The valley of Kashmir is fast moving back towards 1990s when militants would attract crowds and enjoyed popular support among masses. In the past one week, armed militants have openly addressed gatherings in south Kashmir, with people fighting each other to touch them with their palms, as they would do at the Sufi shrines.
On Tuesday, two masked militants – one of them who wore a tradition Kashmiri cloak-(Phern) and was armed with weapons – addressed a huge public gathering in south Kashmir's Koimoh area.
One of the two men, according to Greater Kashmir newspaper, told the gathering to carry forward the “ongoing struggle and remain resilient.”
“We have chosen our path and will strive till we achieve the martyrdom,” one of the militant, according to Greater Kashmir, told an emotionally-charged gathering, some of whom jostled to kiss their palms. “If you cannot be among us, at least don’t betray us,” the militant said.
According to senior police officials, since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen (Hizb) commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani on 8 July, not a single anti-militancy operation was carried out anywhere in the Valley. The officials said the army has carried anti-infiltration operations along the LoC in Nowgam sector, around 120 km north of Srinagar, killing about four militants. Two army men were also killed during the operation.
However, in the south Kashmir region, which is hit by anti-India, pro-militant and pro-Pakistan protests, the army and the security agencies are confined to address what they call “a law and order” problem of highest magnitude.
Eyewitnesses said the militants, in past four days, addressed two small gatherings of people in Kulgam district of south Kashmir urging people to remain “loyal to the movement.” They also asked people to adhere to protest programme as charted out by a united front of the separatist Hurriyat Conference.
“We don’t know from where they come and suddenly disappear. Since the ongoing Kashmir unrest, people fight with each other to touch them and try to motivate them to take them along,” Shariq Ahmad, a student who participated in many rallies since the beginning of the unrest and a Kulgam, told Firstpost on the phone.
The eyewitnesses also said wherever the militants appear in public youths follow them with an intention to join the militancy. Police sources say since 8 July they have reports that several youngsters have gone missing but it is not certain whether they have joined active militancy or not.
Last month, when the funeral procession of Wani was carried out in his native village of Tral the militants present in the rally reportedly gave 21-gun salute to their fallen commander. People said that around a dozen militants appeared at intervals in the Eidgah to join the funeral procession. According to those present at the venue, the scene reminded them of the 90s era when people jostled just for a glimpse of militants.
In the past few months, militants in south Kashmir have often appeared at funerals of their colleagues. In honour of their associates, they would fire bullets in the air similar to that of formal wreath-laying ceremonies conducted for formal armed forces across the globe.
Earlier this year, Jammu and Kashmir police said that out of the 143 active militants in the Valley, 89 are local and 60 are from SouthKashmir.
“It is true they have appeared in many rallies,” DIG south Kashmir, Ghulam Hassan Bhat told Firstpost. Bhat, said just on Thursday five hundred people marched towards the main town of Damhal-Hanjipora in Kugam district and when the police tried to stop them from entering the town, militants fired from the crowd.
“Our SHO was fired upon by militants from the crowd and militants were present in the rally, and fired five bullets at his vehicle. After the firing, they managed to flee towards forests. Had the SHO retaliated and opened fire, it would have meant dozen of civilian killings, which we don’t want,” he said.
“We would carry out operations against them at a proper place and proper time,” he added. But carrying out an operation against the militants the middle of thousands of people could have disastrous results.
DIG also complained that the journalists were not confirming the reports from the concerned officials before reporting the news. “Only twenty people were injured and ten treated locally but the newspapers said 120 people have been injured two days back,” DIG was referring to the number of protesters injured in a clash in Kulgam district on Wednesday evening.
“More than forty of our men sustained injuries in the clashes, but no one reported it. Are we not humans,” he said.
Alarmed by the increasing frequency of appearances of militants during the protest marches and gatherings a conglomerate of militant organizations, Pakistan-based United Jihad Council has asked the militants to keep themselves aloof from protest rallies and political programs in the Valley.
The group headed by UJC chief Syed Salahuddin in a statement issued to Current News Service, a local news gathering agency, on Thursday said that "It was felt that militants, whose only aim to focus on Indian armed forces, should stay away from people’s protest rallies and marches."
The presence of militants among masses was unusual a few months ago. The army and government forces would carry out operations against the militants in deep forests of south Kashmir, but they seem to have overcome the threat of being getting caught or getting killed. This is an indication of how, since the death of Wani, the situation on the ground in south Kashmir has changed.
Fifty-three people have been killed and more than 4,000 injured, at least 1,000 of them have received pellet injuries and over 500 youth have been detained in Kashmir in last 27 days. As usual, the situation remains tense with curfew in most part of the Kashmir valley