Pulwama civilian deaths result of free hand Satya Pal Malik gave forces in Kashmir; volatile situation may worsen
Since the day Malik assumed office in August, the casualty graph of militants, civilians and security forces alike has witnessed a sharp increase
Kashmir is seething with anger. It is not that civilians have not been killed near encounter sites — six of them died when a shell exploded recently in Kulgam, but it is the impression that Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik is giving a free hand to the forces to deal with protesters that makes the situation explosive. An elected government in the civil secretariat led by a Kashmiri politician would not have made made any difference, but the very fact that a parcelled governor is running the state, makes the situation worrisome.
Since the day Malik assumed office in August, the casualty graph of militants, civilians and security forces alike has witnessed a sharp increase. In August alone, six civilians were killed; five in September; 14 in October; eight in November and seven till Saturday in December. The blame for all these killings has been placed at the doorsteps of the armed forces.
The difference between a combatant and a non-combatant has become blurred in Kashmir. Peoples Conference leader and the new face of Kashmir politics, Sajad Gani Lone, recently seemed to agree with this. He tweeted:
The preparedness of security forces would in the Pulwama context be the ability to make the distinction between combatants and non combatants. If u end up killing 7 civilians in order to kill 3 militants. It is time for heads to roll. We can’t afford a state of impunity.
— Sajad Lone (@sajadlone) December 15, 2018
The state government, as it always does after every civilian killing, announced a "probe". In making such an announcement, there is no difference, say, between Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti or Malik. They all announce it. But nothing happens later. The word "probe" is the most detested in the Kashmiri lexicon.
"We want to go and tell the army commander stationed in BB Cant (Badami Bagh Cantonment) to come and kill us all," Chairman of JKLF, Mohammad Yasin Malik, said while talking to reporters in Srinagar on Monday.
Yasin and his supporters, who were wearing white shrouds inscribed with the slogans like "Indian Army kill us all" were detained. His protest march was thwarted at Badami Bagh Cantonment. He fought with the police before he was whisked away in a jeep, three days after he was released from detention after spending a month in custody.
In Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, the streets wore a deserted look in the aftermath of the killing of seven civilians in forces firing in south Kashmir's Pulwama district on Saturday. Curbs were imposed almost everywhere, except north Kashmir's Baramulla town. In view of apprehensions of a protest march, the police had sealed all the roads leading to Badami Bagh Cantonment, the main station of 15 Corps of the Indian Army in Srinagar.
"The international community should break its silence and stop the hands of India, which is behind killings in the Valley," Yasin said. Normal life remained disrupted for the third consecutive day on Monday due to the shutdown, and curbs and suspensions of transport services. Internet services were disconnected and there was hardly anyone on the streets.
A fresh spell of grief has taken over Kashmir. The killings of militants will continue and this year is going to break all the record set by the forces in the past decade. With militants, security forces are also dying and so are the innocent civilians. But the civilian killings, no matter how far they are from the encounter site, inflict such a wound on the psyche of Kashmiris that it takes days before the situation gets "normal" again.
"We live in a perpetual state of mourning," said Bashir Ahmad Bhat, "The mourning passes from one village to another, from one home to another. In the end, we all are dying."
Bashir's 14-year old son, Aqib, had left home on Saturday to participate in the protests to demand the bodies of three militants who were killed in the Pulwama encounter. He was shot in the head in army firing — one of the seven victims of Saturday's bloodbath in south Kashmir.
That the governor has given a free hand to forces in recent months has created havoc in south Kashmir. After every kilometre, mobile phones of youngsters are scrutinised at security checkpoints for pictures of militants. There is a checkpoint on all major roads in towns of the Valley. The fear of the 1990s, when soldiers would appear in the dead of the night and drag residents out for search operations, has returned.
While the security forces are on the job to "end militancy", it should not come at the cost of the civilian population's dignity. "The highhandedness (of the forces) is a trigger for a youngster to take a violent path. If not stopped, these unfortunate (civilian) killings will continue and more symbols will get added to the cause," Pervaiz Imroz, a human rights defender said in an interview.
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