaborative measures" of the security forces towards ensuring peace and calm in the region. "Gen Singh reinforced the need to synergise efforts with all the other stakeholders and assured all support for bringing in normalcy, particularly in South Kashmir," the statement issued here, said.
Throughout the last months, armed militants had openly taken part in public rallies and protests in south Kashmir, with some even addressing the rallies. This had unnerved security apparatus in valley, who had largely avoided carrying out any counter insurgency operations in the south fearing mass casualties.
But Kashmir police say militants had attacked them from crowds, and, in one instance, even fired at an SHO in Kulgam district.
Inspector General of Police, Kashmir region, Javaid Mujtaba Gillani said that the anti-militancy operations by the Kashmir police had stopped for some time due to the prevailing situation from last two months.
"But since the situation has started improving, we have started cordon, search and anti-militancy operations. We have started them again and what will happen is the influence of militants on this unrest will diminish quickly," IGP Gillani, said.
The Army, meanwhile, is preparing for a massive redeployment across the villages and towns of south Kashmir. “This deployment will help the police and paramilitary forces to regain control in countryside. The Army will be at the backend but we will not have a uniform strategy. It will be a localised strategy to deal with the prevailing situation," an Army official, based in south Kashmir, said.
Recently, the top officials of the Army have reportedly conveyed to the state government that they were not ready to take a direct confrontational role with the protesters, because its men are not meant for crowd controlling. But was ready to facilitate the return of normalcy. But it is not clear how the Army has agreed for the redeployment now.
"It is perhaps a push by the central government to Army top brass that situation is getting out of control, either wise a top General had openly called for a dialogue with separatists,” a political analyst said.
The Army had told the state government that if there were indications of militants being part of the protest, they will carry out the "counter-terrorism (CT) operations, by locating and killing militants mingling with crowds".
Sources said that Kashmir police have requested Army presence for the five new camps to be setup in the rural areas of Pulwama district, where militants have been seen openly roaming with weapons. The redeployment of Army is seen as a failure of the Mehbooba Mufti’s government to wrest back control of the streets from the protesters in south.
Ironically, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which is ruling the state in an alliance with the BJP, has been a long time votary of the reduction of footprint of the Army from the Valley. It was during the first tenure of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, from 2002 to 2005, when troops were de-inducted from different parts of Kashmir Valley, as a confidence building to heal the wounds of the people. Now, the government, headed by Mufti, has been knocking on the doors of Army to wrest back control of south Kashmir.